Yurcak Field, Rutgers University, Piscataway Township, N.J.
Saturday, July 7, 2018
7:00 p.m. ET
Watch: go90.com/app (U.S. fans) or NWSLSoccer.com/NWSL app (international fans)
After a two-week, three-game road trip, Sky Blue FC (0-10-3, 3 points) returns home to Yurcak Field on Saturday, July 7, to take on the Chicago Red Stars (5-4-7, 22 points) for the second time this season.
In the teams’ first meeting of the year, they battled to a 1-1 draw, with Sofia Huerta putting the home Red Stars on the board in the first minute with a shot from the far corner of the box that chipped goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan. Savannah McCaskill equalized in the 78th minute, her first professional goal and the first goal of Sky Blue’s 2018 season, to hand the visitors their first non-loss and first point on the season.
But a lot has happened since that Week 4 clash. Sofia Huerta, Taylor Comeau, and Samantha Johnson—all regular features in Chicago’s lineups this year—have since been traded. The team is also almost completely back to full strength health-wise: only Stephanie McCaffrey remains out while Julie Ertz, Casey Short, Yuki Nagasato, and Rosie White, all unavailable in the two teams’ previous match because of injury, have since returned.
Sam Kerr, who missed the previous match against her former squad because of national team duty with Australia, has also returned, and Brooke Elby joined the team through the “Huerta trade.” Even with some off-field drama that surrounded that trade in particular, the Red Stars have bounced back remarkably well and now sit in the much-coveted, but highly-precarious, fourth spot on the league table.
That’s largely thanks to the attacking prowess of Kerr, who will be returning to Yurcak Field for the first time since she and Nikki Stanton were traded during the most recent offseason. Although Kerr is not having the same 17-goal, Golden-Boot-and-MVP-winning season as she had in her last year with Sky Blue, she does currently sit tied for third place in the league with five goals. That’s just two shy of league leaders Christine Sinclair and Crystal Dunn and a team high for Chicago.
Kerr also has two assists, her most recent one being to Nagasato, the Japanese international who is an underrated but extremely dangerous piece of the attack for the Red Stars. Nagasato has four goals on the season herself, and her tactical ability on the ball, vision, and willingness to sacrifice her body for chances on goal make her a highly unpredictable player for opponents to defend. The on-field chemistry she’s building with Kerr makes her even more threatening in Chicago’s attack, especially when facing the worst defense in the league.
However, Chicago is coming off an extremely exhausting stretch of their schedule, and Saturday will be their third game in seven days. They’re also entering the match on the heels of a 4-1 loss to the top-ranked North Carolina Courage, which could affect them mentally in the same way that Wednesday match will likely affect them physically.
Sky Blue, on the other hand, is the better rested of the two sides but has yet to secure their first win of the season, no doubt taking quite the mental toll on the players. They, too, are entering Saturday’s match off a loss, a 3-1 loss to the Utah Royals FC in which all three of the Royals’ goals were scored in the opening 30 minutes. Although Carli Lloyd struck in the 62nd minute to prevent the shutout, the result was still one of the team’s biggest losses of the year.
The New Jersey-based side have also been plagued with injuries, and although Katie Johnson has been upgraded to questionable and will likely see the field Saturday night, they will be without Jen Hoy, Amandine Pierre-Louis, Raquel Rodriguez, and Rebekah Stott. Stott in particular has been sorely missed, as her absence from the backline since she sustained a back strain has left a relatively inexperienced backline even weaker.
While many fans think Chicago’s quick turnaround between matches will be advantageous to Sky Blue, the home team will no doubt still have their work cut out for them.
Sky Blue FC
OUT: Jen Hoy (right knee sprain), Amandine Pierre-Louis (right ankle sprain), Raquel Rodriguez (back spasms), Rebekah Stott (back strain)
QUESTIONABLE: Michaela Abam (left knee tendinitis), Katie Johnson (right knee tendinitis), McKenzie Meehan (right hamstring strain)
INTERNATIONAL DUTY: None
Chicago Red Stars
OUT: Stephanie McCaffrey (illness)
INTERNATIONAL DUTY: None