Sky Blue FC v Utah Royals FC
Yurcak Field, Rutgers University, Piscataway Township, N.J.
Saturday, June 2, 2018
7:00 p.m. ET
Watch: go90.com/app (U.S. fans) or NWSLSoccer.com/NWSL app (international fans)
Sky Blue FC (0-7-1, 1 point) will host the first ever meeting between them and the NWSL’s newest Franchise, Utah Royals FC (2-2-5, 11 points), on Saturday, June 2 at Yurcak Field.
Sky Blue is still in the hunt for their first win of the season, while the Royals are coming off their first loss—a 2-0 loss on the road in Portland—after a five-game undefeated streak. The majority of those matches ended in draws, resulting in the Royals sitting just two places ahead of Sky Blue (still in last place) on the table.
The match had all the makings for one of those dramatic sports storylines we in the media like to hype up: Kelley O’Hara and Taylor Lytle, the last two members of Sky Blue’s inaugural NWSL roster, returning to their former home field to take on the team that traded them away.
However, Saturday’s match should be less dramatic than that, at least going into the game. While Lytle will surely return to Yurcak with the Royals, fan favorite O’Hara will not, as she has been sidelined by a hamstring injury for an undisclosed amount of town.
The Royals will also be without defender Becky Sauerbrunn, forward Amy Rodriguez, and goalkeeper Abby Smith, all of whom will be reporting to USWNT camp on June 1 ahead of a pair of friendlies against China. Those absences will leave the Royals much weaker on both sides of the ball, as their most seasoned defender (and captain) Sauerbrunn has been crucial in keeping Utah in matches against better teams, while Rodriguez has led the Royals attack since returning from the ACL injury suffered in FC Kansas City’s season opener last year.
A new goalkeeper will also be stepping between the posts for the Royals for the first time this season as Smith has played all 810 minutes of the season thus far. Although the Royals signed third-string goalkeeper E.J. Proctor, their fourth-round pick in the 2018 NWSL College Draft, as a goalkeeper replacement ahead of this weekend, the more obvious choice is Nicole Barnhart.
Barnhart played all 2,160 minutes of the 2017 season in goal for FCKC, playing through a number of lingering injuries to do so. She underwent surgery during the offseason and, as a result, was replaced as the Royals starter by Smith. If Barnhart has been healthy enough to serve as Smith’s backup, she should be healthy enough to go against Sky Blue on Saturday. If she does, fans shouldn’t expect her to be rusty, as she is the most veteran goalkeeper in the league.
As for Sky Blue, Carli Lloyd and Savannah McCaskill, combined for three of Sky Blue’s five goals scored this season, will also be unavailable on Saturday because of national team duty. That leaves two big holes in the attack for Sky Blue, and with Raquel Rodriguez questionable this week with a back injury, the midfield could be a major problem, especially against a high-pressing team like the Royals.
However, Sky Blue have signed Imani Dorsey, selected by Sky Blue as the No. 5 overall selection in the 2018 NWSL College Draft, as a national team replacement player. In her four seasons at Duke, Dorsey scored 29 goals in 87 appearances, 14 of which were scored during her senior campaign to lead the team in scoring. For her performance last year, she was named the ACC Offensive Player of the Year. Dorsey joined Sky Blue in May after her college graduation.
As for head coach Denise Reddy, she is fully aware of the challenges international duty and injuries have put on her roster, as well as what Utah will be bringing on Saturday.
“Utah is a very good team overall and perhaps the best pressing team in the league,” Reddy said in a team statement. “In addition to the high press, they are very good at putting immediate pressure on the ball no matter where they are on the field. Regardless of the score, they are a team that is going to be constantly working for the full 90 minutes.
“For us to get points in this game, we have to be very efficient in terms of possession, and we have to be very gritty in the final third. Not only do we need to be aggressive, we must also work to get numbers in order to capitalize on the opportunities we create.”
Sky Blue FC
OUT: Erica Skroski (right hamstring strain)
QUESTIONABLE: Raquel Rodriguez (back spasms)
INTERNATIONAL DUTY: Carli Lloyd (USA), Savannah McCaskill (USA)
Utah Royals FC
OUT: Alex Arlitt (left knee strain-SEI), Mandy Laddish (right hip contusion-SEI), Kelley O’Hara (right hamstring strain)
INTERNATIONAL DUTY: Amy Rodriguez (USA), Becky Sauerbrunn (USA), Abby Smith (USA)