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Match preview: Sky Blue FC takes on defending champions FC Kansas City

After a week off, Sky Blue returns home to take on the two-time reigning league champions

Trey Madara (Brotherly Game)

Sky Blue FC (2-3-2, 8 pts) returns home to Yurcak Field on Saturday, June 11 to take on the two-time National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) champions, FC Kansas City (1-4-2, 5 pts).

Saturday will be the two teams’ first meeting for the season. The last time they met was on September 2, 2015, in the teams’ last match of the 2015 regular season. FCKC handed Sky Blue a 3-2 loss before dominating the postseason and repeating as league champions.

FC Kansas City comes into this weekend’s match a much different team than last season, as their off season was as tumultuous roster-wise as Sky Blue’s. A total of ten players from last year's team are no longer rostered with FCKC after a number of trades, retirements and pregnancies made players unavailable this season.

The most noticeable absences from FCKC’s roster are those of United States Women’s National Team players Lauren Holiday, who retired from club and country after the NWSL final, and Amy Rodriguez, who is currently expecting her second child. On May 13, 2016, FCKC also lost midfielder Jen Buczkowski, the only player to start in every single game of her NWSL career, to retirement as she pursues a career in physical therapy.

The roster changes for FCKC have taken a toll on the team, and they currently sit at the bottom of the table just above the Boston Breakers. The team comes to New Jersey after their first win of the season, a 2-0 victory over the Orlando Pride at home on May 28.

Sky Blue returns home after a 1-1 draw with the Chicago Red Stars at Toyota Park. English international Leah Galton, in just the second match of her professional career, scored the equalizing goal for Sky Blue in the 69th minute to prevent the loss and to give SBFC a point on the road.

While FCKC may seem like an easy shot for at least one point, Sky Blue has never beaten FCKC at home. However, FCKC has dropped both of their road matches so far this season, so Saturday night might be Sky Blue's best opportunity to break their streak of being winless over FCKC at Yurcak.

Saturday night sees the return of their USWNT players who were away on national team duty for their club teams’ last matches. For Sky Blue, that means that defender Kelley O’Hara, an integral part of both SBFC’s defense and attack, should once again be in the starting lineup. FCKC should also see the return of starters Becky Sauerbrunn and Heather O’Reilly.

Both teams are also coming into Saturday’s match with some momentum. Sky Blue holding the now top-ranked Red Stars to a draw was unexpected, especially considering the match was played in Chicago. After a 5-2 loss to Western New York Flash the week before, the draw may have done just as much for Sky Blue’s morale as a win would have.

In comparison, FCKC is sure to be riding the high of their first win of the season. FCKC's back line finally seemed a little more settled and cohesive, and Erika Tymrak seems to finally have her offensive mojo back. Sky Blue can only hope that the bye week in between matches was enough to dampen FCKC’s momentum while not rendering their own obsolete at the same time.

Although Sky Blue will once again have O’Hara on the back line, they will still be without their leading scorer Maya Hayes while she continues to recover from injuries. SBFC will also likely be without forward Tasha Kai, who was wearing a walking boot after the Red Stars match while already struggling with a left hamstring strain, and Australian-international Sam Kerr, who has been recovering from an off-season foot surgery. Kerr's injury status has been changed from unavailable to questionable, and while it is extremely unlikely she will see the field on Saturday, the change of injury status is at least promising for Sky Blue fans.

With the Sky Blue attack being weakened by injuries, head coach Christy Holly will most likely rely on the likes of Leah Galton and midfielder Raquel Rodriguez to move the ball and create opportunities on goal against FCKC. O’Hara will also most likely be in the mix, playing end line to end line as she has done for Sky Blue throughout the season.

However, they will have their work cut out for them as they try to get past Becky Sauerbrunn, the only player to ever win the NWSL’s defender of the year accolade in the league’s three seasons, and Nicole Barnhart, one of the best goalkeepers in the league.

Sky Blue FC takes on FC Kansas City on Saturday, June 11 at 7 p.m. EST at Yurcak Field. The game will be live streamed on the NWSL Soccer channel on YouTube and is available here.

Sky Blue FC Roster by Position:

Goalkeepers: (2) Caroline Casey, Caroline Stanley

Defenders: (6) CoCo Goodson, Kristin Grubka, KelleyO'Hara, Christie Rampone (C), Erica Skroski, Erin Simon

Midfielders: (6) Kelly Conheeney, Shawna Gordon, Sarah Killion, Taylor Lytle, Raquel Rodriguez, Nikki Stanton

Forwards: (4) Kim DeCesare, Leah Galton, Tasha Kai, Samantha Kerr

Head Coach: Christy Holly

Sky Blue FC v FC Kansas City
When: Saturday, June 11 at 7 p.m. EST
Where: Yurcak Field, Piscataway Township,
New Jersey, U.S.A.
Online: NWSL Soccer YouTube Channel on YouTube