HARRISON, NJ - Sunday's National Women's Soccer League matchup at Red Bulls Arena was a battle for last place. The game was New Jersey's Sky Blue's last home game and the finale was moved from the team's Rutgers University based Yurcak Field to accommodate a larger crowd since the game featured World Cup winning United States National Team players Carli Lloyd, Ali Krieger, Ashlyn Harris and Alex Morgan. Morgan did not suit up for the game because of an injury. Additional fans did come out. Eight thousand plus saw Lloyd tie the game in the 88th minute of play, but the score didn't necessarily matter to a group of seven and eight year old soccer players from the Old Bridge Girls Soccer League.
The U9 Thunder had the opportunity to suit up and play a mini scrimmage at halftime, stepping onto the big stage with the crowd cheering them on. It was a moment a group of soccer girls from New Jersey will remember for many years to come.
Spotswood's Andrew Lui, one of the team's coaches, helped to arrange the special scrimmage. The noteworthy moment was a part of Sky Blue's effort to help grow the sport of women's soccer in the Garden State.
"I was very excited for our girls to have an opportunity to share the same stage as some of the world's best female soccer players," Lui said. "I think all of them aspire to be better in all aspects of life and I hope this experience is something they remember and helps shape their paths going forward."
The team met inside the gates of the Red Bulls Arena early Sunday morning after many of them enjoyed the soccer-related activites set up outside by the Sky Blue and Red Bulls organizations. Once inside, the Thunder had lower level seats to enjoy their soccer heroines up close. For some, it was their first professional game. Most rooted for the home team while a couple chanted for the Pride.
Jackie Pulaski's eight year old daughter Alexa wears 13 in honor of her favorite player Morgan. Alexa was disappointed the US National team standout wasn't playing, but she did get to see Morgan play earlier in the spring in a friendly prior to the World Cup. For Alexa and her Thunder teammates, the chance to take the field was pretty cool to say the least.
"Having the opportunity to play on the Red Bull Arena Field is an amazing appearance for any eight year old soccer fan," Pulaski said. "For Alexa, being able to share that with the team she works so hard with was unbeatable. All eyes were on these girls and they deserve it."
When the Thunder took the field for an eight minute mini scrimmage to the cheers of the crowd, many waved back like pros. Afterwards, they had a photo op and returned to their seats to take in the rest of the action.
Lloyd made things exciting in the last minutes of the game, scoring the tying goal in front of her home state crowd. Shelina Zadorsky scored the goal for the Pride in the first half. Sky Blue finishes their 2019 season on October 12 in North Carolina. The Thunder are back on the field next weekend to take on the Jackson SC Vipers.