Even a switch in uniforms was not enough for Sky Blue FC to break its winless rut.
In the second of three meetings between Sky Blue and the Houston Dash, the New Jersey club switched from blue to pink but still only managed a repeat of the first meeting drawing 1-1 at Yurcak Field in Piscataway.
Thing seemed to be going differently for the home side when midfielder Hayley Haagsma became the first player to score for Sky Blue not named Katy Freels or Nadia Nadim, for her first professional goal.
But it was Houston midfielder Allie Bailey, an amateur call-up who has remained with the Dash since May 15, whose own first career professional goal played the spoils.
Having saved a penalty kick in the 76th minute and outplayed the Dash for long segments, the draw was just another reminder of how luckless Sky Blue’s season has been.
It didn’t matter that it created chances, in the end, the lack of goals put in the back of the net continues to be the club’s Achilles heel, having failed to score more than one goal in a game now in its last eight.
“We have to find a way to push through the lack of focus at the end of games,” said Sky Blue head coach Jim Gabarra postgame. “We played well enough again today to come away with three points, but we did not do a good enough job finishing our chances. As a team, we need to have a little bit better concentration to put shots on frame, as well as displaying that killer instinct to put goals away.”
If there was ever a time Sky Blue was going to finally score two or more goals, the odds seemed to be in its favor just 11 minutes in.
After controlling the tempo early, a corner kick from Freels was won in the air by rookie defender Kristin Grubka whose header found Haagsma open at the corner of the six-yard-box.
The Bellflower, California, native then instinctively headed the ball gently across the face of goal into the right side of the net giving Dash goalkeeper and reigning NWSL Player of the Week Bianca Henninger no chance.
But instead of trying to sit on the lead, Sky Blue continued to push forward and by the first half’s end, could have, and perhaps should have, been up by two or three.
The most notable first half chances came to the foot of forward Kim DeCesare who was twice played through down the right hand side of the 18-yard-box.
On the first opportunity in the 14th minute, DeCesare elected to send a one-time cross across the box instead of settling the ball which Henninger grabbed easily. The second came off a counter attack in the 32nd minute where, in a similar position, DeCesare elected to shoot near post instead of across goal with her right-footed effort blistering just wide.
The Dash appeared ready to make Sky Blue pay for its missed chances in the 76th minute when a challenge from substitute Meg Morris led to a penalty kick for the visitors. With a chance to add to her goal tally and play hero once again, forward Jessica McDonald stepped up to take the spot kick.
Instead, it was goalkeeper Brittany Cameron who delivered a big save as she has all season for her club to retain the lead.
Having emerged from the penalty scare unscathed, it appeared that Sky Blue would finally be winning its first game since the season opener April 12 with just five minutes remaining.
But as fate would have it, the Dash still managed to equalize in the 86th minute after in-form Kealia Ohai played a low ball across the six-yard box.
The initial ball found Houston forward Tiffany McCarty who was denied at point-blank range by Cameron, but the save ricocheted the ball to the foot of Bailey who calmly placed the rebound into the open net.
Moments later, a whipped in ball to the back post from Ohai nearly saw the Dash escape New Jersey with all three points, but McDonald scuffed her shot over the bar to conclude the forward’s disappointing day.
Still, the draw extends Houston’s unbeaten streak to three games with the Dash sitting in fifth place in the league standings.
Sky Blue, who with a win would have been in fifth place, remains at the bottom of the standings wondering what could have been and extends its winless streak to seven games, a club record.
“We have to do a better job of putting away games,” Haagsma said postgame. “It starts in the back and goes all the way up to the front. We have to get on the same page as a team and figure out that last piece of the puzzle that we have been missing.”
Next Up: Sky Blue travels across the country to face Seattle Reign FC Saturday, June 6. Houston will return home to host Portland Thorns FC in a rematch of two weeks ago.
Goals by period 1 2 F
Sky Blue FC 1 0 1
Houston Dash 0 1 1
SBFC: Hayley Haagsma (Kristin Grubka) – 11’
Houston: Allie Bailey 86’
SBFC: Brittany Cameron, Maya Hayes (Sarah Killion, 81), Kristin Grubka, Lindsi Cutshall, Camille Levin, Taylor Lytle, Katy Freels, Hayley Haagsma, Kim DeCesare, Shawna Gordon (Meg Morris, 46), Nadia Nadim
HOU: Bianca Henninger, Toni Pressley, Kealia Ohai, Brittany Bock, Jessica McDonald, Niki Cross, Melissa Henderson (Jordan Jackson, 70), Cami Privett (Tiffany McCarty, 60), Ellie Brush, Ella Masar, Rachael Axon
SBFC: Kim DeCesare – 86′