National Women's Soccer League / Sky Blue FC

Sky Blue FC aims for return to the postseason

Falling one point shy of a playoff spot last year despite winning six of its last eight matches, Sky Blue FC enters the 2015 campaign visiting the reigning NWSL Champions, FC Kansas City, this Sunday hoping to carry over that momentum. However, even with the return of star Danish striker Nadia Nadim, retirements from some key players leave plenty of questions still unanswered surrounding the squad.

Key Signings:

Sarah Killion— Sky Blue selected the 5-foot-8 Pac 12 Scholar Athlete of the Year in the 2015 NWSL Draft with the second overall pick back in January and gives the squad solid cover at the defensive midfield position.

Samantha Kerr— The Australian forward was acquired by Sky Blue in exchange for the No. 4 pick in the 2015 NWSL Draft and the rights to midfielder Elizabeth Eddy to Western New York. Kerr led the Flash with 22 points and nine goals and figures to be a big addition up front to support Nadim.

Shawna Gordon— Gordon signed with Sky Blue in October coming from Umeå IK of the Damallsvenskan League in Sweden where she spent part of 2014 playing. Head coach Jim Gabarra said on the team’s website that she can be a valuable asset on set pieces and provides experience from her time with the Western Sydney Wanderers in the Australia W-League.

Aubrey Bledsoe—Following the retirement of Jill Loyden, the U.S. U-23 Women’s National Team goalkeeper was signed in October and expects to challenge Britt Cameron for the starting goalkeeper position.

Kristin Grubka—The athletic and versatile center back was drafted by Sky Blue with the first overall selection in the second round of the 2015 NWSL Draft. Grubka joins the team from Florida State where she anchored a Seminoles’ backline that won their first ever College Cup in school history last year.

Key Losses:

Ashley Nick—The 27-year-old midfielder made 19 starts and 25 appearances for Sky Blue before being acquired by the Houston Dash in exchange for draft positions in the second and fourth rounds of the 2015 NWSL Draft.

Jill Loyden— The U.S. Women’s National Team veteran spent her final two seasons with Sky Blue with a cumulative 8-7-6 record, five shutouts and 115 saves before electing to retire in October.

CoCo Goodson—After 40 starts and over 43 appearances in defense during her two seasons with Sky Blue, the former University of California-Irvine star announced her retirement at the beginning of preseason.

Kendall Johnson— The Portland Thorns acquired the rights to the defender in exchange for the 25th and 34th overall selections in the 2015 NWSL Draft. The former Portland University player made 15 appearances last season after starting all 22 matches in her rookie year in 2013.

Overview of Last Season:

Sky Blue ended the 2014 season with a 9-8-7 record which was good enough for sixth in the NWSL standings but just one point shy from a playoff spot. Sky Blue struggled to score for most of the season and finished second to last in the league with 30 goals behind only the Houston Dash. But upon Nadim’s arrival, Sky Blue went on a tear to end the year winning six of its last eight games.

World Cup Impact:

Like many NWSL teams, Sky Blue will be without some key starters during the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada. Among them will be defender Christie Rampone—captain of the United States women’s national team—along with Kerr and forward Monica Ocampo who will represent Australia and Mexico, respectively. Outside back Kelley O’Hara will also likely be joining the U.S. team. Those departures mean Grubka will likely be thrust into a starting role on defense while Nadim and forward Maya Hayes will be heavily relied upon for goal scoring. Whether those players can step up remains to be seen, but if Sky Blue can ever get its strongest starting lineup on the field at once, there’s a lot to be excited about.

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