Midfielder Katy Freels and Sky Blue FC now look to finish strong in their final three games of the regular season (Photo by Howard C. Smith).
Host Thorns Deal Sky Blue FC a 3-1 Defeat
Sky Blue FC (9-6-4, 31 points) gained an early first half advantage on Wednesday night against Portland Thorns FC (10-4-4, 34 points) at JELD-WEN Field, but the host side rallied with three consecutive goals to earn an eventual 3-1 result. With the three points, the Thorns move into sole possession of second place on the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Table while a gritty Sky Blue FC side now finds itself sitting in the third place spot.
“Overall, I thought it was a pretty good performance,” Sky Blue FC head coach Jim Gabarra remarked. “We made a couple of mistakes, and Portland has some dangerous players up front who were able to capitalize. We battled really well, and there are some good things that can be taken away from how hard we played. We now leave tonight with those positive takeaways as we head down the final stretch. I think if we continue to play hard and can keep from taking an injury or two every game, we can find a way to come out on the other side of this tough stretch.”
Sky Blue FC goalkeeper Jill Loyden was rather active immediately in this match, playing aggressively and getting her hands on the ball quite often. After adjusting to an early tempo, Sky Blue FC began to create some offensive momentum of its own and was eventually able to earn the lead in the 17th minute.
On that scoring play, Sky Blue FC midfielder Katy Freels stepped over a free kick opportunity just outside the 18-yard box once the set piece was offered on a takedown of forward Danesha Adams. After striking a hard curler in the direction of the goal, the Auburn product saw it ricochet off the head of Thorns defender Nikki Marshall. Once being redirected, the ball looped over the reach of Portland netminder Karina LeBlanc and into the net to create a 1-0 edge for the road side. The official filing of the tally was an own goal.
Facing a one-notch deficit, the Thorns continued to attack on the offensive end, and the hosts were nearly rewarded in the 33rd minute when forward Alex Morgan fired a point blank shot that Loyden was able to athletically punch away from danger. However, Morgan would earn herself into a breakaway following a feed from midfielder Meleana Shim on the left flank just four minutes later that would result in an equalizing tally. Once she arrived inside the penalty area, the U.S. National Team striker gave Loyden a stutter step that forced the Sky Blue FC goalkeeper onto the ground, and she then booted the ball into the back of the net to make things even at one apiece.
Mexican striker Monoca Ocampo nearly put Sky Blue FC back on top in the 54th minute, making a nice run through the center of the Portland defense to find herself in a 1v1 situation with LeBlanc. She then fired a left-footed strike, but LeBlanc was able to make a diving save of the attempt.
In the 65th minute of action, the Thorns earned their first lead of the contest when Morgan found some space on the left flank and struck a hard shot that a diving Loyden was able to deflect. As the ball rebounded off the attempt, Morgan first tried to put it away before Shim found herself in the perfect position to be the beneficiary of a second punch-away from Loyden. Once arriving on the scene, the Hawaiian midfielder easily touched the rebound into the far-side netting to make it a 2-1 advantage.
Portland was then able to stretch its lead to 3-1 in the 72nd minute following a throw-in that arrived at the feet of midfielder Allie Long just outside the 18-yard box. Once touching the ball with her right foot, Long set up just enough space with her left to put a shot on frame. With her right foot, she hit a floating curler towards the far post that snuck inside the upper right 90, making the count 3-1 in favor of the host side.
Down a pair of goals at that point, Sky Blue FC looked to press the action, but it is was unable to close the gap. After the head official blew the whistle to signify the end of this match, the Thorns were victorious by means of a 3-1 scoreline.
“We have found some good team defending, and we have to continue to build on that,” Gabarra concluded. “We created more chances tonight than we have in the past couple of games, and that’s a positive as we find our attack again. It has been a tough grind for us, but every team goes through this. We are just going to approach it one game at a time and try to get three points in each game as we finish the season, and we will see where we are once everything is final.”
Sky Blue FC will now return home to Yurcak Field this Saturday night for its home finale, hosting the Washington Spirit at 7:00 p.m. Tickets for that game are available now and can be purchased by calling 888-SBFC-TIX (723-2849).