Last year it took Sky Blue FC nearly one third of the regular season to earn its first win.
Tonight at 7 p.m. ET, under the lights of Yurcak Field in Piscataway, N.J., it has a chance to start the 2015 season 2-0.
A win would also extend its franchise record six-game winning streak to seven, a mark that was carried over from last season when Sky Blue won its last five games.The feat would tie the NWSL record for consecutive victories held by the Seattle Reign which won its first seven games last year, though the Reign were unbeaten through the first 16 matches.
In its way are Carli Lloyd and the revamped Houston Dash (1-0-0), with the veteran United States national team midfielder returning to the field where she made her mark as a member of the Rutgers women’s soccer team.
Sky Blue is coming off a huge 1-0 road win against the 2014 NWSL Champions FC Kansas City, but were outshot, 15-5, and relied heavily on goalkeeper Brittany Cameron who had five saves.
Houston, meanwhile, dominated its season opener at BBVA Compass Stadium against the Washington Spirit behind goals from Lloyd and forward Kealia Ohai. The Dash also displayed impressive ball movement and an understanding between the midfield and attack despite only having two practices with the full roster.
Sky Blue was crushed, 3-0, by Houston the last time the teams met in Piscataway on June 8, and head coach Jim Gabarra expects tonight’s affair to be just as challenging despite their early form.
“The motivation for us is to keep our momentum going that dates back to last season,” Gabarra said. “However, Houston is a team that is also carrying momentum. They are coming off a victory in their opener last week, and they have a much improved roster this year.”
A crucial part of that much improved roster is the addition of midfielder Morgan Brian from Virginia with the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NWSL Draft.
The 22-year old U.S. national team talent will partner inside with Lloyd in a much anticipated matchup in the middle against Sky Blue’s 25-year-old veteran Katy Freels and No. 2 overall pick Sarah Killion from UCLA.
However, the more intriguing matchup could be the rematch between Brian and defender Kristin Grubka whose Florida State side defeated the two-time Mac Hermann Trophy winner’s Cavaliers three consecutive times—all by 1-0 score lines—which includes this past season’s College Cup final.
Sky Blue forward Nadia Nadim will be the main threat for Houston to deal with on the other end. The Denmark international scored a cracking volley at Kansas City and has been crucial to her side’s current run with eight goals and three assists in just seven games in NWSL. She will try to best a backline that managed only two clean sheets last year but is coming off a shutout in their opener and has a new look with Dash captain Ella Masar being converted from forward to right back this preseason.
With both team’s losing key players to national team duty soon for this summer’s World Cup, grabbing points with the full roster intact remains a top priority.
This is especially so far Sky Blue whose motto has been every game matters having fallen one point shy of a playoff spot last season.