Chicago Red Stars / National Women's Soccer League / Sky Blue FC

Preview: Chicago Red Stars at Sky Blue FC

In a match-up of worst versus first, Sky Blue FC returns to action following a 21-day layoff to host the league-leading Chicago Red Stars tonight at 6 p.m. ET at Yurcak Field desperate for three points.

The New Jersey club (1-4-4, 7 points) has not won a game since its opening day victory at FC Kansas City and are currently in the middle of a franchise-worst eight match winless streak.

To make matters worse, Sky Blue is coming off its heftiest loss to date when it fell, 3-0, at Seattle Reign FC on June 6 and has yet to eclipse more than a goal in a game this season.

But not everything is doom and gloom. Sky Blue found itself in a similar situation in 2014 before using a two-week layoff to ascend from the bottom of the table to playoff contenders.

It’s something the Red Stars (4-1-3, 15 points) have taken notice of.

“I think their record is a little deceiving, considering how competitive they’ve been in their games,” said Chicago head coach Rory Dames. “It’s difficult to earn points in this league, especially on the road and regardless of who or where you’re playing. I’m sure Sky Blue has had a good break and I’m sure Jim [Gabarra] has taken that time to get them organized and build them up. They came on very strong in the second half of 2014 and I would assume they’re looking to use this game as a catapult to do the same thing this year.”

To replicate last year’s resurgence, however, Nadia Nadim will need to improve her form.

The Danish forward set the NWSL a blaze in her debut season when she scored seven goals and had three assists in six games but has done little for an encore this year with just two goals in eight games.

Midfielder Katy Freels has done her part to help shoulder some of the load with a team-leading four goals, but Sky Blue will need more to step up if it is to beat Chicago.

The Red Stars are an unbeaten 2-0-4 in games against Sky Blue and defeated the New Jersey club earlier this year at home thanks to a goal from New Jersey native and rookie Danielle Colaprico.

Things will be slightly different this time around, though, with Chicago missing four of its United States women’s national team players that it had in the first meeting.

The Red Stars have also stalled in recent matches, losing their first game of the season to the Western New York Flash June 6 before last week’s game was called off for weather after trailing 1-0 against the Washington Spirit. Still, Chicago is tied for the second-best road record in the league next to the Houston Dash recording 1.25 points per game and boasts some dangerous weapons outside of its core U.S. stars.

Among them is rookie sensation Sofia Huerta who is second behind Washington’s Crystal Dunn for the most goals in the league with six (Dunn scored her seventh of the season in last night’s 1-0 win). Midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo leads the league with five assists.

But with three weeks to prepare, the return of formerly retired defender Coco Goodson and having some much needed time off, Sky Blue head coach Jim Gabarra remains optimistic his side can succeed tonight and throughout the rest of the season.

“We have been able to recharge a little bit and work on some things that we have needed to improve.” Gabarra said. “We had a good week leading into a game with our reserve team last week, and we have now spent this entire week focused on Chicago. It will be good to get back out there against a different opponent, and we look forward to being on our home field on Sunday.”

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