PISCATAWAY, N.J. — The Chicago Red Stars finally managed to beat Sky Blue FC this season, courtesy of goals from Morgan Brian, Sam Kerr, and Yuki Nagasato. Here are three takeaways from the Red Stars’ 3-0 victory Sunday at Yurcak Field.
Red Stars tweaks key to victory
In some ways, the Red Stars’ trip to Yurcak Field resembled its previous one, which Sky Blue won 2-1 on August 14. The two teams were even in many respects, with either looking just as capable as the other at times to score. While things went Sky Blue’s way a month ago, the Red Stars were able to finish their chances and collect a very valuable victory as the playoffs approach.
“We probably created more chances last time we were here,” Red Stars head coach Rory Dames said after the match. “The game comes [down] to taking chances.”
The Red Stars had 11 shots on Sunday, six less than the 17 they managed last month. While the finishing improved, the Red Stars changed personnel between the two matches. Playing at center back Sunday were Tierna Davidson and Julie Ertz, coming in for Sarah Gordon and Katie Johnson. Dames noted the United States national team players’ particular skill sets would be useful against Sky Blue.
“We thought that they’d be in some sort of 4-4-2 because they’ve had success with it, and it matches up with the personnel that they have,” Dames said. “We could attack it a little bit different with Julie and Tierna as our center backs than we can with Katie and Sarah so we were able to diagonally hurt them because that’s where the space is against the diamond.”
Sky Blue captain Sarah Killion also recognized the duo’s ability to create difficulties for her side.
“Their characteristics [can] be a little bit more midfield-like than center defender-like,” Killion said. “But they both obviously played center back as well, so it’s really shutting down the players that you’ve just got to be ready for.”
The strategy clearly paid off for the Red Stars, beating Sky Blue for the first time this season.
Sky Blue sweat small stuff
While Dames and the Red Stars managed to out-maneuver the opposition, Sky Blue struggled to maintain a strong start that saw them play evenly with the Red Stars. The match was ultimately lost midway through the first half with the Red Stars’ 31st and 33rd minute goals.
“We’ve just got to play better,” Killion said. “Can’t make mistakes that easily.”
Sky Blue suffered from what interim head coach Freya Coombe described as “lapses of concentration” on those two goals, which was eventually followed by a third for the Red Stars in the 80th minute. Though the second half saw spells of possession for Sky Blue and even a meaningful opportunity or two, once the momentum swung the Red Stars’ way, it hardly changed. It was an example of Sky Blue’s inconsistency over the course of the season.
“We didn’t do some of the simple things well today,” Coombe said. “It’s now just where to find those individual mistakes, I think, and then just being a bit more clinical.”
Killion detailed some of those specific errors that led to the loss.
“It’s giveaways and then on top of that, it’s how we recover as a team defensively, getting back in around the box,” the midfielder said. “There’s just a lot of little things that we’re going to have to go back at film and take a look at and tinker with and make sure that we learn from.”
Final stretch optimism
With three matches left and a playoff berth out of reach, Sky Blue have a few priorities left for the 2019 season. Addressing Sunday’s smaller mistakes is at the forefront, but addressing the overarching inconsistency plaguing the team all season will be its biggest task.
“I think that we’ve shown hints of greatness, but not [consistently] enough, and not for 90 minutes so I think it’s going to be about putting [in] a whole 90 minute game for us,” Killion said about the team’s final goal for 2019.
“I think halves of games, we’ve done well,” Killion added. “None of us are okay with that.”
The group remains positive about an ability to complete that task, despite the small amount of time. Coombe, in her first professional coaching job, finds the situation encouraging.
“We’ve outshot our opponent, which we weren’t doing at the start of the season,” Coombe said after Sky Blue recorded 14 shots. “I’m optimistic because I think it’s so fixable. It’s just being a bit more clinical on the board and taking chances.”
Like Coombe, Killion said Sky Blue is in a better spot than it was at the start of the season. Both agree the timeline might be short, but managing a consistent match is possible before the close of the season.
“I think we’re definitely capable,” Killion said. “I think it’s just going to be about consistently, all 11 plus, all bench players making sure that we’re focused, know the game plan, you know exactly what we need to do and just getting stuck in and getting the job done.”