On Saturday afternoon at Yurcak Field in New Jersey, Sky Blue FC hosted the Orlando Pride in a clash of two teams struggling to find consistency. Sky Blue, a very young squad, had been stellar at home in the past, but were coming off a tough mid-week loss to the North Carolina Courage that exposed some of the lack of depth and mental quickness that they need to compete for a spot in the top four of the NWSL table. Orlando had also struggled with their lack of depth, especially after starting goalkeeper and team captain Ashlyn Harris went down with a hip injury early in last week’s game against the Seattle Reign. And while the Orlando offense had been bolstered by the impressive play of Brazilian star Marta, the defense had been consistently struggling, particularly during away games. However, their record had been turning up as of late, coming in with a 2-game unbeaten streak. This game would present an opportunity for both squads to prove that they can mentally overcome the challenges presented to them as they near the half-way point of the season.
Early press from Orlando pays off
The game started with the visiting Pride on the front foot, definitely looking like the team that got a full weeks rest as opposed to Sky Blue dealing with a quick turnaround after their Wednesday matchup. The Pride pressed consistently, and was able to open up the scoring in the 18th minute, when Camila controlled the ball at the top of the box, cut through the Sky Blue defense, and slotted the ball to forward Jasmyne Spencer, who was able to fire her shot past Sky Blue keeper Kailen Sheridan and into the back of the net. This would be the last shot Sheridan would let past her in the game, and the Canadian international had another performance that made her look like a definite candidate to shine for her international squad in the future.
Sky Blue battles back
After the Pride goal, Sky Blue woke up a little bit, and were able to put together some strong sequences that challenged Orlando keeper (and Harris backup) Aubrey Bledsoe, behind the solid play of Sam Kerr and Raquel Rodriguez. Sky Blue were finally able to break through for the equalizer in the 43rd minute, after Rodriguez forced a turnover in the middle of the field, to set up Daphne Corboz, who attracted the attention of the Orlando defense. Corboz quickly got the ball to Kerr, who calmly finished the shot at close range. The goal gives Kerr 13 total for her club squad, tying the club record set by Nadia Nadim (now with the Portland Thorns). The half would end in a 1-1 deadlock.
Finding the game-winner
The second half opened up a bit more than the first, with both teams fighting to produce a game-winner. Neither team were able to fully take advantage of their opportunities until the 82nd minute, when Sheridan’s distribution found the head of Kerr, who got the ball to Maya Hayes, who dribbled through the Orlando defense before rocketing the ball past Bledsoe to give Sky Blue the essential late lead. Sheridan’s impressive play secured the win for Sky Blue in the late minutes, and the final scoreline ended 2-1 in favor of the hosts. Sky Blue would have to be happy with their response to giving up a goal so early in the match, and Orlando will have to keep looking for answers after letting another chance at points slip away from them late.