Defender Kendall Johnson and Sky Blue FC were able to keep Portland off the scoreboard (Photo by Howard C. Smith).
Teams Remain Knotted Atop the NWSL Standings
Sky Blue FC (8-2-2, 26 points) and Portland Thorns FC (8-2-2, 26 points) both put forth a hard fought effort on Saturday night, battling to a scoreless draw at Yurcak Field. With the result, both clubs earn a point and still find themselves level atop the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Standings.
“As far as the game, I was very happy with how the team looked and the fact that we pressed them so aggressively,” Sky Blue FC head coach Jim Gabarra commented. “When you do that, you’re always concerned about getting stretched out and giving up a counter goal. However, we did a very good job of playing disciplined and not letting them get behind us.”
In the 12th minute of this match, Sky Blue FC found itself with a great opportunity after Australian playmaker Lisa De Vanna was fed a ball in front of her with space. After making a couple of key touches, she maneuvered herself into a 1v1 situation with Portland netminder Karina LeBlanc and chipped a ball in hopes of it being out of her reach. Once De Vanna hit a well-struck attempt, she was forced to watch the 5-9 Canadian goalkeeper use every bit of her height to make an athletic stop of the shot.
After that first true scoring opportunity occurred, both sides began to truly showcase their class. Each team worked to set up dangerous chances through the midfield with the top lines of offense being equally met by the back line of the opposing defense. With that pace continuing throughout the entirety of the opening half, the count was still scoreless when the whistle was blown for intermission.
Sky Blue FC created a good chance in the 60th minute of this match after De Vanna sped down the left flank and had a ball distributed into the space in front of her. She ran onto the feed and settled before turning towards the frame and seeing LeBlanc all alone in front of her. She then struck a hard shot towards the frame, but LeBlanc was able to make another athletic save of the shot attempt, much like she had been doing throughout the whole game.
For the most part, the action took place between the two 18-yard boxes during the second half of play. Both teams focused their efforts on maintaining a solid back wall on the defensive end of the field, and each side did a nice job of holding a strong foundation in the back. Sky Blue FC netminder Brittany Cameron and LeBlanc also did their parts, preventing any damage from occurring when the ball slipped through the defense.
Sky Blue FC did have the home crowd continually holding its breath during the final minutes, first with a hard shot from midfielder Taylor Lytle that slammed off the top crossbar in the 90th minute of play. Lytle then gathered possession at the top of the box on the next offensive set, striking a hard roller to midfielder Katy Freels, who fired a shot on goal that LeBlanc was able to push wide.
The home side was still not done at that point, as Canadian midfielder Sophie Schmidt was able to fire a shot on goal that was saved by her countrymate, LeBlanc. De Vanna then ran onto the deflection on the left side of the box and back heeled it towards Freels, who was met by a defender on impact as the ball was cleared away. That last burst proved to be the final opportunity of the match for either side, and the referee quickly signaled the end of this game with a scoreless tally displaying on the scoreboard.
“Stepping off the field, it was disappointing because I think we had the upper hand, especially in that last 15-20 minutes,” Sky Blue FC captain Christie Rampone stated. “They did a good job of slowing down the game and trying to unsettle us. It’s tough not to come away with three points today, so we’ll take the tie and go to Portland next time to hopefully come out with a better result.”
While the team may have been forced to settle for one point tonight, Rampone says she is very happy with the performance that Sky Blue FC put forth this evening.
“I’m really proud of the team and the way we battled tonight,” she confirmed. “I think our fitness kicked in at the end, which is a credit to Jim (Gabarra) and the coaching staff for really pushing us early on in the season.”
Next up for Sky Blue FC is a home match this Wednesday, June 26th, when the team returns home to host FC Kansas City at 7:00 p.m. Tickets for that game are available now and can be purchased by calling 888-SBFC-TIX (723-2849).