In 2016, most media members thought Sky Blue FC would finish bottom of the table. With former head coach Jim Gabarra departing to the Washington Spirit, a replacement wasn’t appointed until the week of the 2016 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) College Draft. The roster had very few “star names” when compared to other teams, veteran players such as Caitlin Foord and Brittany Cameron were not returning for various reasons, Nadia Nadim was traded, and it felt as if a black cloud loomed above the club.
This all changed when the New Jersey squad defeated Seattle Reign FC 2-1 at Memorial Stadium for the season opener, the first loss ever for the Reign on that pitch. Sky Blue FC head coach Christy Holly instilled a new culture for his players, and the change was evident by the energy seen on the field with each game. Unfortunately, injuries and national team commitments left the squad rarely playing at full strength, and Holly didn’t repeat the same starting XI until very late in the season. Sky Blue FC would finish seventh in the league standings, but the foundation was built for a strong 2017 campaign.
2016 Record: 7-8-5
2016 Playoffs: N/A
Key additions: Kailen Sheridan, Kayla Mills, Mandy Freeman, Daphne Corboz
Key losses: Shawna Gordon, Kristin Grubka, Kelly Conheeney, Caroline Stanley
Projected starting XI: Sheridan; Mills, Rampone, Freeman, Skroski; Killion, Rodriguez, Corboz; Galton, Kerr, O’Hara
Major trophies won all-time: 2009 WPS Championship
What we think of our team: Doubt all you want, but Sky Blue FC has proven that it has the potential to (finally) return to the playoffs and be a title contender. With the final pieces in place, “Jersey Strong” will have a whole new meaning this season.
What outsiders think of our team: "Sky Blue are the midtable team that you tend to forget about until it is time to face them, but they are fully capable of beating you on game day."
Biggest Rival and why: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…” Sky Blue FC has a history of struggling against the Western NY Flash. The last time the New Jersey side earned a victory against Western NY was on August 13, 2014, and has gone 0-3-1 since 2015. However, during the offseason, North Carolina FC acquired the rights to the Flash and renamed the team the North Caroline Courage. Could it all be in a name? Will Sky Blue FC be able to overcome its winless drought against this squad? The first head-to-head will take place on Wednesday, May 24 in Cary, North Carolina.
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Our season hinges on… a young team playing like veterans. When at full strength, most of the projected starters will either be rookies or entering their second year in the NWSL. Rampone will once again be the rock this team has come to rely on; the veteran among rookies and sophomore Erica Skroski in the backline. If this team can play cohesively, disciplined, and transition quickly into the attack (lots of speed up top), Sky Blue FC will qualify for playoffs for the first time since 2013.
Why this year won’t be like last year: Sarah Killion and Raquel Rodriguez were extremely exciting to watch in the midfield last year, and after playing together for an entire season, the chemistry will only get stronger. As if these two weren’t enough, the addition of Corboz gives the midfield the potential to be one of the best in the NWSL.
Key player (and why): It’s extremely hard to narrow down just one player for this squad, but Rampone’s leadership and ability to stay calm under pressure will be a huge key for this young roster, especially in the defensive third. She is Captain America – a real-life super hero who manages to compete at an elite level consistently and is still the fastest player on the team at age 41. Her ability to read the game and shut down top goal-scorers has always been impressive, but her role as a mentor to the young defenders will be a crucial part of the team’s success this year.
Predicted finish in 2017 (place in standings): 4th
Wild prediction: Sam Kerr will win the Golden Boot this season.