By: Shannon Duffy
Sky Blue FC defeated the Washington Spirit in penalty kicks in the quarterfinal of the NWSL Challenge Cup Saturday afternoon. The historic Sky Blue playoff victory was presented by Hackensack Meridian Health. With today’s victory, Sky Blue has cemented their spot in the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup Semifinal presented by Budweiser this Wednesday, July 22 at 10:00 p.m. ET. NJM Insurance will be presenting this match for Sky Blue FC fans.
“We’re incredibly proud and I think the team has put in a great performance, every single player,” said Head Coach Freya Coombe. “Each person is pushing each other to get better.”
The two teams wasted no time getting into a rhythm in the game, as they both had their spells of possession early on. Sky Blue’s midfield connected right out of the gate, with Sarah Woldmoe, McCall Zerboni,and Jennifer Cudjoe all finding each other and breaking into the final third. On the other side of the ball, Sky Blue’s defense stayed tight, not allowing Washington’s possession to amount to anything on goal.
The action began to heat up towards the end of the half when Sky Blue forward Ifeoma Onumonu dribbled past two Spirit defenders and opened up space on the right side of the box. She then sent a shot towards goal, forcing Aubrey Bledsoe to come up with the diving save.
The Spirit attack quickly responded, creating a few chances on goal before the end of the half. In the 42nd minute, a cross was played into Ashley Sanchez, who had an open header right in front of goal. The ball was heading for the lower-left corner of the goal until Kailen Sheridan made the one-handed diving save to keep it out of the back of the net.
Just one minute later, Kumi Yokoyama broke through on goal, but Sheridan was quick off her line to take the ball off the forward’s feet, securing the first-half shutout for Sky Blue.
Entering the second half, both teams were pushing for a goal early, although neither side was able to breakthrough. The momentum began to shift in favor of the Spirit about halfway through the second half, but Sky Blue’s defense was able to hold the Spirit attack scoreless.
Sky Blue’s best chance on goal came in the 71st minute when Zerboni found Sabrina Flores, who then played a cross into Onumonu. The Sky Blue forward, who was waiting right in front of the goal, headed the ball down but it ultimately bounced over the crossbar and out of play.
Just a few minutes later, Spirit defender Tori Huster found herself open with a shot at the top of the Sky Blue six. Sheridan was quick off her line, blocking Huster’s shot with her knee. Despite a late push for a goal from both teams, the game ended scoreless, setting up a penalty kick shootout to decide the winner.
“Kailen [Sheridan] was fantastic during the game and we fancy her to make the save when it matters,” said Coombe. “She made a number of saves during the game and it really kept us in it.”
Sky Blue was first in the order for penalty kicks, with Woldmoe as the first player to step up to the spot. She drove a powerful shot into the right-side netting, putting Sky Blue on the board with a confident start to the PKs.
Rose Lavelle then took Washington’s first kick and placed it past Sheridan into the left side netting. With the finish, the shootout was tied 1-1 after one round of kickers.
Nahomi Kawasumi was next up for Sky Blue. She placed the ball into the left side of the goal, sending Bledsoe the wrong way to put Sky Blue up 2-1.
Washington forward Ashley Hatch then stepped up to the spot and drove the ball into the right side of the net, bringing the PK score to 2-2.
Sky Blue midfielder Domi Richardson then took the third kick for her team. She sent the ball to the left side, but Bledsoe was able to make the diving save, keeping the score level.
Spirit defender Sam Staab was next up to the spot. Her shot bounced off the bar and deflected away from the goal. With the miss, the score remained even at 2-2.
Zerboni then stepped up with the chance to put Sky Blue into the lead. She placed her shot with precision into the right side of the net, making the score 3-2 in favor of Sky Blue.
Up next was Spirit forward Crystal Thomas, who drove her shot into the left side netting, bringing the score to 3-3.
Elizabeth Eddy then stepped up for Sky Blue and put her team in the lead with a shot that hit the right-side netting. The score was now 4-3 in favor of Sky Blue.
With the last shot before the penalties entered sudden death, Spirit forward Bayley Feist walked up to the spot, needing to score to keep her team in the game. She sent the ball to the right side of the net, but Sheridan read the shot well and made the diving save, ultimately securing the victory for Sky Blue.
The game served as Sky Blue’s first NWSL playoff victory in franchise history. It was also the team’s third shutout through five games in the tournament, as the Sky Blue defense continues to make it very hard for their opponents to find the back of the net against them.
Sheridan racked up all the honors in Saturday’s quarterfinal matchup. Her big saves during regulation, coupled with her stellar shootout performance, earned her both the NWSL Budweiser Woman of the Matchand the Saker ShopRite Woman of the Match awards. Sheridan’s diving stop on Sanchez’s point-blank header in the 42nd minute was named the Verizon Save of the Match. Additionally, Sheridan’s game-winning save on Feist’s shot in the last round of PK’s was named the Secret Deodorant No Sweat Play of the Game.
Sky Blue will meet the winner of tonight’s quarterfinal matchup between the OL Reign and the Chicago Red Stars in the semifinals on Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET. Today’s victory against the Spirit put Sky Blue just one win away from the NWSL Challenge Cup Final presented by Budweiser.
Match: Washington Spirit vs. Sky Blue FC
Date: July 18, 2020
Venue: Zions Bank Stadium
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. ET
Weather: 88 degrees and sunny
1-Kailen Sheridan; 24-Estelle Johnson, 12-Gina Lewandowski, 23-Midge Purce (62’ Sabrina Flores), 28-Imani Dorsey (80’ Erica Skroski); 7-McCall Zerboni, 16-Sarah Woldmoe (c), 6-Jennifer Cudjoe (80’ Domi Richardson); 4-Paige Monaghan (80’ Elizabeth Eddy), 9-Nahomi Kawasumi, 25-Ifeoma Onumonu (87’ Evelyne Viens)
Unused Substitutes: 5-Nicole Baxter, 35-Megan Hinz, 26-Chantelle Swaby, 2-Kaleigh Riehl, 22-Mandy Freeman, 18-Cassidy Benintente, 21-Amanda McGlynn, 13-Didi Haracic
1-Aubrey Bledsoe (c); 3-Samantha Staab, 14-Paige Nielson, 9-Tegan McGrady, 23-Tori Huster; 13-Bayley Feist, 19-Dorian Bailey, 4-Natalie Jacobs (62’ Rose Lavelle); 33-Ashley Hatch, 2-Ashley Sanchez (80’ Averie Collins), 17-Kumi Yokoyama (62’ Crystal Thomas)
Unused Substitutes: 25-Devon Kerr, 5-Brooke Hendrix, 26-Meghan McCool, 11-Jordan DiBiasi, 8-Meggie Dougherty Howard, 22-Jenna Hellstrom, 7-Jaye Boissiere, 6-Katie McClure
PK SHOOTOUT SUMMARY
STATS SUMMARY (Sky BlueFC /Washington Spirit)
Shots on target: 2/7
Blocked shots: 2/2
Sky Blue FC: Estelle Johnson 18’: Yellow Card
Sky Blue FC: Evelyne Viens 90+2’: Yellow Card