Breakers 1-1 Sky Blue F.C.: Naeher Plays Heroine in Dramatic Draw

A late-match penalty-kick save preserved a draw for Alyssa Naeher and the Breakers - Thomas Langer

Despite a furious offensive performance from eighth-ranked Sky Blue F.C., the Breakers held tight, relied on their goalkeeper, and earned a 1-1 draw on the road.

After turning in 12 consecutive matches without a draw, the Breakers played an even match with rivals Sky Blue F.C., using late-game dramatics--and heady goalkeeping--to preserve a point on the road.

Just 90 seconds after kickoff, Sky Blue worked to overcome their attacking woes, when defender Caitlin Foord received a long cross, beat four defenders, and darted into the box. With goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher rushing to cover her deep touch, Foord slotted a perfectly-paced ball to Kelly O'Hara, who tapped in a point-blank finish.

For the second consecutive match, the Breakers conceded in the opening moments. And once again, they struggled to disrupt their opponents rhythm. Foord, Breakers-killer Monica Ocampo and internationally-acclaimed forward Sophie Schmidt found space to create opportunities for the ensuing 15 minutes, though Naeher and her beck line failed to break, maintaining the one-goal spread.

As the match proceeded, defender Bianca Sierra, making her Breakers' debut after arriving in a trade with Washington, asserted herself as a physical presence in the back. After shutting down a series of Sky Blue runs, Sierra left room for the Breakers to equalize. And, in the 31st minute, they took advantage.

Just after the half-hour mark, the Breakers found space to combine in the attacking third. Sky Blue turned away a close-range effort from Lianne Sanderson, but, after struggling to hold possession, let the Breakers build once again. Rookie Jazmine Reeves received a well-taken ball over the top, beat two defenders, and stung the equalizer inside the far post. The finish put Reeves' pace and physicality on display, as the forward put away a true striker's goal.

For the remaining 15 minutes, Sky Blue continued to push hard against Boston's back line, though Sierra and co. again fought off a handful of opportunities. The rival clubs entered the break in a 1-1 deadlock.

In the second half, the Breakers found their way offensively, as Lianne Sanderson began to combine with her fellow attackers. The English International helped create several half-chances, though Sky Blue found opportunities of their own, continually pestering the Breakers' back three.

After failing to record the go-ahead goal, Jim Gabarra's club received a gift in the 86th minute, when Katy Freels ripped a free kick into the 18 and off Boston's wall. The shot appeared to strike the tucked-in hand of Lianne Sanderson; without hesitation, the center official pointed to the spot, calling a controversial penalty on a handball that appeared unintentional.

Despite Boston's adamant protest, O'Hara stepped up to the spot with a game-winner in mind. Instead, Naeher read her approach and fully extended to right, denying Sky Blue a late victory with a tremendous outstretched save. Three minutes later, Naeher again kept her team alive, knocking down a deep shot from Schmidt before smothering the rebound.

In the waning moments, the Breakers fought for a final piece of drama, when O'Reilly played a wide-open cross onto Avant on the far post. With space, the defender failed to control the pass--and place an open shot on frame. Looking for a final opportunity for her home side, Freels recorded the game's last attacking chance, only to have Naeher cover her final effort.

For the entirety of Sunday's match, Sky Blue knocked on the door in search of a game-winner, though Naeher continually denied the New Jersey-based club. In the end, Breakers Head Coach Tom Durkin had to settle for a draw, a well-received result given Sky Blue's 22-4 shooting advantage. Both teams will need to make up ground to keep pace with the middle of the NWSL table.

Next Week

The Breakers will visit Western New York for the second match of a seven-game road-trip. Match kicks off at 7:30PM on Friday, June 27.

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