PISCATAWAY, N.J.—Seattle Reign FC dominated possession for long stretches, created a number of quality chances and rarely allowed Sky Blue FC a clean shot on goal.
But as the Reign learned last year when they lost the NWSL Championship game to FC Kansas City, one statistic trumps all others.
And when the final whistle blew Saturday night at Yurcak Field that statistic was level at 1-1.
“People will sit around and say we dominated and blah, blah, blah. Goals change games,” a visibly irritated Laura Harvey said post-game. “We learned it the cruelest way possible last year and … we’ve got to regroup. We’ve got to think about things that we need to get better at, but it’s minor things, it’s that killing danger which at home we’re good at. Away we just have to be a little bit better.”
Along with conceding the three points, the controversial penalty call in the 89th minute will certainly linger in Seattle’s mind.
After a corner kick from Sky Blue (1-2-2) resulted in two goal line saves from Reign goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer, the ball appeared to be out for a corner kick following a third block from Jessica Fishlock.
But after discussing with the sideline official, the head referee awarded a penalty kick for Sky Blue and a red card to Fishlock for blocking the ball with her hand to send Seattle (2-2-1) to 10 players.
Forward Nadia Nadim then coolly placed the penalty into the left corner for the equalizer and her second goal of the season.
“[Fishlock] said she didn’t hand ball it, she said she headed it,” Harvey said about the call. “[The referee’s] said handball on the line, red card, but she said she headed it.”
Sky Blue head coach Jim Gabarra felt the exact opposite calling the decision a clear penalty and praised his side for scrapping back for a home point.
“It was an important psychological shift for us to come back to get the goal,” Gabarra said. “I think you get in these games and you give up a goal and haven’t been able to come back all season so it was good that we found some energy and commitment to get forward [following the equalizer].”
Not even a shot on goal seemed likely for Sky Blue through the first half of play.
The New Jersey club had struggled to create consistent scoring chances entering the matchup having not scored more than a goal in a game this season and took until the 44th minute to register its first clear chance.
“It was almost like we had the mentality where we felt like we were going to lose it again so we weren’t moving to be able to keep it,” Gabarra said of the first half showing.
Fishlock took only eight minutes to create her first of several scoring opportunities of the game including a chance off a turnover in the 32nd minute where she was one-on-one with Sky Blue’s Brittany Cameron. But like she did throughout the game, Sky Blue’s new captain in place of the absent Christie Rampone was up for the challenge making a number of big saves to deny the Reign from pulling ahead.
Her most notable came in the 52nd minute where she denied two Seattle players within five seconds.
It was a player of the week type of performance from the 5-foot-8 goalkeeper who continues her impressive form between the posts.
“I think I’m always pretty confident and it’s part of the game to be a keeper,” Cameron said on her moral. “…And obviously making those saves helps not only my confidence, but the team’s, and that’s the ultimate goal.”
Seattle did manage a breakthrough, however, behind a left-footed blast from Seattle defender Lauren Barnes.
It came in the 76th minute off a loose ball at the top of the 18-yard box following a corner kick which Barnes managed to sneak past several Sky Blue defenders including an outstretched Cameron.
The result seemed to be a foregone conclusion at that point until Sky Blue managed to equalize in bizarre fashion to avoid its third straight defeat and prevent Seattle from recording its first winning streak of the season. While the comeback showed resilience and could even serve as the turning point for his side to regain its form, Gabarra said he’d prefer to be the team leading in the future.
“I think with the way our team is right now, it’s never beneficial to go down a goal,” Gabarra said. “I mean, you can build confidence from coming back … but you don’t want to say ‘hey let’s get down a goal and so we can comeback [and win]’. It’s a good quality to have but not a good strategy.”
Next Up: Sky Blue travels to Maryland attempting to enact revenge against the Washington Spirit on its home turf while Seattle will not play another league game until the end of May where it hosts the Chicago Red Stars.
Sky Blue FC vs. Seattle Reign FC
May 9, 2015 – Yurcak Field
Piscataway, New Jersey
Goal by Half
Sky Blue FC: 0-1-1
Seattle Reign FC: 0-1-1
SBFC—Nadia Nadim (PK) —90’
SBFC: Brittany Cameron, Cami Levin (Kim DeCesare, 85), Kristin Grubka, Hayley Haagsma, Lindsi Cutshall, Meg Morris, Katy Freels, Sarah Killion, Shawna Gordon, Taylor Lytle (Maya Hayes, 70), Nadia Nadim
SEA: Haley Kopmeyer, Elli Reed, Kendall Fletcher, Lauren Barnes, Stephanie Cox, Keelin Winters, Jess Fishlock, Kim Little, Kiersten Dallstream (Danielle Foxhoven, 57), Beverly Yanez (Amber Brooks, 86), Merritt Mathias (Mariah, Nogueira 86)
SBFC – Nadia Nadim (Yellow card) – 78′
SBFC – Kristin Grubka (Yellow card) – 82′
SRFC – Jessica Fishlock (Red card) – 90′