Sky Blue FC’s defense has been a problem for most of the season. (Jeffrey Auger Photo)

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – There were no late-match heroics by Sam Kerr this time, only a late second-half meltdown.

Sky Blue FC saw a one-goal advantage and a spot in the National Women’s Soccer League playoffs go down the drain as the team allowed two goals in the final 15 minutes en route to a 2-1 defeat to the Washington Spirit at Yurcak Field.

So, Sky Blue FC (9-11-2, 29 points) will be on the outside looking into the postseason. Another team that has no playoff hopes, the Spirit (5-13-4, 19) performed the execution.

“It was an incredible performance by every single player that stepped on the field today,” said Spirit head coach and general manager Jim Gabarra, a former Sky Blue head coach. “I couldn’t be be prouder that everyone executed their roles in the game plan. There were so many excellent performances across the board. It was a true team effort and team victory.”

The hosts created a handful of offensive opportunities in the opening half, nearly getting an early lead in the 9th minute. Kerr, who has scored a league-best 16 goals this season, split two defenders inside the box, sending a ball to Taylor Lytle. Lytle saw her shot kick-saved by goalkeeper DiDi Haracic. Kerr headed the ball back towards the net but Haracic claimed possession of the delivery.

The Jersey side continued to create chances as its efforts paid off when Maya Hayes made good on a chance in the 43rd minute. After Haracic booted a goal kick to the middle fo the field, Hayes picked it from the air and sent a header in the direction of Kerr. The Australia international touched it back to Hayes, who raced towards the goal before she was stopped on a diving save from Haracic. Kerr stretched out to put a rebound on target, but her attempt hit a defender. She knocked the loose ball back to Hayes, who touched around a defender before firing a shot into the back of the net.

The Spirit leveled the score in the 75th minute. On a corner kick that was sent into the area by Shelina Zadorsky, Whitney Church snuck a header inside the left post to make it 1-1.

In the 85th minute, Washington took the lead lead of the evening when Lindsey Agnew laid a ball off for Mallory Pugh. The U.S. international touched around a defender before striking a hard right-footed shot that slotted under a diving goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan.

Sky Blue FC almost tallied the equalizer in the second minute of stoppage time. Kelley O’Hara was played into a 1 v 1 situation with Haracic, stepping around her before shooting a ball on frame that was blocked by a defender. O’Hara gathered the rebound and played the ball to Daphne Corboz, who fired a shot that Haracic went high to punch away. The ball landed at the feet of O’Hara, and the U.S. international hit a strike that Haracic again knocked away before it was cleared by a defender.

Scoring summary:

NJ – Maya Hayes 43’

WAS – Whitney Church (Shelina Zadorsky) 75’
WAS – Mallory Pugh (Lindsay Agnew) 85’

Sky Blue FC Lineup: 1-Kailen Sheridan; 8-Erica Skroski, 17-Dominique Richardson, 22-Mandy Freeman, 19-Kelley O’Hara, 16-Sarah Killion, 6-Taylor Lytle, 73-Madison Tiernan (11-Raquel Rodríguez, 76’), 7-Nikki Stanton, 20-Sam Kerr (c), 5-Maya Hayes (10-Daphne Corboz, 67’)
Substitutes Not Used: 15-Kayla Mills, 2-McKenzie Meehan, 27-Caroline Casey, 4-Cassidy Benintente
Head Coach: David Hodgson

Washington Spirit Lineup: 21-DiDi Haracic; 6-Kassey Kallman, 3-Caprice Dydasco, 5-Whitney Church, 4-Shelina Zadorsky (c), 29-Meggie Dougherty Howard, 22-Alyssa Kleiner, 12-Morgan Proffitt, 20-Cheyna Williams (17-Cali Farquharson, 71’); 8-Lindsay Agnew (23-Tori Huster, 86’), 9-Havana Solaun (11-Mallory Pugh, 62’)
Substitutes Not Used: 18-Kelsey Wys
Head Coach: Jim Gabarra

Stats Summary: NJ / WAS
Shots: 21/16
Shots on Goal: 9/5
Saves: 3/7
Corner Kicks: 2/4
Fouls: 5/4
Offside: 10/1

Misconduct Summary:

Referee: Rebecca Pagan
Asst. Referee: Tom Felice, Ian McKay
4th Official: Jared Simons