Saturday night's Sky Blue FC match with the Seattle Reign might be the most difficult match of the season for the Jersey girls.
Last Saturday, Sky Blue FC was eliminated from the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) playoffs for the second year in a row despite a tremendous 1-0 victory over the Portland Thorns FC in front of a record, sellout crowd at Rutgers University's Yurcak Field.
Now they have to travel across the country to face the league's top team, who has just won the NWSL Shield for the second las in a row. The Reign is on a hot streak, winning their last six matches. First kick is 10 p.m. (EDT) at Moda Pitch at Memorial Stadium.
Yet, Sky Blue FC coach Jim Gabarra sees no problem in motivating his side.
"This is a great opportunity for our club to play a Seattle team that just won the NWSL Shield," said Gabarra. "They have not lost in their stadium and this gives us the chance to play against them in what will be close to a playoff atmosphere. We are happy with the way we have been playing lately, and our club will be up to the task of going against the top team on the NWSL table."
Seattle clinched the Shield with a 3-1 win over Boston at home. The victory puts them at 12-3-3 for 39 points. Sky Blue FC is now 5-7-6 for 21 points.
Sky Blue, who needs a win to keep their hopes for .500 season alive, has been playing pretty well themselves. They are 4-1-2 over the last seven games and have been putting together solid efforts. But the team's habit of giving away points late in the match earlier in the season during a 10-game winless streak cost the team a playoff spot.
History: Seattle leads this year's series with a 1-1 draw in Piscataway and a 3-0 victory in Seattle. Sky Blue earned the draw at home when Nadia Nadim scored on a penalty called in the final minute of stoppage time. In 2014, Seattle won two matches and had a draw in the final one of the season.
Who's hot: Seattle's Scottish intertnational Kim Little has been torrid lately. She had a hat trick versus Houston last Friday and had a goal against Boston to clinch the Shield Wednesday night. She has 10 goals and six assists on the season. Those numbers make her second in goals and first in assists. For Sky Blue, Lindsi Cutshall and Christie Rampone have been quietly solid in the center of defense. Their athleticsm and saavy made the Sky Blue FC hard to play in the middle of the park and should continue playing at a high level.
What to watch: The Reign has lots of weapons with Megan Rapinoe back on the pitch recently. Her goal and assist helped Seattle beat Boston to clinch the Shield earlier this week. Midfielder Little and Jess Fishock are all capable of scoring and Kendall Fletcher also is in the mix. They're going to pressure the Sky Blue backline and midfield. Sarah Killion will be tested. The Reign's attack may force her deeper and her ability to connect with fellow middie Katy Freels to start the attack will be key.