Sky Blue FC took another step closer to the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) regular season by taking on one of the top collegiate women’s soccer teams on Saturday, March 26 at Georgian Court University in Lakewood, New Jersey.
The New Jersey-based club team defeated the University of North Carolina (UNC) 2-0 in its final, and most difficult, match of the preseason.
"It was great to get another 90 minutes under our belt, and today was an improvement over last week," Sky Blue FC Head Coach Christy Holly said.
Although there were few surprises in Sky Blue’s starting XI, Holly did make some adjustments to the lineup from the previous match. Captain Christie Rampone was shifted over to right back and Erica Skroski, the Rutgers defender who was Sky Blue’s third-round draft pick in the 2016 NWSL collegiate draft, was given the first start of her professional career at center back.
Sky Blue came out full of life, scoring off a set piece in just the 4'. Kelley O’Hara took a corner kick, placing the ball just in front of the far post, where captain and defender Christie Rampone was there to receive it. Rampone one-touched the ball over to Tasha Kai, who pulled up just outside the box to deliver a hard strike into the net.
O’Hara was once again pivotal in leading the team’s attack, and despite only one week training together, the chemistry between her and Kai seemed especially effective on the field. Fans of the team should expect to see Holly utilizing the duo as often as possible, no small feat considering how often O’Hara will be called away for duties with the U.S. Women's National Team.
However, the second half was void of the O’Hara-Kai duo, as Leah Galton was subbed in for Kai at the half and O’Hara was subbed shortly thereafter. However, the combination of Galton and Kim DeCesare managed to keep the Sky Blue attack alive for the remainder of the match.
In the 61’, Galton gained possession, moving the ball down the left flank and into space before perfectly crossing the ball right in front of goal. DeCesare was there to receive the cross, heading the ball over UNC goalkeeper Lindsey Harris to put Sky Blue up 2-0.
In an improved effort from its first preseason match against St. John’s University, Sky Blue once again dominated play, possessing the ball and creating multiple opportunities in the final third despite being more heavily contested by the Tarheels.
"Naturally our players were a little bit sharper, and we were able to play with more fitness," Holly added. "We still have much to improve upon in terms of our overall expectations, but it is very satisfying to see that we are firmly establishing the foundation of who we aspire to be as a team."
Sky Blue next returns to camp at the Atlantic Club in Manasquan, New Jersey, to finish out the preseason.
SBFC Lineup: Stanley (Casey, 68), Rampone (C) (Grubka, 58), Skroski, Hayes, Simon; Killion, Stanton, Lytle (Gordon, 68); O’Hara (Schulmann, 58), Morris (DeCesare, 45), Kai (Galton, 45)