In the first game of the season, Sky Blue FC takes on NWSL defending champions FC Kansas City. The teams will kick off their seasons in Sporting Park. Sky Blue lost two of the three match ups between the teams last year, losing 5-0 at home and 2-1 in Kansas City but were able to pull off a draw in the first match-up of last season.
This game will be a test for Sky Blue as they look to see how they compare with what looks to be one of the NWSL’s perennial contenders. FCKC Head Coach Vlatko Andonovski in the past two years has been able to develop a solid identity for FCKC. The team has primarily played out a 4-2-3-1 with a short lived 4-4-2 experiment, when Andonovski tried to fit former Bayern Munich striker Sarah Hagen and Amy Rodriguez on the field at the same time. In their 4-2-3-1 the team has a very solid base: through the regular season the team only gave up 32 goals, 10 of those goals came against the high-powered attack from Portland. Led by arguably the best center back in the league, Becky Sauerbrunn, only two teams gave up fewer goals. The midfield has the underrated Jen Buczkowski in a holding role. The attacking trio of Holiday, Tymrak, and O’Reilly might be one of the best in the league.
Sky Blue comes into the season with a revamped attack with Nadia Nadim leading the line. The defense will most likely be throwing two or three new starters on the back line. With Rampone questionable, it'll be important that the unit works well together to defend FCKC's attack. The midfield is definitely the team's strength and will look to control the game. Head Coach Jim Gabarra will ask returning veteran Katy Freels and second-round draft pick Killion to clog up the midfield and prevent Holiday and Rodriguez from getting into a groove. With solid off-season acquisitions it'll be important for Sky Blue to maintain their preseason form - undefeated and no goals conceded -and continue to grow as a unit.
Match up to Watch
The match up to watch is going to be the right side of FCKC versus the left side of Sky Blue. Kansas City will have Leigh Ann Robinson and Heather O’Reilly marauding down the left side. Opposite them will be Kelley O’Hara and Cami Levin. It’ll be important that O’Hara and Levin do all they can to neutralize FCKC’s potent right side.
Predicted Line Ups
Sky Blue FC
The roster is at missing Rampone due to injury, Foord and Kerr due to Australian National team duties. Grubka will most likely be picked to replace Rampone while it looks like the right wing will either be Hayes or Lytle. I think Hayes gets the nod due to her experience and chemistry with Nadim.
FC Kansas City
I predict a 2-1 Kansas City win. Sky Blue will look much improved from last year but will fall just short of being able to match FCKC’s improved roster and offensive firepower.