REF: Tori Penso AR1: Jennifer Garner AR2: Salma Perez 4TH: Michael Radchuk
In arguably one of the shock results of the tournament so far, Sky Blue FC confidently dispatched the Houston Dash with a first-half double whammy from Paige Monaghan and Nahomi Kawasumi. The New Jersey-based outfit now jumps to second place in the overall standings with this morale-boosting victory.
The contrasting fortunes of these two teams could not have been starker than they were heading into this matchup. Sky Blue had yet to even get on the scoreboard, whilst Houston has already registered 5 goals from 2 games on the tournament. This was a lacklustre display from James Clarkson's team. But take nothing away from Sky Blue. They came out of the blocks quickly and took a stranglehold of this game.
Sky Blue simply had more energy and zest about them, than their free-scoring opponents. The reintroduction of McCall Zerboni was key to this. The Sky Blue midfield chased and harried Houston, never really allowing them to settle into their rhythm. Despite this, we had to wait until 16 minutes into the contest before seeing the first big moment of the game. Ifeona Onumonu picked up the ball slightly left of centre, about 35 yards from goal. She drifted inside and played an exquisite through ball to Paige Monaghan. The 2019 NWSL draft pick out of Butler, latched on to the pass and calmly rounded Jane Campbell before slotting home.
Moments later Sky Blue were unfortunate not to have doubled their lead. In the 19th minute, the ever-industrious McCall Zerboni dinked a clever little through pass to Onumonu on the left edge of the penalty area, whose near post shot was beaten out by Jane Campbell. Houston appeared to be rattled by Sky Blur’s fast start, whilst Sky Blue were seemingly full of confidence.
On 28 minutes Sky Blue went close to doubling their lead again. This time through Imani Dorsey. Sky Blue won a free kick in a wide right position, about 10 yards from the byline. Dorsey's inswinging effort almost caught out Jane Campbell. However, the experienced stopper was able to get down low to her left and make a smart save. Sky Blue were threatening to run away with this game.
The lively forward line for Sky Blue were causing problems for the Houston defenders for the entire 90 minutes. The interchangeability of Kawasumi, Monaghan and Onumonu always looked a threat. And it was Japanese international Kawasumi, who finally doubled the lead on 38 minutes. Former California Storm midfielder Jennifer Cudjoe chipped an inventive ball over the Houston backline for Onumonu to chase. Campbell was alert to the threat and rushed out to clear. However, she could only clear as far as Kawasumi who sent an audacious lob into the net from fully 40 yards out. Early goal of the tournament contender from Kawasumi. Sky Blue were in Dreamland, and looking much more the team many expected them to be in this tournament.
Houston managed to get into the halftime break with the score still at 0-2. And they started much the brighter team in the second half. Houston made a change at halftime, bringing in Nichelle Prince for the largely ineffective Cami Privett. The changed seemed to inject a sense of urgency into the Houston forward line. Sky Blue had done an excellent job of marshalling Rachel Daly, Shae Groom and Christine Nairn. Daly, in particular was very isolated at times during the first 45. On 49 minutes the Dash had their first real sight at goal. Kristie Mewis drove into the Sky Blue half, before feeding a well timed ball to Prince who couldn’t quite get the ball out from under her feet. Kailen Sheridan was able to smother the ball relatively comfortably.
We have an old saying here in England, that perfectly summarises the second half of this game. After the lord mayor’s show came the dust carts. I know, it’s weird. But we love a weird saying here in Blighty. For those of you who don’t know, the phrase references the dust carts that would typically come and clean the streets of London after the Lord Mayor’s processions. It is generally used to reference something rather dull that immediately precedes something rather less dull. Don’t say we never teach you anything.
And that’s exactly how the second half felt. Sky Blue looked comfortable, and I have to confess I was extremely disappointed in Houston. The energy and willingness to overload down both flanks in attack, was conspicuous only in its absence. A host of substitutions stymied the flow of the game. With the only other real moment of interest coming in stoppage time, when Evelyn Burns tested Campbell with a low drive from outside the area. Campbell was equal to and managed to Palm the ball away.
By contrast, Sky Blue were very much the team I expected them to be in this tournament. And they’ll take great confidence from this result. For Houston, however, there were worrying signs that Clarkson will be keen to address quickly. For Freya Coombe's team though the clouds have parted and the sky seems much bluer than it did yesterday. Ok, I’m sorry. I’ll see myself out.
Ifeona Onumonu – the forward was lively all game. Her energy and drive created space for Sky Blue in some dangerous area. An assist to boot.
Sheridan - 6 – easiest nights work she has had in a long time.
Purce – 7 – got up and down the flank very well. Solid performance.
Dorsey -7- tested Campbell with a smartly struck free-kick. Looked comfortable all evening.
Johnson -6 – combined well with Lewandowski to keep Daly quiet.
Lewandowski -6- as above.
Zerboni -8- her energy really livens up this team.
Cudjoe – 7- smart ball over the top led to the 2nd goal. Didn’t out a foot wrong.
Woldmoe -7- did the simple things well, and hustled excellently.
Kawasumi -7- took her goal well. Was industrious all night.
Monaghan -7- the youngster will take a lot of confidence from that goal.
Onumonu -9- player of the game for me. Ran tirelessly, laid on one and just generally looked a threat.
Eddy -6- looked comfortable, but was never really tested.
Flores -7- looked busy, will have valued getting minutes.
Richardson -6- experienced utility player brought on to help see the game out. Did just that.
Burns -7- not much time to make an impact, but nearly made it 3-0 late on.
Campbell -5- a mixed bag for Campbell. All at sea for both goals, but made a couple of smart stops to keep the score down.
Prisock -6- didn’t do a whole lot wrong. Busy evening against an energetic Sky Blue forward line.
Simon -6- former West Ham United defender is new to this team. Did OK tonight. Tough game.
Oyster -6- caught out by the pace of Onumonu at times.
Naughton -6- let Monaghan slip by for the first goal. Caught ball watching.
Groom -6- never really got into the game.
Mewis -6- nice drive forward for the Prince chance. Struggled aside from that.
Privett -5- never got going.
Nairn -6- not her usual self-tonight. Seemed hesitant to have a go.
Hanson -6- wasn’t able to impact the game much at all.
Daly -5- totally isolated at times. Didn’t get any change out of Johnson and Lewandowski.
Prince -7- looked lively. Probably Houston's biggest threat.
Stengel -5- never really got a kick in an area of danger.
Schmidt -6- not her best day. Game was lost by the time she came in.
Kizer -6- not enough time to make an impact.
Latsko -6- even less time to make an impact.
By Dan Berridge
Photo Credit: Nikki Flores @ Footy Day Photos