Sky Blue FC should be celebrating. In the 2019 NWSL Draft, they had the most picks of the day, walking away having selected eight of the top collegiate athletes in the nation.
The professional side drafted UCLA defender Hailie Mace, UNC captain and defender Julia Ashley, Butler forward Paige Monaghan, Baylor midfielder Julie James, Georgetown (and former Stanford) forward Kyra Carusa, Florida goalkeeper Kaylan Marckese, Rutgers defender/midfielder Kenie Wright, and Notre Dame defender/midfielder Sabrina Flores. Ashley, Monahan, Wright, and Flores are all New Jersey natives.
The team also traded the No. 3 overall pick to the Washington Spirit in exchange for three players not named during the draft’s proceedings and the No. 29 overall pick. It was later announced by Sky Blue that the three players acquired in the trade with the Spirit were veteran defenders Caprice Dydasco and Estelle Johnson and backup goalkeeper DiDi Haracic.
But the talk of the day was not about the trade or the fresh faces arriving at Sky Blue. Instead, it was about how the club’s two first-round picks, No. 2 overall pick Mace and No. 6 overall pick Ashley, are reportedly unwilling or hesitant to join the club.
The Equalizer’s Dan Lauletta reported that Mace, who was invited to the draft by the NWSL but opted not to attend, informed Sky Blue ahead of Thursday’s draft that, if selected, she would not report.
Sky Blue President and General Manager Tony Novo addressed Mace’s refusal in comments to the media at the draft.
“There’s challenges with her, but I think she will be here once we talk to her and get past some of the negativity that we’ve had in the past,” Novo said.
The negativity that Novo was referring to were the reports of subpar training and playing conditions, poor housing, and other concerns as reported by Once a Metro and other media outlets back in July that have resulted in several Sky Blue players leaving the club to play elsewhere. (Katie Johnson was traded to Chicago on Wednesday following rumors of overseas offers, and Shea Groom is reportedly on her way to Seattle, where she’ll reunite with her FC Kansas City coach, Vlatko Andonovski.)
“There’s a lot of things that we have to overcome and a lot of things that we’re going to continue to improve: housing, training facilities, all of the above,” Novo added. “And I think those are concerns anybody has, and we’re trying to eliminate those concerns.”
However, when pressed, Novo could not give any specifics, saying that “within the next 30 days or so” the team would be announcing the improvements made by the team throughout the offseason.
In his statements to the media, Novo also said he was confident that Ashley would also join Sky Blue for the 2019 season. Unlike Mace, Ashley was present at the draft and had some positive things to say upon being drafted by Sky Blue.
“I’m excited for this opportunity. I’m really happy that Denise [Reddy] believes in me,” she said before voicing her uncertainty.
“I’m from New Jersey, but I’m not positive of what I want to do in regards to if I’m going to stay or go abroad. I have to explore these options,” she said before informing media that she’s considering playing in France, Germany, or Sweden.
Other players who were drafted by Sky Blue FC sang a different tune upon learning which team had selected them. Marckese, drafted by Sky Blue in the fourth round, tweeted her excitement about starting her professional career.
Monaghan, who was present for the day’s festivities, acknowledged Sky Blue’s shortcomings but voiced confidence in her new coach, stating, “Coach Reddy is really trying to turn this program around.”
But the damage has already been done. Sky Blue already had an uphill battle to climb after finishing last year at the very bottom of the table with only one win in 24 matches. Now, with past players leaving in droves and new players unwilling to join, Sky Blue looks to be entering 2019 worse for wear.