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Match preview: Sky Blue FC looks for three points against struggling Houston

In their last meeting of the season, Sky Blue hopes to hand the Dash their sixth consecutive loss.

Wilf Thorne, ISI Photos

Returning to Yurcak Field on Saturday, July 9, Sky Blue FC (3-4-4, 13 points) will once again take on the Houston Dash (2-6-1, 7 points).

The two teams last faced off in week 3 of the 2016 season, an April 29 match that resulted in a scoreless draw. Both teams’ attacks struggled throughout that match: Sky Blue could not create opportunities on goal, while Houston couldn’t finish theirs.

"We are looking forward to getting back on our home field on Saturday against the Houston Dash," Sky Blue FC Head Coach Christy Holly said in a statement released by the team. "This game gives us a great opportunity to bounce back from our defeat last weekend in Portland."

As Holly said, Sky Blue is coming off a 2-1 road loss to the Portland Thorns FC, a game that was ultimately decided by a second-half penalty kick. Tasha Kai struck first for Sky Blue, but Dagny Brynjarsdottir equalized the score just before the end of the first half.

The second half got a little more physical, and in the 61st minute, defender Erin Simon fouled Hayley Raso in the penalty area. Nadia Nadim easily converted the resulting penalty kick, and Sky Blue could not find the back of the net again that night.

Despite the loss, Sky Blue likely walked away feeling good about several aspects about that game. They proved that, even without lynchpin Kelley O’Hara, who was away for USWNT camp, in the lineup, they still can compete with the top teams in the nation.

Even with seven players missing from the Thorns starting lineup because of national team duties, Portland is still a very tough, very aggressive team. Nadim and Brynjarsdottir are currently in a three-way tie with Lindsey Horan for most goals with four apiece, while goalkeeper Michelle Betos has an 83% save percentage.

Portland also still had Amandine Henry, who had asked to remain with her new club team one more week before reporting for French national team camp, and watching Raquel Rodriguez go head-to-head with Henry and coming out even was thrilling for both Thorns and Sky Blue fans. Sky Blue will surely take those boosts of confidence with them into Saturday’s match against the Dash.

The Dash, on the other hand, are coming off of a bye week, which was no doubt beneficial for the team after suffering five consecutive 1-0 losses. Houston has been struggling all season, and not just because Carli Lloyd has been out recovering from an MCL sprain. In fact, even without Lloyd the Dash have all the personnel to be scoring goals and winning matches, but the for some reason they can never seem to finish the opportunities that they create.

Both teams are also without their international players who are competing this summer in Rio this week. The Dash will be without seven key players: Carli Lloyd and Morgan Brian (USA), Janine Beckie and Allysha Chapman (Canada), Andressa and Poliana (Brazil) and Lydia Williams (Australia).

Although Sky Blue has two Olympians on its roster, only Kelley O’Hara has currently reported to national team camp. It was reported shortly after the Australian women’s national team roster was announced that Sam Kerr would be staying with Sky Blue for two additional weeks.

Starting goalkeeper Caroline Stanley is out for an undisclosed period of time after suffering a left shoulder sprain in last weekend's match again Portland. However, former USWNT and Sky Blue goalkeeper Jill Loyden, who has been with the team this season as an assistant coach, was signed in her place.

Sky Blue FC will also be without midfielder Kim DeCesare, who just was placed on the 45-day disabled list after suffering a contusion on her knee ahead of the Portland match. However, forward Danielle Schulmann (left hamstring strain) was just activated from the disabled list, and Maya Hayes (MCL sprain) returned to the pitch last weekend for the first time since May.

All things considered, Saturday’s match against Houston should result in three points for the home team. If Sky Blue can compete with a team of Portland’s caliber for an entire 90 minutes, then a team of the Dash’s caliber shouldn’t be an issue. However, Sky Blue has the tendency to play to their opponent’s level, especially at home, so if they play down to Houston's level, anything could happen.

Sky Blue FC plays the Houston Dash on Saturday, July 2 at 7 p.m. EST at Yurcak Field. 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, Jill Loyden

Defenders: (6) CoCo Goodson, Kristin Grubka, Maya Hayes, Christie Rampone (C), Erica Skroski, Erin Simon

Midfielders: (7) Kelly Conheeney, Theresa Diederich, Shawna Gordon, Sarah Killion, Taylor Lytle, Raquel Rodriguez, Nikki Stanton

Forwards: (5) Leah Galton, Tasha Kai, Sam Kerr, Danielle Schulmann, Catherine Zimmerman

Head Coach: Christy Holly

What: Sky Blue FC v Houston Dash
When: Saturday, July 2, 2016 at
7 p.m. EST
Where: Yurcak Field, Piscataway Township, New Jersey, U.S.A.
Online: NWSL Soccer channel on YouTube