Sky Blue lost 1-0 to the Chicago Red Stars off an extended corner in the 54 minute involving multiple headers and deflections. The team worked hard to adjust to the departure of national teamers Christie Rampone and Kelley O’Hara. The absence of these players led head coach Jim Gabarra to make some adjustments to his usual team.
For the next few weeks, and hopefully into July, the team will be without national team players. Coach Jim Gabarra has tweaked his line up accordingly. The team switched from their usual 4-2-3-1 and came out in a new look 4-4-2. Cutshall slid from the midfield into the back four replacing Christie Rampone on national team duty. Kelley O’Hara was replaced by Cami Levin who slid from RB to LB. with Haagsma playing RB. In the midfield Katy Freels once again drifted forward; Sarah Killion took holding duties.
The team switched to a three-back system while chasing the game when down a goal.
For Chicago, the team came out in a 4-4-2 as well. The fullbacks were aggressive with the team designating play making duties to Chalupny running down the right flank. Christine Press, in her last game before joining the USWNT in L.A., dropped into the midfield often collecting the ball and running with speed at the make shift Sky Blue back line.
A Change is Gonna Come
Just like Sam Cooke told us, there was a looming day that Sky Blue lost its USWNT players and would have to make do. A lot of us wondered what would happen. Would the team stick to a 4-2-3-1? Who would come in for the backline and midfield to replace Sky Blue’s national team core?
The team came out in a 4-4-2, an adjustment for sure in the midfield. The team looked less than comfortable in the first half in their passing and movement. As Killion dropped and Freels pushed forward a space opened up between the two center midfielders. The team looked like they were constantly waiting and looking for one more passing option as the center backs and midfielders were caught standing on the ball. Chicago took advantage of this space and passed through the midfield as Press would pull Killion around while DiBernardo and Chalupny worked to exploit the space. In the second half though Gordon drifted inside and worked to be that extra midfield option for Killion and the Sky Blue center backs. While the team looked much better in the second half after Jim Gabarra’s changes, it wasn’t enough and the team needed more once Chicago went ahead off their set piece goal. It’ll be interesting if Gabarra sticks with the same formation or changes it up when Sky Blue return to NJ in a week.
A staple of Sky Blue through their first three games has been their flexibility. The fullbacks and the wide midifielders swapped constantly with Meg Morris and Kelley O’Hara switching the most. It wasn’t uncommon to see Katy Freels push up next to Nadia Nadim in the front line. The fullbacks were as much a part of the attacking plan as the strikers. This week however the team looked much more disciplined. The fullbacks did not bomb forward and rarely overlapped. This could be an effect of losing a more versatile player such as O’Hara who excels on both offense and defense, or even a steady presence like Rampone. Levin’s lack of forward pressure and momentum was noticeable as Haagsma played a safe day at full back. Even in the second half as Gordon cut more to the inside, Levin seemed reluctant to commit forward and join the attack.
The fullbacks didn’t get forward as much as previous weeks and this lead to a disjointed attack. When Sky Blue attacked no one seemed to have the freedom to join and support Nadim and Hayes in the attack. This lead to a slew of 1 v 2 chances for Nadim where she would have to do a lot of work to make something happen or Freels would be reduced to shooting from afar. Expect the team to look more comfortable as a unit next week as they adjust to their new responsibilities as a group. Nadim has been creating chances but the team can’t rely on her to take low percentage chances and turn them into goals.
Outshot Once Again
Sky Blue once again was outshot by their opponent. What looked like a strategic sacrifice and gamble is now looking like a more structural problem. Today the team was outshot 19-5, and gave up 10 shots on goal compared to only one of their chances finding the target. This is an overall trend that doesn’t look great.
Looking at the season, SBFC has taken fewer than half the number of shots of their opponents. The current tally is 30-65, in the opposition's favor. There is a smaller, but similar discrepancy with regard to shots on goal: 16-28, again in favor of the opponents of Sky Blue. The team has also given up almost twice as many corner kicks as it has received: 29 conceded; 14 taken.
Simply put, the team isn’t creating as many chances as its opponents.
SBFC struggled in a similar fashion at the beginning of the year, and had hoped that signing Nadia Nadim would solve some of these problems. While Nadim has been great this year, it does not look like she will be enough. The good news is that if the team is able to tread water until after the World Cup, the arrival of Kerr and Foord along with the return of O’Hara will hopefully help the team’s chance creation stats.
-Wonder why Chicago had their national team players while Sky Blue did not? Each team supposedly got three games out of their national team players regardless of date. Because of Chicago’s early bye week, this week was the third week for them.
-Sky Blue once again had a team strategically give their left back significant time on the ball. Lori Chalupny who usually plays holding midfielder was shifted to left back in anticipation of her World Cup duties.
-Christine Press is very fast and dangerous. Her time with the national team playing out wide has shown how dangerous she can be, the thought of her down the middle for Chicago when she comes back is scary
-While we were all worried about how they would do, Sky Blue’s makeshift defense did alright. They were one freaky set piece away from keeping a clean sheet. But the team overall needs to relieve some of the pressure off the back line