PISCATAWAY, NJ—On a cool and misty Saturday night, Sky Blue FC (4-4-4, 16 pts) was able to secure a 1-0 victory over the visiting Houston Dash (2-7-1, 7 pts) in front of their fans at Yurcak field on the Rutgers campus.
For Sky Blue, the region's team in the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL), this was a much-needed victory, as the team picked up three points to put them in playoff contention.
In their previous five matches, they went 1-3-1, all of which were close contests they could have won but were missing a spark of momentum to edge past their opponents.
Leading the charge that night was Taylor Lytle, who providing her team the lead with an early second half goal.
Commenting on the 22-yard distance Lytle struck the ball, head coach Christy Holly said, “We’ve been telling her to take those for the last year and half. She’s playing great all season and it was great to see her get the goal.
The Dash were off to the races to start, constantly sending through-balls up to their speedy forwards, Rachel Daly, Kealia Ohai, and Denise O'Sullivan.
The pressure forced the Sky Blue back line to work hard and smart in order to limit scoring opportunities.
The experienced Christie Rampone and Kristin Grubka proved their defensive talent by disrupting each attack the Dash attempted.
Lucky for Sky Blue, Rampone decided to stay with her team this month and pass on playing for the national team along with her teammate, Kelly O'Hara, in the 2016 Olympic games.
The Houston Dash were without star players Carli Lloyd and Morgan Brian for national duty as well. Having lost seven of their key players from injury or national team service, coach Randy Waldrum has had to go deep into his bench and force young players to fill starting roles.
While Sky Blue continued to improve throughout the match, the Dash seemed to have lost their quality on passing, which resulted in many lost possessions.
Unable to score in their last 570 minutes of play, this last month and a half has been brutal for the Dash, who picked up their last win over FC Kansas on May 7.
The die-hard SkyBlue fans provided another factor to the game, cheering on their team and seemingly getting in the heads of the Dash with their liveliness.
Once the Dash's attack sizzled down, Sky Blue began connecting passes and started runs down the sidelines.
Looking to send crosses over to forward, Tasha Kai, which proved to be quite challenging as she was caught offside on multiple occasions.
The Dash encountered this problem numerous times as well during the first half, as they lead the NWSL with 50+ offside calls.
Around the 25th minute was when play had begun to get physical among the players. Kai, Rampone, Killion, and Galton shined through with their toughness, resulting in the Dash to back down from continuing their aggressive play.
Late in the first half the Dash nearly found an equalizer, as Amber Brooks struck a far shot which smacked off the left post.
In the second half it was a different game. Sky Blue maintained the majority of possession in the second as the Dash controlled it in the first.
Sky Blue came out fired up in the second half, with multiple looks on goals to begin while finding their lone goal in the 54th minute.
Midfielder and player of the match, Sarah Killion, found Taylor Lytle sitting in a perfect empty space on the pitch in between the line of four midfielders and four defenders, not receiving pressure from either of the eight players.
Catching the Dash lulled to sleep, Lytle took one touch to set up her shot, and from about 22 yards out she fired a bullet which hooked into the left side netting of the goal past a diving Lydia Williams. Gooolllaaazzzooo!!!
“I’ve been hitting them from there in practice and everybody’s been telling me to take those shots,” said Lytle. “Sarah just gave me a great ball and the shot was just there. I’ve been trying to just do my job and it’s easy to play with Sarah and Raquel.”
Backup goalkeeper Caroline Casey recorded the shutout victory in her fourth appearance this year.
Casey replaces Caroline Stanley after she sprained her left shoulder last weekend in their 1-2 loss to Portland Thorns FC.
With Stanley out, Sky Blue signed their former goalkeeper and current assistant coach, Jill Loyden, this past Friday due to their shortage of goalkeepers.
Loyden last played for the team back in 2014 and was a former alternate on the women's national team in the 2011 Germany World Cup and 2012 London Olympic Games.
“All of the credit for this performance must go to the players,” said Holly. "As the season progresses, you can really see our connection coming together. Our team has a great understanding of one another, and they continue to gel and display fantastic teamwork."
"We made it a bit hard for ourselves at the end, but I had a supreme amount of confidence that we would close out the game. I could see how hungry our players were for the win, as well as their clear desire in playing for one another.”
Sky Blue returns will be back in action on the road next Sunday, July 17 against the Boston Breakers. Kickoff is set for 5:00 pm.
A live stream can be found on the NWSL YouTube channel.