For the second of three matches in the blue and orange bowl, Sky Blue FC will scrap its customary home jerseys for bright pink uniforms when it hosts the Houston Dash Sunday at 3 p.m. ET at Yurcak Field in Piscataway.
The reason for the New Jersey club’s (1-3-3, 6 points) switch in attire is in support of its sponsor’s Paint the Town Pink campaign but may as well also be an attempt to spark some change for a team in desperate need of it.
Sky Blue enters the game winless in its last six matches having not won since opening day a stretch that is currently tied for the club record.
It’s a stark contrast from the last time Sky Blue hosted Houston (2-2-2, 8 points) April 18, when the New Jersey club was riding a franchise-record six-game winning streak dating back to last season.
The teams drew 1-1 in that game with Sky Blue midfielder Katy Freels scoring in the 14th minute before Dash forward Jessica McDonald equalized in the 52nd.
The result effectively ended Sky Blue’s winning streak and the club has not won a game since. But Freels has continued to be one of the few bright spots, scoring a sensational 30-yard strike in the club’s last match on the road against the Boston Breakers last Friday in a 1-1 tie.
It was the 25-year-old’s team-leading third goal of the season complimenting forward Nadia Nadim’s two goals, but the team has had no offense outside of the duo and has still not scored more than one goal in a game this year.
Sky Blue also ranks last in the league in goals scored and have yet to score from a corner kick.
Nonetheless, despite the team’s lethargic start to the season, head coach Jim Gabarra insists his side is nearing a breakthrough in the attack.
“We have been playing pretty well but just have not taken proper care of our chances,” Gabarra said. “…As a team, our goal is to get the type of result that we deserve in terms of the way we have been playing recently.”
The Dash should not be short on confidence following last week’s 1-0 result at Portland Thorns FC—their first ever win against the club in four tries.
The victory vaulted Houston to fourth in the standings with another possible three points on Sunday moving the Dash one point clear of Boston and FC Kansas City for third place.
McDonald scored the game-winner that game for her new club to make it four this season which is tied for second most in the NWSL after scoring a team-high 11 last year for the Thorns.
Houston goalkeeper Bianca Henninger is also in prime form after registering eight saves to earn her NWSL Player of the Week honors.
Looking to end a two-game road stretch with a second consecutive win, the Dash believe seeing out a win in front of 14,000 plus fans at Providence Park has done wonders for their morale.
“It was important for us to know that we could do that, that we could win against good teams in this league,” Dash forward Tiffany McCarty said on the Portland win. “…I think that we kind of proved to ourselves to what kind of team we are, and moving forward, that’s the level that we need to set.”
In order to maintain its current form, Houston have spent most of the week focusing on possession and trying to establish an offensive rhythm against what it expects to be a stingy Sky Blue defense.
Yet, while Sky Blue has only allowed more than one goal in a game just once this season, it has not kept a shutout since the season opener at Kansas City.
With that in mind, along the Dash’s undefeated record this year in games they have led at halftime, a strong start and an early goal is imperative for both sides.
“I think [Sky Blue’s] a little bit like us,” Dash head coach Randy Waldrum said. “They’re trying to find their way with scoring goals and creating and generating some attack. I’d look for it to be a really, really tight game.”
Out: Houston Stephanie Ochs (right knee ACL surgery)
Questionable: SBFC Sarah Killion (IT band tendinitis)
Probable: Brittany Bock (left knee ACL surgery)