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Match preview: Sky Blue FC v Houston Dash

Sky Blue looks to register its first win of the year when it returns to Yurcak Field on Saturday.

Erica Skroski Photo by Howard C. Smith, ISI Photos.

Sky Blue FC vs Houston Dash

Yurcak Field, Rutgers University, Piscataway Township, New Jersey

Saturday, May 5, 2018

7:00 p.m. ET

Watch: go90.com or app (U.S. fans); NWSLsoccer.com or app (international fans)

Sky Blue FC (0-2-1, 1 point) returns to Yurcak Field for just the second time this year when they host the Houston Dash (0-3-2, 2 points) on Saturday.

Sky Blue has gotten off to a slow start this season, playing only three games thus far while others, including the North Carolina Courage and Chicago Red Stars, currently sitting in first and second place respectively, have played at least double that amount. As a result, Sky Blue, who has also had a slow start in scoring goals, sits in last place in league standings with only one point earned on the season so far.

“For us, it has been tough to find consistency since we have only played three games. Other teams have gotten a little bit more of an opportunity to develop their chemistry,” said Denise Reddy, Sky Blue FC head coach in the team’s official release.

“Over the past two weeks, we have been looking to get into our best rhythm, especially in the final third. We have a really good base and a really good idea of how we want to play, and our goal is to execute it for longer periods of time against Houston.”

If Sky Blue gets the win on Saturday, they will leapfrog the Dash in league standings (the two are currently only separate by one point) and come within striking distance of the league’s newest franchise, Utah Royals FC and possibly the Washington Spirit, depending on the rest of the weekend’s results.

Sky Blue has a couple of advantages heading into Saturday’s match including the home field advantage. The New Jersey side will be the better rested of the two, having a bye weekend last week. Their last result was also their first non-win of the season, a 1-1 draw on the road in Chicago made possible by a 78th-minute Savannah McCaskill goal.

The Dash, on the other hand, enter Week 6 on a three-game losing streak, most recently falling to the Courage, 2-0, last weekend. Leading up to that match, the Dash played three games in the course of 11 days, a toll on even the most physically adept teams in the league.

Although Sky Blue will be entering the match with a bit of an upper hand, there’s no such thing as an easy win in the NWSL, a league known around the world for its parity. The Dash will be looking to end their losing streak while preventing Sky Blue from getting their first win of the season.

The Dash do have Kealia Ohai and Kyah Simon, back from a 2017 ACL injury and international duty, respectively, in their lineup, making them much more potent in the attack than earlier in the season. Even so, the Dash is goalless in the last four matches, and no team can earn the W without scoring goals.

In comparison, Sky Blue is deep in the attack with players like McCaskill, Carli Lloyd, Janine Beckie, Shea Groom, and Raquel Rodriguez staples in their starting XIs, while Adriana Leon, Katie Johnson, Jen Hoy, and rookie Michaela Abam are available off the bench.

That attacking talent has only resulted in one goal so far this season, so the bigger issue seems to be finding the right combination of offensive players on the field or creating more chemistry between them, but Sky Blue has by far the more threatening attack on paper.

On the other side of the field, Sky Blue fans were concerned about the team’s defense after that was a major issue in 2017. Although it appeared head coach Denise Reddy may not have thoroughly addressed the team’s defensive struggles when signing new players this year, their defense, albeit shaky at times (see Erica Skroski’s head-scratcher of a PK-resulting handball during the team’s home opener), has managed to hold some of the best offenses in the league to just one goal a piece in each match played so far this season.

The Dash can’t say the same thing. They did manage to hold the Red Stars to a 1-1 draw in their season opener before battling the Utah Royals to a scoreless draw in Week 2, but the results have quickly gone downhill from there. The Dash’s last three games have all been shutouts, and in two of those the Dash defense gave up multiple goals (including an own goal scored by defender Kristie Mewis).

In other words, the Dash started out stronger than expected but have since fallen quite a few levels, while Sky Blue is finally starting to find its momentum. Sky Blue also has history on its side, leading the all-time series against the Dash 6-1-3, with their one loss coming in the teams’ first ever meeting. Sky Blue has since been undefeated in their last nine meetings with Houston. They look to keep that streak alive and get their first win of the season on Saturday.

INJURY REPORT

Sky Blue FC

OUT: Amandine Pierre-Louis (right tibia/fibula contusion)

INTERNATIONAL DUTY: None

Houston Dash

OUT: Linda Motlhalo (right knee sprain)QUESTIONABLE: Sammy Jo Prudhomme (left finger sprain)

INTERNATIONAL DUTY: None