PISCATAWAY, N.J.— The chance for Sky Blue FC to extend its franchise record six-game winning streak to seven was ended Saturday night at Yurcak Field with a 1-1 draw to the Houston Dash.
But that was far from the main storyline when the final whistle blew.
After taking a 1-0 lead 14 minutes into the first half thanks to a goal from midfielder Katy Freels, Sky Blue emerged from the locker room at halftime with star striker Nadia Nadim on the bench.
Six minutes later, the Dash had equalized off a cross which found forward Jessica McDonald for an easy tap-in and the New Jersey side was left practically toothless up front.
Sky Blue head coach Jim Gabarra called it a mutual substitution between player and coach.
“[Nadia] has a little [bit] of a groin tightness so we didn’t want to push it,” Gabarra said. “It was something that happened in training yesterday, and we just didn’t want to push it too much and risk losing her for some more games.”
Even with Nadim on the field, the Dash was on the front foot from the opening whistle.
It started in the third minute when goalkeeper Brittany Cameron was beat in a foot race to a loose ball in the 18-yard box by Houston midfielder Carli Lloyd. Luckily for Cameron, rookie defender Kristin Grubka was there to clear Lloyd’s cross into the six-yard box out of danger.
Two minutes later, a loose ball bounced to Dash and fellow U.S. national team midfielder Morgan Brian who blasted a promising chance well over the cross bar.
Sky Blue made Houston pay for its missed opportunities off a quick restart started by midfielder Sarah Killion which put Nadim through on the counter. The in-form striker then found an overlapping Kelley O’Hara down the left flank whose cross into the box landed to Freels who tucked it home despite Dash goalkeeper Erin McLeod getting a touch on the ball. That’s when momentum abruptly shifted to the home team with Freels nearly scoring a brace five minutes later only to see her curling right-footed shot from just outside the box sail just over the goal.
When Nadim was subbed at the half, Sky Blue brought in defender Meg Morris and moved forward Maya Hayes to the Denmark international’s central role.
But before the New Jersey side had a chance to settle in, the Dash leveled the score when a cross from Brian down the right flank soared over the head of a surprised Cameron and into McDonald’s path for a tap-in from about one yard away from the goal.
Sky Blue began to slowly bunker it in after that, creating very little going forward while Houston pushed for a second.
“In the last 15 minutes it kind of just turned into both teams pressing trying to get that extra goal so I think we lost our way a little bit in the second half,” Freels said. “We didn’t keep it very well in transition, so we were doing a lot more defending than I think we needed to.”
The Dash came close on three occasions within the final five minutes to stealing the three points most notably in the 88th minute when Brian was left alone for a header in the box, but Cameron stood strong to preserve the draw.
“[It’s] mixed feelings,” Dash head coach Randy Waldrum said about the final result. “I thought we were unlucky not to actually get three points, especially the way we were kind of on them at the with so many set pieces and opportunities that we didn’t score, but at the same time, compared to last year … we wouldn’t have last year walked away with getting any points after going down so I’m really proud of the way we fought back and got back in the game.”
NEXT UP: Sky Blue will next play host to the Washington Spirit on April 26 while the Dash will travel to face the Boston Breakers.