While Utah Royals FC was on their bye week last weekend, the rest of the National Women's Soccer League was having a crazy time. One of the biggest surprises of the week came when Sky Blue FC, fresh off of firing head coach Denise Reddy, won their first game of the season on the road against the Chicago Red Stars. This weekend, Sky Blue will host the well-rested Utah Royals in what promises to be an important game for both teams.
Sky Blue FC wants to maintain their momentum
For the first time in nearly two years, Sky Blue FC actually has some momentum to keep. Last season, SBFC played 23 of the 24 regular season matches without a win before finally beating the Orlando Pride in the final week of the season. Then the team shut down for the off season, so there really wasn't any momentum to conserve. This year their first win came in the team's 11th game, so there is some positive motion for the squad.
Over the last few weeks, Sky Blue FC has undergone a ton of change. The biggest move was the sacking of former head coach Reddy, who had won just once in her 34 games leading the team. Rather than designating an interim coach, the team seemed to decide on a coach-by-committee system. Despite the turmoil, Sky Blue came out and took a 2-0 lead against Chicago and would go on to win the game 2-1.
Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, who went to France for the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup with Canada, has consistently played well throughout the season. The addition of defender Gina Lewandowski has allowed rookie Paige Monaghan to move from a defensive role player to an attacking midfield or forward role. It's one that much better suits her skill set.
Sky Blue has also been getting great performance from midfielder Raquel Rodriguez. She scored the first goal of the match against Chicago and has been a solid force in the midfield for Sky Blue. It's hard to know exactly what this team will bring to the table each week without a permanent coach, but the players have already proven that they are capable of winning without defined front office roles.
And Utah would like to find some momentum of their own
Utah Royals FC have been in a bit of a slump lately. Before the bye week, they had registered one draw and one loss over the last two matches with zero goals to show for it. Lack of scoring has been a consistent problem for Utah this season, and it doesn't seem like there is going to be much help coming for this game.
United States Women's National Team players Christen Press and Kelley O'Hara figure to be important offensive pieces for the Royals, but they are still at least one week away from returning to club play. In the meantime, Utah has been trying to get by with an aging Amy Rodriguez leading the attack. She has been modestly successful, having scored five goals this season, but the rest of the team isn't pulling their weight and when Rodriguez doesn't find the back of the net there aren't any other players filling in that performance.
While the offense isn't getting any new blood this week, the defense is about to return to almost full strength. Katie Bowen and Desiree Scott, both of whom had been away for the World Cup, will be returning this week. That bodes extremely well for the Royals defensively. Scott is a stout defensive midfielder who disrupts opposing attacks, and Bowen is an all-around quality center back. With the offensive difficulties still festering, it will be important for Utah to maintain their solid defensive performance.
How to watch
While some NWSL games have moved to ESPN, this match, which kicks off at 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday at Yurcak Field, has not. Fans in the United States can catch this game on Yahoo! Sports, while international fans can watch on the NWSL website.