Following a pair of wins against the Houston Dash, Sky Blue traveled down to North Carolina for a tilt that had first place in the NWSL on the line. However, their hot streak was cooled, as the girls from Jersey fell 2-0 on a soaked evening in Raleigh. The victory gave newcomers North Carolina Courage their fifth win in their first seven games of the 2017 season. For Sky Blue, the defeat dropped them to 3-3-1 on the season thus far.
Sky Blue sent out a relatively conservative lineup to face the Courage, with offensive weapons such as Raquel Rodriguez and Samantha Kerr starting the match on the bench. While cognicent of the occasion, Head Coach Christie Holley told the NWSL broadcast team that he knows “how long a season” this is for his team, and also commented that Sky Blue are in the midst of a stretch of three games in seven days. On the other side, Paul Riley did not play the long-term approach with his squad selection. Lynn Williams and Jessica McDonald led the front line as the league-leading Courage looked to rebound off of last weeks 3-1 defeat against Chicago.
Although Sky Blue registered the first few chances of the match, the first half belonged to the Courage. Despite sitting back and having Sky Blue have an edge in position, the Courage ran a high press to perfection with forward Lynn Williams earning much of the involvement. Williams’ persistence paid off in the 21st minute, with Fresno, California native latching on to the end of a pass by Taylor Smith. Williams took advantage of lack coverage from Christie Pearce and rocketed a shot off of the far left post and in, sending the NWSL coverage team into an absolute frenzy.
— NC Courage (@TheNCCourage) May 25, 2017
North Carolina’s dominance would not end there, with Samantha Mewis grabbing the second goal of the match in the 42nd minute. Sky Blue valiantly defended the Courage’s first two pinball attempts on net, but the young U.S. international was able to lift the ball over Kailen Sheridan and into the back of the net.
The second half saw a marked improvement from Sky Blue. The additions of forward Sam Kerr and midfielder Raquel Rodriguez provided a much needed spark and creativity to the attack. Kerr’s header in the 62nd minute from a Kayla Mills cross provided Sky Blue with one of their lone chances of the match. Despite some decent progress into the Courage half, the 2nd half did not produce a goal for either side, ending the match 2-0 in favor of the courage.
Sky Blue were outshot and outstanding 21-2 by their opponents, with 13 of those shots being on target for the Courage. While they were comfortable in their own half, Sky Blue rarely spent time in the Courage’s half, let alone their 18. Forward McKenzie Meehan, impressive thus far this campaign, was constantly forced to drop back and compress Sky Blue’s attack to help connect play in the midfield. Meehan’s efforts were to no avail as North Carolina controlled the midfield with ease, picking their spots going forward and proving to be dangerous on the counter attack. Although they have been impressive on the attack away from Rutgers (seven of their ten goals on the season are on the road), Christie Holley’s women failed to hit the net.
Sky Blue’s saving grace on the night, undoubtedly, was rookie keeper Kailen Sheridan. Appearing in her seventh consecutive match, Sheridan’s 11 saves kept Sky Blue within striking distance for the duration of this match. A number of defensive mishaps left Sheridan on an island at times, with North Carolina’s high-powered offense (league leaders in shots, crosses completed) constantly threatening the Sky Blue net. Sheridan provided a number of highlight-reel saves, including a perfectly executed 1v1 slide tackle on Brazilian attacking mid Debinha that could be up for save of the week for the league. Sheridan’s save tally is a record for Sky Blue’s time in the NWSL. The club’s all time saves record is Karen Bardsley’s 13 save performance in 2010 against the Atlanta Beat in the NWSL.
— Sky Blue FC (@SkyBlueFC) May 25, 2017
Sky Blue look to rebound from this loss on Saturday, as they host 5th place Orlando Pride, who sit just one point behind them in the table. Orlando, who is coming off 1-1-1 draw in Seattle last week, are without star ‘keeper Ashlyn Harris, who is reportedly out for the next eight weeks with a quad injury “near the hip”.