PISCATAWAY, NJ—With over 3,000 in attendance at home which included many girls from the Players Development Academy (PDA), Sky Blue FC (6-6-4) dropped the ball with a 1-3 loss in a crucial match against the visiting Chicago Red Stars (8-4-4).
Sky Blue FC did not pick up where they left off after finishing 3-1 before the four-week break for the Olympics.
The team was playing aggressive and hungry to win, pressuring their opponents with a fierce tenacity to win each challenge and took down the best team in the league.
With players banged up and injured, missing their starting goalkeeper Caroline Stanley, as well as Kelly O'Hara, Sam Kerr, and Raquel Rodriquez for international play, Sky Blue had stepped up and played to a higher level.
But now with the team now rested and mostly healed up after the much-needed break, Sky Blue did play as hard as they had been on a night when they needed to.
Sky Blue dug themselves into a deep hole on Saturday, losing a crucial match against a team they are battling a playoff spot with.
Chicago now has 28 points in third place, while Sky Blue has fallen to sixth place with 22 points, trailing Seattle by one point and New York by four.
With four games remaining and now in a tough position, Sky Blue cannot afford to lose another game and will require a strong finish to see postseason action.
Sky Blue hasn't seen the playoffs since the NWSL's inaugural season in 2013, when they clinched the fourth and final spot.
Chicago had a huge pickup over the break, acquiring midfielder Stephanie McCaffrey from Boston.
Along with U.S. international Christen Press and forward, Vanessa DiBernardo, the Red Stars were constantly getting long runs up field. This created many opportunities to strike and resulted in countless corner-kicks.
The first goal came in the 31st minute in a terrific shot, as McCaffrey found herself down right sideline with Christie Rampone draped over her. About 25-yards out, she took the off-balance shot, bouncing off the far post and in.
Before the goal, Sky Blue was coming into their own and had two great attempts on goal with Tasha Kai. McCaffrey's goal, however took the wind out of their sails.
The next two goals came just seven minutes apart in the 73rd and 80th minutes of play, both from Chicago.
DiBernardo intercepted a poor clearance from Stanley, quickly sending a through-ball to Press inside the box, chipping in an easy shot.
Later on, Arin Gililand connected with Sofia Huerta on a corner-kick, finding her behind the far post and unmarked. Within this time span, Chicago caught Sky Blue tied and off guard to pull away with the lead.
Kelly O'Hara entered at the start of the second half. O'Hara looked be off her game, accidently sending a few of her passes to the other team.
Chicago didn't play a physical game, except when they challenged O'Hara, as she was constantly getting shoved to the ground when she found the ball.
Sky Blue had only a few real chances to score. Once with a Tasha Kai header going off the crossbar 51st minute after receiving a cross from Leah Galton.
The other was a goal which was taken away from them in the 39th minute.
With lots of commotion inside the box after Sarah Killion fired a hard shot off of Naeher, the ball was arguably inside over the goal line, but quickly bicycled out by Gililand. The ball then fell to Kai who's shot was blocked again.
Up in the air, Gililand headed it out over Killion who was standing in an offside position, but never touched the ball.
Finally, it fell to Sam Kerr who put it into the goal, but was negated for Killion being offside. Because of the amount of people in the box and the quickness of the play, it's understandable why the referee missed the call.
In the added stoppage time, O'Hara was clipped from behind by Alyssa Mautz who received a yellow card for her misconduct. In pain and unable to get up, O'Hara was carried off the field by two of the team's trainers, who avoided applying pressure to her left knee.
Sky Blue had recently lost midfielder Catherine Zimmerman due to a torn meniscus she suffered in their game against Washington before the break.
Soon after the injury, Galton delivered a beautifully placed cross from the left flank over to Sam Kerr who easily headed it past Chicago's goalkeeper and U.S. backup, Alyssa Naeher.