Sky Blue FC kicks off its inaugural NWSL campaign with a visit from the Western NY Flash on Sunday night at Yurcak Field in New Jersey. The Flash, fresh off three consecutive titles in three different leagues, finally has the player they've always wanted in Abby Wambach. Sky Blue FC has a hometown hero of its own as center back Christie Rampone returns to the Blue and Orange, plus a new look offense that's faster and more aggressive than ever before. But will that be enough to take on one of the best strikers in the world, or will Wambach and Co. spoil Sky Blue's home debut?
1. Has Brittany Cameron been kept in a secure room, packaged in bubble wrap? The Sky Blue FC goalkeeping curse is real, and it's already claimed one goalkeeper this season. U.S. National Team allocatee and Vineland, NJ native Jill Loyden broke her hand while training with the USWNT earlier this year. Goalkeeping curse aside, the real question is how Cameron will stack up as a starter. A veteran of WPS and WPSL Elite, Cameron has been to four championship games in four seasons, with three different teams, in two different leagues, winning three titles. But she was on the field for just one of those matches, last season's WPSL Elite championship, when she claimed the title as a member of the Flash. Before that, Cameron was the Flash's backup when they won the WPS title in 2011. And before that, she was the backup when FC Gold Pride won it in 2010. And before that, the third stringer for the L.A. Sol, who lost the 2009 title game to Sky Blue FC. Cameron has trained with some of the best strikers in the world - Marta was a member of three of those four teams - but she's never really been tested as a long-term starter professionally. As a two-year member of the Flash, Cameron knows something of the opponent - and striker (and former Sky Blue player - it's all very complicated!) Adriana, but now she'll have to deal with Abby Wambach, and Samantha Kerr too. And with a Sky Blue back line that's not exactly the picture of experience, Cameron could have a busy day and a chance to prove herself very early in the season.
2. And about that defense... The Flash has Abby Wambach. This is not a secret. Wambach is also one of the best strikers in the world, which is also not a secret. And because of all these non-secrets, it would be very easy for a young, relatively inexperienced defense to fall into the trap of Wambach Tunnel Vision. One-time Sky Blue FC captain and player coach Christie Rampone returns to her hometown club to anchor the back line, but she'll be surrounded by a mix of internationals without any considerable professional experience and recent college grads, without any professional experience considerable or otherwise. Australian international Caitlin Foord has some experience playing in that country's W-League, and has a dozen caps for Australia under her belt, but she's still only 18 and making the jump to an American pro league, which, if WPS was any indication, is a very different thing. There's also Canadian international Melanie Booth, a veteran of this continent's W-League, but Booth too never made the jump to WPS and has played for Canada only sporadically. But back to Wambach. The 2012 World Player of the Year has a history of becoming frustrated and ultimately virtually invisible when too much of the defensive focus gets pulled toward her. But too much focus on Wambach, if Sky Blue works too hard to take her out of the game, it will be at the risk of leaving the very crafty Adriana with a ton of room to work, which could be real trouble for Sky Blue. Of course, Jim Gabarra has the option of adding a little experience to that back line with Kelley O'Hara, but if preseason is any indication, the Sky Blue coach would rather have O'Hara scoring goals than trying to prevent them.
3. Sky Blue has an offense that will certainly produce yellow cards, but can they manufacture some goals too? Sky Blue FC is not a team that is, historically speaking, very good at scoring goals. The good news? Western NY isn't particularly deep in either the goalkeeping or defense departments. Adriana Franch, who's made a few appearances in net for the U.S. U-23's, was picked up by the Flash in first round of the college draft in January. Western NY's other keeper is the equally inexperienced Pamela Tajonar, who has ties to the team trough a stint with the W-League version of the Flash in 2010 and made a pair of appearances for Swedish side LdB Malmo in 2011. If Sky Blue can manage to get some half-decent shots off, the Flash could have a problem. Australian international Lisa De Vanna will be Sky Blue's not-so-secret weapon, and could cause all kinds of trouble for a Flash defense that's also not particularly experienced. The Flash have former Sky Blue captain and perennial member of the WPS All-Underrated Team Brittany Taylor anchoring the back line, but between the very fast De Vanna and Kelley O'Hara, who's already netted two goals in a preseason game against Boston, and without much support, Taylor will have her hands full.