Coming off the heels of a disappointing loss in Chicago, Sky Blue FC hosted the Orlando Pride Wednesday night in a midweek game that held major implications in the league table. Heading in to the night, a Sky Blue win could bring the Jersey Girls to the top three in the NWSL and within a point of second place Chicago Red Stars. A win for Orlando, who recently had a two game winning streak snapped in Houston, would put them within striking distance of the packed middle of the NWSL table.
The first half was firmly controlled by the visiting Pride. Tom Sermanni’s 4-2-3-1 was rigidly organized while playing out of the back, with the midfield two of Dani Weatherholt and Allana Kennedy clogging up the center of the pitch and allowing nothing to be created by Raquel Rodriguez or Sarah Killion. The Pride continued to be patience and sit back, playing a few balls over the top with moderate success to forward Jamai Fields. The visitors got their breakthrough in the 11th minute, with Chioma Ubogagu taking a missed Mandy Freeman clearance and calmly slotting it with her left foot to the far post.
Despite the Pride’s efforts, Sky Blue earned two penalties over the duration of the first 45. In the 20th minute, winger Daphne Corboz made her way in to the Pride box with a few nifty moves, only to be taken down by Ali Krieger. However, Sarah Killion’s effort from the spot was easily saved by Audrey Bledsoe. The penalty marks the worrying trend for one of the NWSL’s leading scorers, who has failed to covert her past there penalties. Before this streak, she had converted seven opportunities from the spot successfully. Seconds before halftime, the ever-dangerous Sam Kerr was taken down by Stephanie Catley in the box. Kelley O’Hara, who had been well-neutralized by Catley to that point, emphatically put away her chance from the spot to send the match level at 1-1 at the break.
The second half would provide even more twists and turns than the first. Mere seconds into the action, forward Maya Hayes provided a great solo effort to get to the edge of the Pride’s 18 yard box. She chipped the ball back across the net, with Sam Kerr catapulting herself into the air and flicking the ball back across the goal in an effort you should see rather than read about.
Sky Blue continued to press, with Raquel Rodriguez leading the attack out of a now open midfield. Orlando became more reserved and reliant on the counter-attack, ran by Brazilian star Marta. The attacker was rewarded for her efforts in the 77th minute, latching on to a failed Mandy Freeman clearance and finished her chance with expertise. The match was level once again, and Sky Blue pushed harder. Leah Galton provided a world class effort in the 78th, but Bledsoe was up to the task.
The final twist to this tale was provided by UConn rookie Rachel Hill. Playing in front of family and friends who had made the trip from her native Pennsylvania, the forward latched on to a class cross by Stephanie Catley and finished the chance with an emphatic header. The Pride had a well-deserved 3-2 lead, one with which they would finish the match.
Orlando have now won three of their past four games and sit sixth in the NWSL with 15 points, one behind Sky Blue. The Jersey Girls have now lost two straight games, with Head Coach Christie Holly voicing his frustration in the club’s post-match press release:
“It is unacceptable for us to continue performing at such an inconsistent level. We know that we can do better. The positive that we will take away from this is knowing everything that went wrong in our performance is something we can control. We can rectify that, and we take accountability for what happened here tonight.”
Sky Blue now travels south to face North Carolina FC on Saturday in the Lifetime Game of the Week. Orlando will visit Sky Blue again on July 8th.