Washington Spirit overpower Sky Blue FC, 4-1
Washington Spirit scored four goals in the second half to defeat Sky Blue FC. | Photo: Washington Spirit Twitter - @WashSpirit

The FIFA international break ended, and the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) returned to action on Friday night, nearly 24 hours after the last game in the 2017 Tournament of Nations.

With the end of the tournament so close to an NWSL game day, both the Washington Spirit and Sky Blue FC were without key players in their starting lineups.

Sky Blue FC played without Australian international Sam Kerr, whose team won the inaugural tournament, and Kelley O'Hara, who left the game in the first half of the United States victory over Japan with a groin injury. Washington settled without Mallory Pugh for the evening.

Both teams would undoubtedly have to replace important players on their rosters, but after four Washington goals in the second half, it was evident that the New Jersey side missed Kerr, their leading scorer and MVP/Golden Boot candidate, and O'Hara's versatile play on defense and on the right flank.

Here's how it all went down for the second meeting between the two clubs. Washington and Sky Blue had already met earlier this season in Washington, where the Spirit claimed a 4-3 win.

Sky Blue Lead for 51 Minutes

With all the talk about Sky Blue being without two of its international stars, Sky Blue showed initially that they would be just fine. In the second minute, Erica Skroski made a short pass to McKenzie Meehan, who took it up the left flank and found Maya Hayes on the far post. Hayes was in the position to receive the cross and put it in for an early goal, her third of the season.

The Spirit got right back on the attack with back-to-back corner kicks, but both were cleared away. In the 11th minute, Kristie Mewis had a good chance to equalize after a pass from Havana Solaun, but her shot was too high.

On the other end, eight minutes later, Sky Blue nearly doubled their lead, but the assistant referee called Meehan offsides, and the goal was not counted.

Both teams continued back and forth with chances for the rest of the half, but neither found the net. Both keepers, Sky Blue's Kaelin Sheridan and Washington's Stephanie Labbé, made crucial saves. Labbé stopped a Meehan wide open shot in the center of the box in the 27th minute, which could have easily given Sky Blue another goal, and Sheridan made a diving safe after a Mewis hard shot.

Washington Turns the Tide

In a first half that saw Sky Blue with plenty of opportunities to extend their lead, the Spirit returned to the second half more determined to score. It did not take long into the second half for that determination to pay off. Two minutes into the half, Cheyna Williams found space in the Sky Blue box and sent a sailing shot over the net. In the 52nd minute, the Washington attack was again pressing for the equalizer. This time, Arielle Ship took the ball up the right flank and blasted a shot that seared towards the net into the upper left-hand corner for her first career NWSL goal.

Ten minutes later, in the 62nd minute, Williams extended the Spirit lead, 2-1, with her second goal of the season. A long ball from Labbé found Williams that allowed her to make the run that beat Sheridan.

Washington did not relent and in the 73rd minute, another young player, Meggie Dougherty Howard, scored her first NWSL goal to give the Spirit the 3-1 lead. Ship with a short pass to Howard created the opportunity for Howard to beat double coverage.

Sky Blue had an opportunity to shrink Washington's lead when Daphne Corboz took a shot from the left side in the 86th minute, but Labbé, with confidence, made the save.

One minute later, in the 87th minute, Washington was awarded a penalty kick after Howard drew the foul. Havana Solaun buried her shot to the right side, beating Sheridan's diving attempt, which gave the Spirit the 4-1 lead.

With four unanswered goals in the second half, Washington picked up an important win over a Sky Blue team that struggled significantly without Kerr, O'Hara, and Leah Galton, who was out with a back strain.

Sky Blue FC will be glad to have their key players return next week as they travel to take on the Orlando Pride next Saturday night. Washington has four days to prepare for a trip to Orlando for a Tuesday matchup.