National Women's Soccer League / Sky Blue FC

SEASON PREVIEW: Sky Blue FC

SkyBlueFC

Sky Blue FC flew under the radar headed into the start of the 2013 season and went 7-2-1 over their first 10 matches. Then, the injury bug struck and they fell to fourth place after going 2-3-3 over the final two months of the season and limped into the postseason.

The club made few changes in the off season but the most noticeable move came on March 3, which sent Australian striker Lisa De Vanna to Boston in exchange for an international roster slot. The Aussie scored five times for the New Jersey-based club and added two assists in 16 appearances, but was hampered by a hamstring injury in the latter stages of the season.

Sky Blue returns their top-two goal scorers from 2013 in Mexican forward Monica Ocampo and Canadian midfielder Sophie Schmidt, who scored eight and seven times, respectively. The club will look to Ocampo to tutor its newest striker additions in draftee Maya Hayes and Canadian allocation Jonelle Filigno.

Both Filigno and Hayes know how to find the back of the net after both coming off of stellar collegiate careers.

Filigno set a record at Rutgers for career game-winning goals with 17, topping United States (and Western New York Flash) midfielder Carli Lloyd’s previous total of 15. She knocked in eight goals and added three assists for 19 points during her senior campaign and was second on the team in scoring.

Hayes finished her career at Penn State as the Nittany Lions’ third-leading goal scorer, finding the back of the net 71 times and dishing out 21 assists. She scored 31 times as a sophomore and was named a finalist for the 2011 MAC Hermann trophy.

While collegiate success doesn’t always translate to the pros, Sky Blue FC will be looking to the rookie duo to complement Ocampo as the only other forwards listed on this season’s roster. The departures of De Vanna and Danesha Adams leaves just midfielder Taylor Lytle as the team’s only other multi-goal scorer in 2013.

The back line remains largely unchanged and will be led, once again, by veteran Christie Rampone. Rampone will, however, start the season on the bench with a toe injury that could prove to be troublesome. She was key in holding opponents’ top forwards to fewer opportunities and Sky Blue will need to fill that void while she is off the pitch.

Sky Blue signed Camille Levin who was drafted fourth overall in the 2012 WPS draft prior to the league folding and brings youth national team experience to the table. Levin has spent the past two years playing for Goteborg FC in Sweden and will join fellow Stanford alums Kelley O’Hara and Madeleine Thompson battling for a place on the back line.

The N.J. club also returns outside back Kendall Johnson, center backs CoCo Goodson and Lindsi Lisonbee-Cutshall; and speedy Australian Caitlin Foord.

Foord was impressive last season with her attacking presence on the right side creating a chances for Sky Blue in the attacking third. She suffered a foot injury in July and a rotating list of defenders couldn’t fill the slot effectively. And, if that is anything to go by, Sky Blue fans better cross their fingers that she doesn’t miss an extended time.

The midfield remains largely unchanged as well, with Taylor Lytle, Katy Freels and Ashley Nick all returning. Manya Makoski announced her retirement early in the off season and Sky Blue added Japanese midfielder Nanase Kiryu. Kiryu scored 40 goals in 127 appearances from 2007-2013 for Japanese club NTV Beleza.

The two biggest questions for the club are simple: Who will win the goalkeeper battle? And where will Kelley O’Hara play this year?

The answer to both is still unclear.

Brittany Cameron stepped into the starting role last season after Jillian Loyden suffered a broken hand while with the U.S. national team at the Algarve Cup just prior to the start of preseason. Cameron retained the stating spot even after Loyden recovered and was second in the league with eight shutouts. She finished with a goals against average of 0.94 and proved why she should be a starter after playing behind Karina LeBlanc, Nicole Barnhart and Ashlyn Harris.

Loyden only made four appearances in 2013 but has been the number two goalkeeper behind Hope Solo with Barnhart missing from camps with illness and injury. Where last season necessitated Loyden being the number two keeper, both are healthy this year. It will be interesting to see who Jim Gabarra puts his trust in between the pipes.

O’Hara played on the backline at times in 2013 and played up top. After being converted into a left back by Pia Sundhage, it seemed only natural that she’d play on the backline for Gabarra.

But it wasn’t.

With the team lacking attacking talent, Gabarra played O’Hara as an attacking-minded player. Which, in theory, shouldn’t have been incredibly far-fetched. Yes, she was playing on the back line for the national team, but she’d played as an outside midfielder to start with and was a goal scorer in college.

It never worked out. O’Hara looked lost on the field a lot of the time and then rolled an ankle in a match against FC Kansas City in May just before a pair of national team friendlies. She missed the first, but appeared in the second and from that point onward, struggled as the ankle injury developed into something more serious. She elected to have reconstructive surgery in August.

Finding her place on the field—whether with Sky Blue FC or not—will be vital for O’Hara as this season will serve as preparation for World Cup Qualifying matches this fall and in the long term, towards solidifying places on the 2015 World Cup squad.

 

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