Sky Blue is coming off a 0-0 draw on the road against the Houston Dash, a match that was big on defense and little on attack for the New Jersey-based club.
Caroline Stanley got the clean sheet for Sky Blue, starting over Caroline Casey who stood between the posts for SBFC in its first two matches of the season. Stanley had an impressive debut for Sky Blue, making seven big saves to earn the shut out. One such save, Stanley’s denial of a Rachel Daly shot on goal in the 70th minute, was nominated for the NWSL Save of the Week. After such a stellar performance against the Dash, Stanley should be getting her second start in goal for Sky Blue on Saturday.
The back four for Sky Blue also played a large part in preventing the Dash from scoring. Although Houston had 20 shots on the night, the back line managed to pressure the Dash into taking shots before they were ready and to deny them from even more opportunities. Right back Erin Simon had her best game of the season, getting in good defensive position, making smart tackles and even getting her body in front of a late attempt on goal to preserve the shut out.
Lacking for Sky Blue against Houston was the attack. Although they came out strong, seemed to dominate possession and fired off three shots on goal in the first 15 minutes, the SBFC attack all but disappeared as Houston came to life in the 16th minute. They only had those three shots in the first half, and only got off three more in the second.
Part of the reason for Sky Blue’s ineffectiveness in their offensive half is injuries. Australian-international Sam Kerr is still recovering from a foot injury suffered in the Australian W-League this summer. SBFC fans will be relieved to know that, according to Kerr’s Instagram account, the striker underwent her third and final surgery on her foot this week, having the plate and screws removed. It was also said during last weekend’s game against the Dash that she should be making her comeback in a matter of weeks.
Injuries have also caused Head Coach Christy Holly to push Kelley O’Hara back to play left back. O’Hara is one of Sky Blue’s strongest attacking players, and losing her to defense has limited the number of opportunities she has been able to create for her teammates and herself. Although she has had solid performances as an attacking back in the first three matches, freeing her up to focus primarily on the attacking side of the ball would improve Sky Blue’s chances to get the win.With CoCo Goodson's injury status being improved to probable for Saturday's match, O'Hara may be seeing time somewhere other than the back third soon, but she will most likely start at left back once again against the Flash.
Sky Blue is not the only team playing on Saturday that is currently struggling with the attack. Western New York Flash is coming off a two-game losing streak after defeating reigning league champions FC Kansas City in their season opener. They have only put one goal in the net so far this season, a converted penalty kick against Kansas City. Other than that lone goal, WNY has struggled to get anything going offensively, and there is only so much midfielder Samantha Mewis can do on her own.
Last weekend Western New York took on the Washington Spirit at home, losing 0-3 before a crowd of over 3,000 fans. Despite outshooting the Spirit 16-8, the Flash were unable to capitalize, giving Spirit goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé the clean sheet.
Western New York’s best opportunity on goal came in the form of a Sam Mewis penalty kick in the second half. Mewis, who converted the penalty kick against FCKC, was unable to repeat the performance when her shot hit the goalpost and was deflected.
Even with Jaelene Hinkle back after missing the match against the Chicago Red Stars with a broken toe, Western New York’s defense was no match for the Spirit offense led by Diana Matheson. Matheson scored in the opening minutes of the match, and Western New York was never able to catch up. She later converted a penalty kick and Katie Stengel scored the final goal for the Spirit. (Stengel’s goal was originally recorded as an own goal for WNY after Christine Nairn’s free kick was deflected off the head of a Flash defender in the wall, but it was later awarded to Stengel after replays showed she had gotten a touch on the ball before it went in.)
Although many fans and analysts are predicting Sky Blue to walk away Saturday night with the win, Western New York’s desperation for points may be enough motivation to keep them in the match.
Sky Blue FC takes on the Western New York Flash on Saturday, May 7 at 7 p.m. EST at Yurcak Field. The game will be livestreamed on the NWSL channel on YouTube and is available here.
Sky Blue FC Roster:
Goalkeepers: (2) Caroline Casey, 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 unavailable due to injury; both CoCo Goodson and Danielle Schulmann are listed as probable (hamstring injuries)