Pre-season camp for Sky Blue FC begins tomorrow, despite more than a couple of inches of snow on the ground. SBFC will again use The Atlantic Club in Manasquan as their pre-season home, making the weather a non-factor, although everyone wants on grass as soon as humanly possible.
One: Can Nadia Nadim keep up the offensive firepower?
Late last summer, Nadia Nadim was a shining star late in the season SBFC. On loan from her Danish team, Fortuna Hjorring, the 27-year old scored 7 goals in six games, including a hat trick against the Houston Dash, to spark the Sky Blue to a five-game winning streak at season's end.
SBFC was able to sign her this winter and since the Danish National Team did not qualify for the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, Nadim will be with Sky Blue from the start of the season.
"Signing Nadia was our top objective coming out of last season," Sky Blue FC technical director and head coach Jim Gabarra said. "We had some great momentum when she arrived last year, and we want to continue that momentum into this season. This is huge for both Sky Blue FC and the league itself in signing a player of Nadia's caliber, and we are very much looking forward to having her for the entire season."
Two: How will the draft picks hold up?
By all accounts, Sky Blue had a productive draft.
The two biggest picks, midfielder Sarah Killion (UCLA) and defender Kristin Grubka (Florida State) could potentially have the biggest impact.
Killion, 22, was the second overall pick in January's draft. She started 77 matches over 88 total appearances during her collegiate career at UCLA. She had her best campaign in 2014, registering 30 points on nine goals and 12 assists while taking 45 shots. All marks were career highs, with the 12 assists matching her 2013 tally and equaling a school record. The 2014 NSCAA 3rd Team All-American was also selected to Top Drawer Soccer's Best XI and named to her third consecutive All-Pac-12 Team in 2014.
On the international level, Killion played for the U.S. U-18 Women's National Team and started for a U-20 side that won the FIFA World Championship in 2012. The crafty midfielder then made the next step in her career by being selected to the U.S. U-23 National Team, which won the 2013 Four Nations Tournament. In 2014, Killion received her first call-up to the full U.S. Women's National Team.
Grubka was the 10th overall pick and first of the second round. She is fresh off a NCAA College Cup Championship this past fall at Florida State University. Grubka started all 26 matches during her senior season at FSU, anchoring a defense that finished the season with a 24-1-1 record and allowed opponents a meager 0.341 goals per game. The 5-foot-11 Florida native accumulated 11 points on three goals and five assists, helping her school to a program record 19 shutouts during 2014.
Both could see the starting lineup. Both players played with the United States' U23 team on a trip to Spain this weekend. They were joined by other draft picks Daphne Corboz and Lo'eau LaBonta.
With the World Cup players not in the fold until late June, the play of the rookies Twill especially be important in the early going.
Three: How will the World Cup impact the season?
Truthfully, all teams are in the same boat on this one. Sort of. Not all World Cup teams are created equal.
It will be interested to see if Sky Blue can hold serve during the early months of the season. While all teams are missing one star or another, SBFC have four players of different magnitude and value.
It will be interesting to see how captain and veteran Christie Rampone is following her return. She's been doing it so well for so long, you forget this will be her fifth World Cup. She is the last player on the roster from the 1999 World Cup team. Although she's still in tremendous shape, you wonder how much she will have left, especially if the US women go deep into the tournament as expected.
The other American is Kelley O'Hara who played in one of the first two matches for the Americans in the Algarve Cup in Portugal. O'Hara had nine goals last year to lead the team in scoring. The question is will she be confident, rested or rusty upon return.
The other player worth watching is Aussie internationals Samantha Kerr and Caitlin Foord. Kerr came to the SBFC in a winter trade with the West New York Flash. Only 21 years old, Kerr earned her first cap five months after turning 15. She started two matches for the Matildas in the 2011 World Cup and is expected to play in this summer's Women's World Cup.
She had two big years for Western New York, scoring 16 goals in two seasons. She also returned to the Australia last fall to play for the Perth Glory in the W-League, scoring 11 times to lead the Glory to the league championship game. She missed the semi-final against her former club Sydney FC and the championship loss to Canberra United because of a leg injury that required surgery. Reports from Australia indicated the surgery was successful
Foord is a solid defender who has started 35 of 36 matches over the past two seasons. Her presence upon return will most surely be a calming influence for the New Jersey team.