National Women's Soccer League / Sky Blue FC

Sky Blue FC relies on rookies during World Cup

Entering the 2015 NWSL College Draft, Sky Blue FC had one goal in mind.

Draft Sarah Killion and take the best available players from there.

The New Jersey club had a need at defensive midfield and taking the Pac-12 Scholar Athlete of Year, who helped guide her school UCLA to its first-ever National Championship in 2013, was the obvious answer.

So when Killion—the first of a record six Bruins selected in the first 19 picks—was chosen, Sky Blue was left to wait and see how the rest of the cards played out.

And with one pick to go before their 10th overall selection, it appeared to be Virginia midfielder Danielle Colaprico who would be making her way backto the Garden State.

The Freehold, N.J., native had spent time on Sky Blue’s reserve team the past two summers and would have given a much-needed attacking punch to a team that ranked second worst in the league in goals scored.

But when the Boston Breakers traded their 9th and 11th picks for the rights to Boston College forward Stephanie McCaffrey, it was the Chicago Red Stars who swooped Colaprico off the board to the dismay of head coach Jim Gabarra. With Colaprico taken, Sky Blue chose the best player available in Florida State defender Kristin Grubka to strengthen an aging backline.

That strategy continued in the third and fourth round when Sky Blue picked Georgetown midfielder Daphne Corboz and Stanford forward Chioma Ubogagu. Both players were considered first and second round talents, but had their stocks drop significantly because of the rumors of them leaning towards playing overseas.

Now nine games into the 2015 season, it appears some of Sky Blue’s gambles in the draft have missed their mark, at least in the short term.

Ubogagu elected to go overseas and signed with Arsenal where the lightning-quick forward has made an immediate impact with the Gunners. Corboz also chose to use her dual citizenship with France to sign with Manchester City, passing up the chance to play for the club she grew up supporting in favor of the European experience. She will sign with the English club during the summer transfer window.

“Playing overseas gives a different cultural experience where players can grow as people as well as players,” Corboz said off the benefits of playing in Europe. “It also could be more professional if the team is affiliated with a men’s club and has an established academy system.”

To make matters worse, it was Colaprico who scored the lone goal in Sky Blue’s 1-0 defeat against Chicago on May 2. It also happened to be the first goal of her professional career which sent her former summer club into a second straight loss. For a club who has managed no more than one goal per game and has struggled to create consistent scoring chances, it served as a stingy reminder of what could have been.

But while Sky Blue’s failure to add reinforcements in the attacking third through the draft could hurt its chances at postseason play this year, Sky Blue still could reap plenty of long-term benefits.

The most obvious reasoning for such optimism is the growth of Killion.

The Fort Wayne, Ind., native has started and played every minute this season for Sky Blue until May 16. She led all rookies in minutes played up to that point until an injury forced her to the bench.

As a holding midfielder, Killion’s presence often goes unnoticed on the stat sheet, but Gabarra believes the U.S. youth national team product has the potential to be a corner stone for years to come.

“I think she’s a very good possession player. She’s very good defensively in playing passing lanes and channeling and funneling the team to play into where you want to play,” Gabarra said. “So a lot of people won’t recognize the job she’s doing, and it’s her rookie year. She’s learning and she’s gaining, and we’re investing in her minutes and she has been very good for us.”

Another rookie Gabarra has heavily invested minutes in is Grubka.

The former Florida State defensive anchor has started all nine games for the club and played 796 minutes while partnering with either Christie Rampone or Lindsi Cutshall. Although Grubka has made some rookie mistakes, most notably against the Washington Spirit, her size, speed and athleticism gives her a trait few others possess.

“She’s a big body, muscular. She probably has two percent body fat on her,” Cameron said of her rookie defender. “She has been really good, and I think she is improving every day.”

Another potential long-term investment could be Corboz.

Georgetown’s all-time leading scorer was accepted into medical school at Rutgers where Sky Blue plays its home games prior to choosing Manchester City.

With the prospects of returning to school while also playing on the same field where her brother Mael shredded defenses for two seasons with the Rutgers men’s soccer team, the dynamic midfielder said it would definitely be something to consider.

“Sky Blue FC is the club I have supported since the WPS, so it has always been a dream of mine to play for them,” Corboz said. “Obviously, I could live at home which would be fantastic, and I could play professionally where I grew up playing. If the possibility of both playing for Sky Blue FC and attending Rutgers Robert Wood Jonson Medical School presents itself simultaneously, I would be fulfilling all of my dreams.”

If Corboz does return, her addition could give Sky Blue exactly what it has been missing in the attacking third.

But for now, Sky Blue will continue to rely on its top-10 picks to build a promising foundation for the club.

With two of the team’s top players and leaders in Rampone and defender Kelley O’Hara gone with the U.S. national team, thrusting two rookies into larger leadership roles can be daunting. Yet, Grubka and Killion’s seamless transition into the lockeroom has made the task more manageable.

The duo has also created a strong bond with each other, often car pooling to practice and continuing to build a friendship off the field. That friendship seemed unlikely two years ago when Killion’s Bruins defeated Grubka’s Seminoles in the 2013 Women’s College Cup final.

However, Killion insists the trash talking is kept to a minimum.

“You know that’s funny we might have beaten her that year, but they won this past year so I’d say we’re pretty even,” Killion said with a grin. “We bring it up every once in awhile, but it’s all jokes. It’s all friendly joking.”

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