Under better than expected weather conditions, Sky Blue FC of the NWSL opened their preseason with a 1-0 victory over St. John's University.
The game was played at Wexler Field, located in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, and this writer was able to take the game in first hand. The couple hundred fans in attendance were able to watch USWNT team members Kelley O'Hara and Christie Rampone lead their squad in a well-played, defensive game. It also offered fans a chance to see many of the new faces acquired in the offseason, although first round selection Raquel Rodriguez did not suit up.
How It Went Down
Led by O'Hara, as well as speedy forward Maya Hayes and the rugged Tasha Kai, the Sky Blue controlled most of the action in the first half. All three put the ball squarely towards the St. John's net, but were repeatedly turned away by netminder Diana Poulin, who played an outstanding match overall.
St. John's' scoring opportunities were few, and those that did get on net were easily handled by recently signed Caroline Stanley. Stanley provided solid vocal leadership, directing the defense and has major shoes to fill now that last year's goalkeeper Brittany Cameron elected to stay in Japan for the 2016 season.
Also noticeably absent was second leading scorer and tenacious midfielder Katy Freels, as well as top goal scorer Nadia Nadim. Nadim was traded in the offseason and Freels elected to take a break to be with her family this season.
Both players will be difficult to replace, but Kai gave a glimpse of what she is able to bring to the squad. She persistently penetrated the defense and attacked the net, but was denied by Poulin.
Kai was responsible for the only score of the game during the match's 37th minute. She again wove her way through the defense and was pulled down inside the box which led to the Sky Blue being awarded a penalty kick. Midfielder Sarah Killion calmly took the kick and deposited it in the right side of the net, past a sprawling Poulin. Unfortunately, for as many chances as they had, the Sky Blue just weren't able to add another tally.
“As we made our way through the field and continued to put more pressure on the ball, the ideas, clever movements, and the tricks and flicks were there,” said new Sky Blue manager Christy Holly. “We just need to finish connecting the dots. Once we build on that understanding with the players, we will be producing something really exciting on the field.”
The second half of the match gave the Sky Blue a chance to put an entirely new lineup on the pitch, going with mainly trialists, save for starting defender Kristin Grubka. Grubka and fan favorite Meg Morris were able to provide steady leadership for those looking to make the squad.
"Many of the trialists were able to get 45 minutes under their belts, which is great to see, and we were also able to play some of our more established players in the first 45 minutes,” Holly noted.
Moving forward it will be vital for the squad to find some offense from an squad that found scoring goals difficult at times last season and is without it's top two scorers. Next up for the Sky Blue is a match against the University of North Carolina this Saturday.