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Match preview: Can Sky Blue FC win another three points against the Seattle Reign?

Sky Blue defeated the Seattle Reign 2-1 in their season opener, but a much different Reign is coming to New Jersey.

Jane Gershovich (ISI Photos)

Sky Blue FC (2-3-3, 9 pts) will take on the Seattle Reign FC (3-3-2, 11 pts) for the second time this season on Sunday, June 19 at Yurcak Field.

The last match between the two teams was their 2016 season opener played at Memorial Stadium in Seattle. Goals by Tasha Kai and Kelly Conheeney lifted Sky Blue 2-1 over the Reign, handing them their first ever loss at Memorial.

In that match, Sky Blue’s lineup, five of whom were making their professional debuts, came together to heavily pressure the Reign from the start, catching Seattle off guard. Add to that a stellar pro debut from now-backup goalkeeper Caroline Casey, and it was enough to disrupt the Reign’s game and give Sky Blue the edge. The team’s chemistry was unrivaled against the Reign, and Sky Blue played their best game of the season.

Unfortunately, Sky Blue could not continue their winning streak, dropping their home opener 1-2 against the Washington Spirit in week 2. Since then, Sky Blue has hit a bit of a slump, struggling both offensively and defensively, and their only other win was a 1-0 win off of an own goal by the Boston Breakers.

Part of the reason for Sky Blue’s struggles is because of the number of injuries that have plagued its lineup, and it seems as though head coach Christy Holly has been unable to find the right combination of personnel for his lineup as a result.

There seemed to be a glimmer of hope for the Sky Blue attack last weekend when Sam Kerr was subbed in in the second half against FC Kansas City after seven months away from the game recovering from foot surgery. However, that glimmer has dimmed as Kerr’s injury status was downgraded from questionable to doubtful for Sunday’s match against the Reign. There have also been reports of Kerr wearing a walking boot in pictures posted on social media previously in the week, but Kerr has since denied those claims.

Seattle, on the other hand, continued struggling at the start of the season for some inexplicable reason. With few roster changes in the off-season, they should have been one of the more stable teams at the start of the season, but their back line especially seemed to lack the cohesion of previous seasons. The Reign, too, have been plagued by injuries, having lost Megan Rapinoe to an ACL tear during the off season and losing both Jess Fishlock and Manon Melis during the season to tibia fractures.

Jess Fishlock has since returned to the Reign midfield, and the Reign is starting to look dangerous once again. The addition of Havana Solaun in the Reign lineup has also added life to their attack, and her goal against the Dash last Friday was enough to give the Reign another three points.

Sunday’s rematch of the two games is a dangerous game for Sky Blue then. They are sitting on a bit of a plateau while Seattle is on an upswing. Seattle will come to New Jersey no doubt looking for retribution, and Sky Blue should expect to be tested for the a large portion of the match.

"Preparation for Seattle has gone very well. We are very familiar with what they can do and how dangerous they are, and we fully respect them," Holly said in a statement. "We enter this weekend after two solid performances where we overcame deficits, and the focus is to add a level of consistency to our overall execution. If we can do that, we are very confident that we will get the three points on Sunday, which is what we need as we move forward."

To get those three points against Seattle though, Sky Blue will need to increase passing accuracy, reduce turnovers and be able to score multiple goals, all of which they have been struggling with this season and none of which are an easy task against the Reign.

Kelley O’Hara will once again be at the heart of the Sky Blue attack despite most likely starting at left back. While O’Hara has the ability to be a box-to-box player, leaving the back line to push up high and create opportunities on goal, Seattle will undoubtedly capitalize on that if Sky Blue’s not careful. A turnover by Sky Blue in their offensive half will almost certainly result in a long ball sent over much of the field, and O’Hara will have to rely on her speed to try to catch up with the opponent as they take advantage of her absence from the back line.

With Kerr most likely seeing few, if any, minutes against the Reign, Tasha Kai will most likely start up top, but the question is who will start next to her. Kim DeCesare will most likely get the nod, although Leah Galton has seemed like a more dynamic player coming off the bench for Sky Blue. It will be interesting to see if Galton gets her first start on Sunday against Seattle.

Sunday night’s match is also Sky Blue’s 2016 Pride Night at Yurcak Field. In the wake of the Orlando shooting last weekend, Sky Blue will be donating a portion of online ticket sales to Equality Florida’s GoFundMe that supports victims of the shooting, and there will also be a moment of silence in memory of those killed in the tragedy.

Sky Blue FC takes on the Seattle Reign FC on Sunday, June 19 at 6 p.m. EST. The game will be streamed online on the NWSL Soccer channel on YouTube and is available here.

Sky Blue FC Roster:

Goalkeepers: (2) Caroline Casey, Caroline Stanley

Defenders: (6) CoCo Goodson, Kristin Grubka, Kelley O’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, Sam Kerr

Head Coach: Christy Holly

Sky Blue FC v Seattle Reign FC
When: Sunday, June 19, 2016 at 6 p.m. EST
Where: Yurcak Field, Piscataway Township,
New Jersey, U.S.A.
Online: NWSL Soccer YouTube Channel on YouTube