After a month-long hiatus for the Olympic Games, the race for the playoffs heats up as fifth-ranked Sky Blue FC (6-5-4, 22 points) returns this weekend to take on the fourth-ranked Chicago Red Stars (7-4-4, 25 points).
The match is a must-win for Sky Blue, who currently sits just three points shy of the last playoff position. A loss would all but dash Sky Blue’s hopes for a spot in the playoffs, and a tie could be equally detrimental depending on the outcomes of this weekend’s other matches.
"We are really looking forward to playing Chicago this weekend," said Head Coach Christy Holly. "This is a huge test for both teams, and we have put forth a good couple of weeks of preparation to make sure we are ready for the challenge. We have incorporated a specific game plan for this match, and now it is up to us to execute it."
In the two teams’ last meeting, Sofia Huerta and Leah Galton both scored goals for their respective teams to see the match end in a 1-1 draw and one point awarded to both sides. Both teams were without their USWNT players as the team was in camp preparing for two June friendlies against Japan. That meant that Kelley O’Hara was absent for Sky Blue FC, while Christen Press, Julie Johnston and Alyssa Naeher were all gone for Chicago.
The teams may once again be without the USWNT players as many players have yet to rejoin or resume training with their club teams after returning from Rio for the Olympics. Although it is uncertain whether Chicago’s U.S. national teamers will be with the team on Saturday, O’Hara tweeted on Thursday that she was traveling to New Jersey and would be rejoining Sky Blue on Friday. Her late return suggests that, unlike some of her USWNT teammates, O’Hara will most likely not be available to play on Saturday.
En route back to Jersey! Can't wait to see my @SkyBlueFC s tomorrow— Kelley O'Hara (@kohara19) August 25, 2016
Australian-international Sam Kerr, who was also gone for a couple of matches as the Australian national team prepared for the Olympics, should be available for Saturday as she has been back and training with the team since at least Tuesday.
Leah Galton, who declined the invitation to the England women’s national team training camp earlier this month because of a left hip strain, is probable for this weekend. However, expect to see Galton on the pitch for Sky Blue as she has been explosive along the left flank and crucial to the team’s attack.
Sky Blue should once again have goalkeeper Caroline Stanley in their ranks after missing the last four matches because of a shoulder sprain suffered in the July 2nd road loss to the Portland Thorns. However, in the wake of Caroline Casey’s successes between the posts in Stanley’s absence, Stanley may once again be on the bench for Sky Blue as Coach Holly likes to keep players in the lineup until he has a reason for them not to be there.
However, Sky Blue will definitely be without forward Catherine Zimmerman, whose season ended early after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus suffered in the July 31 match against the Washington Spirit.
Chicago will be down two players on Saturday as Jennifer Hoy and Taylor Comeau are out with a right plantar fascia and right hamstring strain respectively.
In comparison to the two teams' last meeting, Chicago also has a new player in its ranks, former Boston Breaker Stephanie McCaffrey, who was traded to the Red Stars on July 22. McCaffrey saw some playing time in the Red Stars' 1-1 draw with the Houston Dash approximately 24 hours after the trade was announced. She saw her first start with Chicago a week later, scoring the Red Stars' lone goal in their win over FC Kansas City. If Sky Blue is not carefuly, McCaffrey has all the potential to be a major threat in the Red Star attack.
Sky Blue FC takes on the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday, August 27 at 7 p.m. EST. The game will be streamed live 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, Kelley O’Hara, Christie Rampone (C), Erin Simon, Erica Skroski
Midfielders (8): Kelly Conheeney, Theresa Diederich, Shawna Gordon, Sarah Killion, Taylor Lytle, Domi Richardson, Raquel Rodriguez, Nikki Stanton
Forwards (5): Leah Galton, Maya Hayes, Tasha Kai, Sam Kerr, Danielle Schulmann