In its 2016 preseason opener, Sky Blue FC faced off against St. John’s University on Sunday, March 20, defeating the Red Storm with a score of 1-0.
"It is great just to get back on the field. It has been a long offseason," Head Coach Christy Holly said. "We have done a lot of work indoors on a smaller field, so this was a great opportunity for us to really open up and play a little more expansively."
The first half featured a starting XI that looked familiar to Sky Blue fans and that may look similar to that which the New Jersey-based club team will use during its regular season matches.
With no returning goalkeeper for Sky Blue, former Seattle Reign goalkeeper Caroline Stanley got the start in net, while former U.S. Women's National Team (U.S. WNT) and returning Sky Blue FC forward Tasha Kai started up top.
The first-half lineup also featured the return of U.S. WNT defender and Sky Blue FC captain Christie Rampone to the backline. Rampone, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery last December, has been absent from national team duties ever since.
With an experienced starting XI, Sky Blue easily controlled the ball on its offensive half and had consistent opportunities throughout the first half.
In the 17’ U.S. WNT defender Kelley O’Hara, who was playing in the forward position, fed in a through-ball to second-round draft pick Leah Galton, who was just shy of putting the ball in the net. O’Hara continued to lead the Sky Blue attack, taking a shot on goal in the 34’ that was saved and cleared just before crossing the end line.
Sky Blue’s lone goal came off a penalty kick in the 37’. The penalty kick was awarded after Kai was taken down inside the box, and midfielder Sarah Killion easily rifled the ball into the side net for the game-winning goal.
The combination of Kai, O'Hara and Galton up top wreaked havoc on the young St. John's team, but St. John’s goalkeeper Diana Poulin and her back line matched the club team’s efforts, preventing Sky Blue from tallying any more goals.
"As we made our way through the field and continued to put more pressure on the ball, the ideas, clever movements, and the tricks and flicks were there," Holly said. "We just need to finish connecting the dots. Once we build upon that understanding with the players, we will be producing something really exciting on the field."
The second half featured a completely different lineup, rotating in as much of the preseason roster as possible and experimenting with different players in different positions.
"Many of the trialists were able to get 45 minutes under their belts, which is great to see, and we were also able to play some of our more established players in the first 45 minutes," Holly said.
Once again Sky Blue dominated the ball in the second half, but a number of scoring opportunities fell short.
In the 52’, defender Meg Morris, who was pushed up top for the contest, fired off a shot that sailed just high of the goal.
Kim DeCesare had a breakaway in the 74’ and centered the ball to Kelley Conhenney, but an aggressive play by St. John’s goalkeeper prevented a second Sky Blue goal. DeCesare had another opportunity in the 78’ minute, but her shot was just off.
"We saw some good movement and some good ideas," Holly said. "As we make our way through the preseason, those connections will become a little bit clearer, and we will also continue to build on our own execution in the final third."
With the impending arrivals of MAC Hermann trophy winner and first-round draft pick Raquel Rodriguez and Australian internationals Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord to camp, Holly is eagerly anticipating working with a full roster during the second week of the preseason.
"We are very excited about the talent we have throughout the field, and we will have some more players arriving this week who will be a huge part of what we will be doing over the next nine months. Cementing them into the team and building them into our philosophy will be a key objective this week."
Sky Blue FC plays its second preseason match on Saturday, March 26 against the University of North Carolina. The match will be played at Georgian Court University at 3 p.m. EST.
Sky Blue Lineups:
First Half XI: Stanley, Goodson, Rampone (C), Hayes, Simon, Killion, Stanton, Lytle, Galton, O’Hara, Kia
Second Half XI: Casey, Skroski, Grubka, Breton, Diederich, Baxter, Katkowski, Conhenney, Freda, Morris, DeCesare