Sky Blue FC played the Chicago Red Stars to a tight 3-2 loss in the semifinal of the NWSL Challenge Cup Wednesday night, bringing an end to the team’s tournament. The match was presented digitally by NJM Insurance Group.
Chicago started the first half on the front-foot and quickly found the back of the net in the 8th minute. After being played in by Katlyn Johnson, Bianca St. Georges curled her shot into the left corner of the goal from the right side of the box, putting her team up 1-0 early.
The Red Stars doubled their lead three minutes later when the ball fell to Rachel Hill at the center of the box. The Chicago forward quickly settled the ball, then placed it past Kailen Sheridan into the right side of the net.
Following the two early Chicago goals, Sky Blue quickly worked their way into the match. Forward Paige Monaghan helped create multiple opportunities from the right side, most notably in the 21st minute when her dangerous shot from the top of the box hit the crossbar. In the remainder of the half, Monaghan, along with midfielder McCall Zerboni and forward Ifeoma Onumonu led the Sky Blue attack, but the team was unable to convert any opportunities on goal.
Sky Blue continued with their possession to start the second half, as the players were able to find each other through midfield and work their way into the final third. In the 60th minute, however, the Red Stars broke through on the counter when Savannah McCaskill drove the ball forward, then connected with St. Georges, who played it back to her at the right-center of the box. McCaskill then placed the ball into the back of the net, giving her team the 3-0 lead.
The Chicago attack was back for more a few minutes later when Rachel Hill found herself behind the Sky Blue defense. Sheridan was quick off her line to cut down the angle and make the 1v1 save on Hill’s shot from about 12 yards out.
Sky Blue’s comeback began in the 72nd minute off a corner from midfielder Sarah Woldmoe. The ball reached Zerboni, who headed it down from the center of the box towards rookie forward Evelyne Viens. Standing right in front of the goal, Viens deflected the ball with her head past Naeher and into the back of the net.
The Viens goal gave life to the Sky Blue attack, as they continued to create opportunities on goal. In the 77th minute, defender Midge Purce drove forward on the right side, cut past her defender and into the box, then played the ball across the goal. The ball then deflected off of defender Julie Ertz and went into the back of the net. The own-goal brought the score to 3-2, meaning Sky Blue needed just one more goal to bring the match level.
Sky Blue then tried everything they could to find the equalizing goal, throwing numbers forward and forcing Chicago to defend for the remainder of the match. Despite their efforts, Sky Blue was unable to level the score. After six minutes of stoppage time, the whistle ultimately blew, bringing an end to Sky Blue’s Challenge Cup campaign.
The Wednesday night matchup served as an exciting conclusion to the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup for Sky Blue. Although Chicago ultimately came away with the victory, Sky Blue scored their first two NWSL playoff goals in franchise history. Also, Viens’ goal in the 72nd minute earned her a spot on the scoresheet for the first time in her NWSL career.
Sheridan had yet another impressive performance in goal to keep her team in the match. Her 1v1 save on Hill’s shot in the 64th minute was named the Verizon Save of the Match, an honor the keeper earned in five out of her six Challenge Cup matches. Additionally, Sky Blue defender Gina Lewandowski was named the Saker ShopRite Woman of the Match for her stellar performance defensively, making several key plays to shut down the Chicago attack.
Despite not making the final, Sky Blue still surpassed many people’s expectations with their impressive Challenge Cup performance. Coming into the tournament, Sky Blue was given +3,000 odds of winning it all, the lowest chance among the eight teams in the Challenge Cup. Although the players hoped to make the final, they are leaving the NWSL bubble knowing they gained the respect of many fans, players, and coaches with their exceptional play throughout the tournament.
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