Sky Blue FC-Seattle Preview: Three Questions as the Struggling Reign Come to Town

Stanley Chou

Sky Blue FC will take on the Seattle Reign for the first time on Saturday night at Yurcak Field in New Jersey. It’s the second game in four days for Sky Blue, after a 1-1 draw with Chicago on Wednesday. Both teams are in serious need of offense – and Seattle also desperately needs a win after going 0-1-3 to start the season, but can either side manage a breakout performance, or will Yurcak Field play host to yet another low scoring affair?

1. Where does the offense come from? Sky Blue has gotten some offense from a slightly unexpected place so far this season. The leading scorer isn't one of the target strikers, not Lisa De Vanna or Danesha Adams or Kelley O'Hara or even Monica Ocampo. It's been Sophie Schmidt, the Canadian midfielder, who's been Sky Blue's offensive powerhouse. Schmidt has three goals in four games, good for a tie for second in the league with fellow Canadian international and Washington Spirit midfielder Diana Matheson and Mexican international and FC Kansas City striker Renae Cuellar. Boston's Sydney Leroux leads the league with four goals on the season. Schmidt was responsible for Sky Blue's only goal on Wednesday night against Chicago, deflecting a Kendall Johnson cross past Red Stars' keeper and Canadian WNT teammate Erin McLeod to give Sky Blue the [very] temporary lead. Sky Blue's forward corps, on the other hand, has combined for a grand total of zero goals so far this season. It's not for lack of trying though. Only four players have more shots on goal this season than De Vanna, and Adams and O'Hara aren't far behind - all three are in the top ten in shots - it's just that not many have been quality chances. On Wednesday, with O'Hara held out of the first half due to a calf strain, Jim Gabarra fielded a forward line of Ocampo, De Vanna and Adams, and the trio never seemed to be quite on the same page. Ocampo tried to do too much, losing the ball to defenders over and over, Adams started shooting from ridiculous distances, crosses rolled back and forth in front of the goal with no one on the other end, everyone made runs that no one who had the ball seemed to notice them making. There is potential among the forward line, and O'Hara's presence in the second half seemed to give the Sky Blue offense a little more cohesiveness, and while some of the poor chances may have been due to a very wet field, much of the work was undone by some subpar finishing and a lack of communication. There have been moments where it's worked - Schmidt's goal against the Washington Spirit came from a smart ball from De Vanna - but Sky Blue will need to be on the same page more consistently, even against a Seattle team that's struggled so far this season, or Saturday could produce yet another disappointing result.


2. Because we have to talk about Jess Fishlock... The Seattle midfielder and Welsh international has turned a lot of heads in NWSL so far this season, but has it been for the right reasons? Fishlock leads the league in yellow cards with three, and is in the top three in the fouls committed category. She earned Player of the Week honors in week two for her performance against Portland, and while Fishlock did score Seattle's only goal in the 2-1 loss, most of the attention seemed to be a result of her hardnosed play. If Sky Blue can do enough to frustrate a Seattle side still looking for its first win and struggling to score goals, there's a lot of potential for some dangerous set piece opportunities. Those chances go up even more when you add Kaylyn Kyle to the mix. There's also a potential for the same thing to go the other way, and O'Hara, well, she isn't exactly the anti-Jess Fishlock. At the very least, look for some interesting midfield battles.

3. What about the defense? Seattle is hardly an offensive powerhouse. The bottom of the table Reign have netted just two goals on the season and don't have much in the way of target strikers. But Chicago doesn't either, and the Red Stars managed to cause plenty of trouble for Sky Blue on Wednesday. Most of that trouble came on the right side, home of Australian international Caitlin Foord. Chicago spent the majority of its attacking time on Foord's side, and was able to find plenty of defensive holes. The 18 year-old Foord showed some potential as an outside back who can get forward - she made a brilliant run from midfield to the six yard box, nutmegging a Chicago defender on the way, before nailing the underside of the crossbar with her shot - but as a defender, Foord still seems to be struggling with the speed of play in NWSL. The Western NY Flash was able to exploit Foord the same way a week ago. Gabarra does have the option of using O'Hara as an outside back, the position she plays with the UWSNT, but Sky Blue's offense, while maybe not producing a ton of goals, is far more dangerous with O'Hara as a part of it. On Wednesday, Foord did look more comfortable as the match went on, shutting down Chicago's Ella Masar on a second half breakaway, but Foord will have to keep that consistency, or the Reign could very well give Sky Blue some serious trouble.

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