Sky Blue FC played the North Carolina Courage to a 2-0 loss Monday night to finish off the preliminary round of the NWSL Challenge Cup. Tonight’s Pride Match was presented by NJM Insurance Group.
The Courage came out flying to start the first half and quickly found the back of the net in the 7th minute off a shot from Sam Mewis. Following the corner kick service, the ball fell to Mewis, who slotted it into the back of the net from just outside the six.
Sky Blue goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan was tested early and often in this match. In the 18th minute, Sheridan made a diving save off a shot from Debinha at the top of the box. Ten minutes later, Courage midfielder Crystal Dunn broke through and sent in a shot from about eight yards out, but Sheridan was there with the kick-save to keep the ball out of the back of the net.
As the first half went on, Sky Blue was able to work their way into the match, putting more pressure on the ball and maintaining spells of possession. The Sky Blue attack forced the relentless Courage team to defend for significant portions of the half as the midfield and final-third began clicking.
Sky Blue came closest to scoring in the 36th minute when Jennifer Cudjoe ripped a shot towards the top left corner of the goal from outside the box, but Rowland ultimately knocked it away. The team then ended the half on the front foot but was unable to capitalize on the momentum.
The game was back and forth to start the second half, as Sheridan saved a free-kick from Debinha in the 48th minute, then on the other end, Sabrina Flores curled a shot that went just over the bar in the 49th minute. Five minutes later, the Courage doubled their lead when Lynn Williams played a cross into Crystal Dunn at the right-center of the box. Dunn slotted the ball into the near post, making the score 2-0 in favor of the Courage.
Sky Blue was able to return to their possession-oriented style after the second Courage goal. Nahomi Kawasumi, McCall Zerboni, and Domi Richardson all connected through the midfield, but the Courage defense did not allow them any chances on goal.
In the first minute of stoppage time, Evelyne Viens almost cut North Carolina’s lead in half when she found herself through on goal from the right side of the box after making a run behind the Courage defense. Viens drove a shot towards Rowland, who was able to come up with the save. The whistle blew just a few minutes later, officially putting an end to the NWSL Challenge Cup preliminary rounds.
Despite the loss, Sky Blue will come away with some positives, including the fact that they held 57.5% of possession against the most dominant team in the NWSL. Additionally, Flores was a bright spot on the right side for Sky Blue, creating chances offensively then coming back to shut down the Courage attack. Her work on both sides of the ball earned her the Saker ShopRite Woman of the Match Award.
Sheridan put in yet another impressive shift in goal, as she made a few key saves to keep Sky Blue in the game. Her point-blank stop off Dunn’s shot in the 28th minute was named the Verizon Save of the Match, an honor that Sheridan has now earned three times in four Challenge Cup matches.
With the result, Sky Blue ended the preliminary round in 7th place with a record of 1-2-1, setting them up for a quarterfinal matchup against the Washington Spirit on Saturday, July 18, at 12:30 p.m. ET. Hackensack Meridian Health is proudly presenting the Sky Blue FC quarterfinal match.
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