It's been a season of streaks so far for Sky Blue FC and currently they are on the upswing. And just in time to make a patented late-season run for the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) playoffs.
After suffering through a 10-game winless streak earlier in the year, Sky Blue FC now has two wins and a draw in their last three matches. After scoring eight goal in the first 12 games, Sky Blue has exploded for six in their last two matches. And the New Jersey team hopes that this all adds up to more momentum tonight when they host the Western New York Flash at 7 p.m. at Rutgers University's Yurcak Field.
Sky Blue FC currently sits in eighth place in the NWSL table, 3-6-5 for 14 points. The Flash are one place above the New Jersey team at 4-7-3 for 15 points. Two weeks ago, the team teams met in a barnburner 3-3 draw. Sky Blue FC used second-half goals from Katy Freels and Christie Rampone to erase a 3-1 lead.
They followed the draw with a 3-1 win over the Boston Breakers that lifted Sky Blue FC out of the NWSL cellar and kept their faint playoff hopes alive
"I expect to make a run for the playoffs," said Sky Blue FC coach Jim Gabarra after last week's win over Boston. "I expected it all along. It won't be easy but it's in front of us. We have to take care of business by beating the teams that are ahead of us and hoping one or two teams pull away at the top (of the standings)."
Sky Blue FC have without a doubt benefitted from the return of its World Cup players. Kelley O'Hara has had a huge impact with two goals and two assists since her return. Australia's Sam Kerr has also been key with a pair of goals and her presence has given Nadia Nadim more room to run off the ball. Rampone and defender Caitlin Foord have also provided defensive presence to a team that has been hit with injuries on their backline.
On the other hand, the Flash may be fading down the stretch. While Gabarra considers them an athletic team - perhaps one of the best in the league -- they are also a tired team on a losing streak The Flash lost at home against Portland on Wednesday, 2-0, and have been shutout its last two matches. Tonight's match is the first of four road games for Western New York. They haven't won a match in the last month.
And unlike most NWSL teams, the Flash have not received a bump from returning World Cup players. Sydney Leroux, acquired in an off-season trade for Abby Wambach, hasn't played a minute for the team and is undergoing surgery. Whitney Engen was obtained along with Becky Edwards in a trade with Houston for Carli Lloyd in October. The Flash did sign Australian Michelle Heyman, who was the NWSL Player of the Week two weeks ago and scored in the 3-3 match with Sky Blue.
"We are looking to keep our momentum going, as well as continuing to put away our chances," said Gabarra in a news release. "Western New York is a difficult match-up. They are a very young and athletic team. Both of our clubs understand how important the situation is and we know that Western New York has a lot of fight left in them. We are looking forward to a hard-fought game where both teams need three points."
Injury report: Defenders Maya Hayes (right knee sprain), Lindsi Cutshall (concussion symptoms) and Kim DeCesare (right knee miniscus surgery) are all out with injuries. A story on the NWSL website listed Goalkeeper Brittany Cameron is listed as probable with a hip injury suffered against Boston. Cameron had played every minute in goal for Sky Blue this season before coming out in the last eight minutes of the match. Aubrey Bledsoe subbed in for Cameron. The Sky Blue injury report did not contain information on Cameron.