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Sky Blue FC 2018 Season Preview

Can Sky Blue Overcome Youth And Become A Dark Horse?

Sky Blue FC
Sky Blue FC will kick off its season on the road on March 31 against the North Carolina Courage.
Photo by Jeffrey Auger Photography, courtesy of Sky Blue FC

This year’s Sky Blue FC roster looks a lot different compared to last season’s squad as the club had one of its most action-packed offseasons in recent franchise history. The New Jersey side will also feature a new head coach as Denise Reddy replaces Christy Holly at the helm.

The two most notable absences will be U.S. Women’s National Team member Kelley O’Hara and the 2017 National Women’s Soccer League MVP and Golden Boot winner, Sam Kerr. O’Hara and Taylor Lytle were traded to Utah in exchange for Shea Groom and Christina Gibbons back in December, followed by Sky Blue FC and Seattle working out a deal of their own. The Reign received the rights to Australia international Caitlin Foord and in return, SBFC acquired New Zealand international Rebekah Stott and Mexico international Katlyn Johnson.

The final blockbuster move came during the 2018 NWSL College Draft. Sky Blue FC was involved in a three-team trade that sent Kerr and Nikki Stanton to Chicago, Christen Press to Houston, and Carli Lloyd, Janine Beckie and Jen Hoy to New Jersey.

Other new additions include Brazilian midfielder Thaisa Moreno, who signed with the club in early December, draft picks Michaela Abam and Amandine Pierre-Louis, and the trio of Savannah McCaskill, Adrianna Leon and Amanda Frisbie joining the club via the dispersal draft after the Boston Breakers unfortunately folded.

So… who’s left?

Eleven players return to Sky Blue FC this year as Reddy strives to establish “new norms” and a new culture for the club. Questions still surround the defense as many of the new additions are strong midfielders and/or forwards, which gives this team a ton of depth in the attack. However, Sky Blue FC fans witnessed last year that a strong offense can only take you so far without a stable backline.

Key facts:

2017 Record: 10-11-3

2017 Playoffs: N/A

Key additions: Carli Lloyd, Janine Beckie, Christina Gibbons, Shea Groom, Katie Johnson, Rebekah Stott, Adriana Leon, Savannah McCaskill

Key losses: Kelley O’Hara, Sam Kerr, Maya Hayes, Nikki Stanton, Leah Galton, Christie Pierce (I don’t see her returning to the pitch this season)

Projected starting XI: Sheridan; Gibbons, Freeman, Skroski, Stott; Moreno, Rodriguez, Lloyd; Beckie, Johnson, Groom

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 will not go down without a fight. Last season, the club floated around playoff contention for a good chunk of the season before finally dropping to 6th place in the standings (and one point behind Seattle). Despite being a young squad, the leadership of Lloyd should help this team mature quickly and potentially become a dark horse in 2018.

Most anticipated series and why: It’s hard to choose just one team, but I’ll give the edge to Seattle Reign FC. In 2017, these two teams featured some of the most exciting offensive match-ups of the season. In their final two meetings, Sky Blue FC and Seattle Reign FC scored a combined 18 goals, splitting the 5-4 results. Although both squads feature new faces, Seattle still has its core group of returners on the roster: Jess Fishlock, Lauren Barnes, Megan Rapinoe, Nahomi Kawasumi and Rumi Utsugi. The Reign also has Vlatko Andonovski as its new head coach, and he has proven to give Sky Blue FC a challenge over the years when he was leading FC Kansas City.

Our season hinges on… a young team playing like veterans (and staying healthy). Only one player is currently 30 or older, at that would be Lloyd. With an average age of 24, this crew has a lot of work to do if Sky Blue FC wants to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013. If Reddy can get this team to play cohesively, disciplined, and transition quickly into the attack to take advantage of their biggest strength, the New Jersey side may be able to get by with a defensive squad that is one injury away from repeating last year’s woes.

Why this year won’t be like last year: New coach, new team, and hopefully new Sky Blue. Although young, a lot of the new additions have already proven themselves in the NWSL or other professional women’s soccer leagues, as well as made contributions to their respected national teams. For example, Stott is coming off a record-breaking third consecutive Westfield W-League Championship with Melbourne City FC. McCaskill showed a lot of potential during her second half appearance for the U.S. WNT against France at Red Bull Arena during the SheBelieves Cup. Others like Leon, Gibbons and Groom played key roles for their previous clubs. And of course, Lloyd returns to her home state to try and win her first NWSL Championship.

Key player (and why): It’s extremely hard to narrow down just one player for this squad, but with the state of the backline being uncertain, my vote goes to Erica Skroski. As the veteran who had the opportunity to learn from former Sky Blue FC captain Christie Pierce, Skroski will need to step up and take control of the defense if this club wants to succeed. Kailen Sheridan will also play a big part in setting the tone for the defense as she showed a lot of potential during her rookie season, but Skroski will need to keep the rest of the crew organized and composed under pressure as she returns to the 4/5 positions this season where she is at her strongest.

Predicted finish in 2017 (place in standings): 8th

Wild prediction: Savannah McCaskill will win Rookie of the Year.