This is the first of two match-ups between the teams this season. The last time the two teams met, Kelley O'Hara scored a brace to lead Sky Blue to a 3-0 win over Boston. Sky Blue looks to repeat the performance over Boston, who have been struggling quite a bit this season.
The Breakers come to New Jersey after a tough week at home. The Breakers suffered their fourth loss of the season last Saturday night, a 1-0 loss to the Chicago Red Stars. Probably more devastating than the loss itself was the loss of rookie goalkeeper Abby Smith, who suffered a season-ending, non-contact injury in the 32nd minute of her second game of the season.
In the wake of Smith’s injury, the Breakers re-signed Jami Kranich, who was back-up to former Breaker Alyssa Naeher for the past two seasons but was waived at the end of preseason this year. However, former Liverpool Ladies FC keeper Libby Stout will most likely get her third start in goal for the Breakers. Stout has made 12 saves but let five goals past so far this season, tying for most goals allowed with three other keepers.
Besides goalkeeper problems, the Breakers are also having problems attacking. The Breakers have yet to score a goal in their first four games of the season, have only put 11 shots on goal and have the lowest shot-on-goal (SOG) percentage in the league (26%).
Some of their best scoring opportunities came last week against the Red Stars. In the 15th minute, the Breakers almost scored on a series of headers, but a joint effort by Vanessa DiBernardo and Danielle Colaprico resulted in a goal-line clearance that denied the Breakers their first goal of the season and earned the two field players a nomination for NWSL Save of the Week.
The Breakers’ best chance to score of the season came in the 40th minute in the form of a Kristie Mewis-penalty kick, but her shot was deflected by the post and former-Breakers keeper Alyssa Naeher, keeping Boston scoreless once more.
Although Boston currently sits at the bottom of the table, they are a team with a lot of potential. Their defense, anchored by USWNT center back Whitney Engen, has prevented the opposition from scoring more than one goal in three of their matches.
The Breakers also have quality players capable of creating and finishing opportunities in their offensive half, including Kristie Mewis, Stephanie McCaffrey and Australian international Kyah Simon. However, something if off with the Breakers’ attack, and they have yet to be able to capitalize on their full potential.
If Sky Blue wants to walk away with a win against Boston, they cannot underestimate their opponent, and it seems that they are making sure not to count the Breakers out.
"Boston presents a really tough challenge, and the table is not a fair reflection of how they have played this season. We know we have a fight on our hands, and we will make sure to be ready for the strong test they present," Christy Holly, SBFC head coach, said in a statement.
Sky Blue is also going to have to up their attacking game, as it will be impossible to walk away with three points without scoring any goals. SBFC has scored four goals so far this season, just two shy of the league high. However, Sky Blue is currently eighth in the league in shots taken (38) despite being tied for fourth in SOG percentage (50%).
The low number of shots taken is the result of Sky Blue ineffectively moving the ball down the field. All too often players like Kelley O’Hara move the ball forward, only to get to the end of their run and have no one in front of or even with them to pass to.
Other times players make a run into space only to have the ball passed to their back foot or behind them, causing them to have to slow, turn or stop to collect the ball. This allows defenders to mark them and prevent any opportunities on further moving the ball forward. The midfielders especially need to do a better job of anticipating their teammates’ runs and putting clean passes at their feet.
To help fix some of the problems with the attack against Boston, ideally Head Coach Christy Holly would move O’Hara off the back line and into the attack, at least until forwards Samantha Kerr and Leah Galton become available for the team. As an attacking outside back, O'Hara leads the team in shots taken, but she is not as effective in the attack when she has to run end line to end line for the duration of the game. Although O’Hara’s performance on the USWNT fitness beep test is the stuff of legends, she has been looking exhausted at the end of games, and the quality of her shots taken is no doubt affected by that. However, with as strong as Sky Blue's defense has been, O'Hara will most likely once again be playing at outside back.
If O'Hara is once again relegated to the back line, giving Raquel Rodriguez more freedom in the midfield would help spark new life in both Sky Blue’s attack and the Costa Rican international’s game. Rodriguez has zero goals and only one assist so far this season, but her quality of play on the international level shows she has much more potential than fans are currently seeing with Sky Blue. However, her quality of play increases with each subsequent game, so hopefully it will only be a matter of time until the Rocky Rodriguez fans know and love will make an appearance for SBFC.
Sky Blue FC takes on the Boston Breakers on Friday, May 13 at 7 p.m. EST at Yurcak Field. The game will be livestreamed on the NWSL channel on YouTube and is available here.
UPDATE: New Zealand-international goalkeeper Erin Nayler has officially been made available for Friday night's match against the Boston Breakers. Caroline Casey was waived to make room on the roster for Nayler.
Sky Blue FC Roster:
Goalkeepers: (2) Erin Nayler, Caroline Stanley
Defenders: (7) CoCo Goodson, Kristin Grubka, Maya Hayes, Kelley O’Hara, Christie Rampone (C), Erica Skroski, Erin Simon
Midfielders: (7) Kelly Conheeney, Shawna Gordon, Sarah Killion, Taylor Lytle, Ashley Nick, Raquel Rodriguez, Nikki Stanton
Forwards: (3) Kim DeCesare, Tasha Kai, Danielle Schulmann
Head Coach: Christy Holly
*Note: Sam Kerr is listed as unavailable (foot) and Danielle Schulmann is doubtful (hip) for Friday’s match against Boston