Sky Blue seemed to be on the verge of making the play-offs for most the season. With their upset of Portland, they briefly kept their play-off hopes alive until they were mathematically eliminated by an FC Kansas City win.
There are two games left in Sky Blue's 2015 NWSL season. The play-offs are out of sight, the wooden spoon is securely Boston's: it would appear that there isn't a lot to play for. This is not the case.
With the Olympics next year, Sky Blue will look to avoid a similar fate to that of this season. Before the World Cup break (with US Women's National Team players sliding between national team duty and domestic duty and other international players missing entirely) Sky Blue got 7 points in in 10 games and even went on a 9 game winless streak. With their full team, the team earned 14 points in 8 games. While Olympic rosters are much smaller than the World Cup Rosters, it is safe to assume that many of the same players will be missing again. These last two games provide Sky Blue a very real chance to help prevent another lopsided season.
One player that will not be at the Olympics is Nadia Nadim. Due to Europe's qualifying system for the Olympics, the fact that Nadim missed the World Cup, means that she unfortunately also missed out on the Olympics. What started out as a blessing, has now developed into a hard decision for Sky Blue and Nadim.
This year, Nadim has not been the player she was last year. Last year in 6 games (495 minutes), Nadim scored 7 goals. That is a goal scoring rate of 1.27 per 90 minutes. This year, Nadim has 5 goals in 17 games (1461 minutes) which is a goal scoring rate of .30 goals per 90. While the talent around her has been inconsistent, Nadim has only scored 3 goals in the 8 games since Sky Blue has had a full roster. While it may be simple-minded to reduce Nadim's contribution to the team only as goals, as a striker that's what she's there to do. Anyone who's watched Sky Blue this year can see that Nadim's confidence has been waning.
It is also fair to wonder whether Nadim will be available next year. It has been widely reported that Nadim is enrolled in medical school in Denmark. It seems that Nadim is going into her final year. It'll be interesting if she will come back to the NWSL for another summer, or take what one can only imagine would be a much needed break.
These last two games, represent an important opportunity for Sky Blue and Nadim to decide what the future holds for both sides.
In two years at Sky Blue, Maye Hayes has yet to lock down a position. Originally drafted as a striker, Hayes scored 71 goals in her four years at Penn St. However, the goals at Sky Blue have been much less frequent. Hayes has only scored 1 goal in her time at Sky Blue. She started at striker. Then she was moved to the wing. In the middle of this season she was moved to fullback.
With Caitlin Foord likely joining the Australians at the Olympics, Sky Blue may need Hayes to play fullback or with Samantha Kerr also potentially leaving to join Foord and Australia at the Olympics, Hayes may also be needed to play right wing. Sky Blue need to decide what her best position. A strong off-season could be what Hayes needs to finally solidify herself in one position and settle into the Sky Blue starting line up.
These last two games will be big for Hayes, to come back from injury and potentially lock down a consistent role on the team.
For a long time this season Sky Blue has struggled to score goals. However, with their World Cup heroes back, that hasn't been an issue. In fact, since the World Cup, Sky Blue has scored in every game. But despite this offensive streak Sky Blue is tied for least amount of goals scored this year and didn't score more than one goal in a game until after the World Cup break. However, Sky Blue's defense hasn't been as stout as it would have hoped either. Ranked in the middle of the pack in both goal differential and goals allowed Sky Blue really need to find something to hang their hat on.
Some of this could be put down to the divergent nature of this year's schedule. But next year is going to offer the same lessons and problems for Sky Blue. Without any pressure to gain a result in these last two games, Sky Blue can really work on establishing an identity and game plan for their team. Are they the tiki-taka team that passed their way through the Boston Breakers in their 3-1 win? Are they a counter-attack team that is going to sit and use their speed to break teams like when they beat Portland 1-0? Or are they a run-and-gun team that will try to simply outscore opponents like the team that tied Western New York 3-3? These last two games, without the pressure to win, can represent a strong step forward in helping establish their identity.
For a big chunk of their NWSL lifespan, Sky Blue has been one of the most sparsely attended teams. However, since the World Cup their attendance has steadily been rising. This culminated in a sell-out against Portland.
With one (mid-week) home game left against FC Kansas City, it'll be interesting to see if the sell-outs were just a bump from the World Cup or if it was the star power of Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath. Mid-week games are always hard to sell tickets, but it will be interesting to see if Sky Blue can get decent attendance take momentum into next year.
So don't forget about Sky Blue: with two games left there's still a lot to play for.