Sky Blue (5-8-7) emerged victorious after a physical and hard-fought 90-minute battle with the Flash (7-11-3). It was a 1-0 triumph in front of record high 3,471 fans at Yurcak Field for Sky Blue’s final home game of the 2014 regular season.
“Every game is a playoff game,” said Sky Blue coach Jim Gabarra after his team’s performance. “We win out, and we’ll have some interesting tiebreakers and see what happens. … Now we’re approaching it one game at a time. We still believe we have an outside chance until the numbers say we don’t.”
That postseason dream was elongated in the 50th minute after forward Kelley O’Hara scored her sixth goal of the season for Sky Blue, disrupting a scoreless tie. The tally came with assistance from each of Sky Blue’s three forwards: Maya Hayes sent a cross into the penalty box that sneaked past the Flash’s defensive line and all the way through to Nadia Nadim, Sky Blue’s forward on loan from Denmark. Nadim quickly touched the ball to Kelley O’Hara, who roofed the shot for her third goal in two games.
“I think we’ve found our niche late in the season,” Hayes said after the game.
Her coach agreed.
“They looked good again,” Gabarra said of the trio up front. “It’s still not many games they’ve played together. I thought Maya was a lot sharper tonight. Kelley has done a tremendous job combining with Nadia, and it resulted in a goal.”
The score came shortly after half time, putting Sky Blue in an advantageous position with a half still to play. But that was more than enough time for the Flash to produce a plethora of opportunities. The road team continued to pressure offensively until the final whistle, putting Sky Blue’s defense on their heels. But none of the shots made it through Sky Blue keeper Jillian Loyden, who recorded her third win of the season.
The Flash’s Abby Wambach, USA women’s national team star, took blame for missing her own share of opportunities, despite the fact that it was her first game since May 31 due to injury.
“I feel like I let my team down,” Wambach said. “This [was] a big game; we needed to win and put ourselves in hopes of being able to control the rest of the season. I feel like I should have put those chances away. I had at least four solid ones.”
Wambach, the Flash’s captain, explained how she should have played better to spark the team. “If your leader, captain isn’t doing it for you, than sometimes you just have to throw your hands up and be like, ‘I just don’t know what to do now.’”
Nevertheless, Sky Blue’s win was an important bounce-back performance following a 2-1 road defeat against FC Kansas City on July 27: The win over the Flash also keeps the wavering playoff hopes alive for Sky Blue. With three games remaining in the season, Sky Blue has 22 points and is in seventh-place out of nine teams. In the NWSL, only the top four teams make the postseason. Currently, the fourth seed is Portland with 30 points.
Sky Blue sits two points back of the sixth-place Flash, and the teams meet again on August 13 in what could be a decisive game. Four days before that matchup in N.Y., Sky Blue will play the 5-11-3 Houston Dash (eighth-place). Then, in the final game of the season for Sky Blue on August 16, the team travels to Washington to take on the Spirit.
To add further fuel to the already maddening fire of scenarios, Sky Blue had a game on July 2 against the Dash postponed due to rain. It has not yet been rescheduled. If Sky Blue was somehow in a position to make the playoffs in a last-game scenario, the NWSL likely would have that game played. At this point, though, no decision has been made on the status of that contest.
Yet, this is all speculation – Sky Blue still needs to take care of business at hand, which means three must-win road games against the Houston Dash, Western NY Flash, and Washington Spirit before they think of playoffs. A win in their final home game, however, certainly helps their cause.