PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Sky Blue FC’s positive first half was followed by a second half that saw them stifled by the visiting North Carolina Courage. Here are three takeaways from the team’s 2-1 loss Saturday at Yurcak Field:
Coombe officially takes over
Freya Coombe had her name on the team sheet for the first time Saturday, but her new gig was the result of a successful trial period. Coombe, assistant George Vichniakov and technical advisor Marcia McDermott had been with the team for more than a month and all responded positively to the collaboration.
“We needed to name what was happening, and the reality was Freya’s been here, George has been here, Marcia has been here behind the scenes helping us along the way,” Sky Blue general manager Alyse LaHue said. “It was important that we get that announced so that we can move forward as a club.”
Coombe said her initial responsibilities were “to assist the club in whatever way they needed.” Eventually, LaHue and the Sky Blue owners decided it was best to name Coombe the interim coach while they continue interviewing candidates for the job. LaHue said the number of interested candidates means the club expects to make a full-time appointment during the offseason.
This is Coombe’s first time coaching a professional team, making the opportunity a “no-brainer” to accept, and so far she’s made a positive impact on the players. Paige Monaghan described her as “an awesome human” who “really knows how to coach the players and tailor to our needs, but also pushing us every game, every practice.” Both she and veteran Carli Lloyd credited Coombe with adding focus to the team.
“I’ve really enjoyed getting to know her,” Lloyd said. “I like her style. I think her personality fits well with the team and we have a sense of a plan and an urgency and we’re very efficient in training sessions, and it’s good.”
Coombe, similarly, complimented her players.
“They’ve had a turbulent season, it’s fair to say, but they’ve done it with such professionalism,” Coombe said. “They come into practice, they’re willing to work hard all the time, and it’s such great attitudes. It just makes working with them so enjoyable, and then there’s a good camaraderie within the team. … Now it’s just a case of building on each game and trying to finish the season on a bit of a high.”
As for her own journey, Coombe hopes to prove that she is a coach who is both passionate and has a knowledge of the game.
“I’m fairly inexperienced [compared] to some of the coaches within the league, but with inexperience comes opportunity to learn and get better,” Coombe said. “Same way the team is looking to progress, I’m looking to do the same thing and build the experiences for myself.”
Much like the team as a whole, the Sky Blue offense had an inconsistent performance against the Courage. Though the trio of Lloyd, Jen Hoy and Monaghan threatened frequently, the performance was marked by the team’s inability to finish off a few of their 10 shots.
“I think we created good chances,” Coombe said. “Potentially could’ve put a little bit more than we should. We should have seen the game off a little bit.”
In many ways, it is attached to an inability to not just close out matches, but string together a consistent 90-minute performance. That is something Lloyd and Coombe said would be a focus of the team as the regular season comes to an end.
“We’re fighting for just our reputation and really wanting to win games and turn the corner around here, so I think that’s what the biggest thing is,” Lloyd said about the team’s priorities in the final stretch. “We just have to try to come out these next few games and put together a whole game and we’ll be good.”
Still, an encouraging first half demonstrated what is starting to become a frequently active attack from Sky Blue. With Monaghan and Hoy cementing a status as regular starters and scoring important goals for the team, the team has already come a long way from the season’s start.
“I think we have been able to establish more of a flow in our offense, which I believe is going to be on [teams’] scouting reports now,” Monaghan said. “We’re creating different chances. We’re not playing only one style, so it’s dangerous.”
Tale of two halves
Though the end of Saturday’s match saw the scoreboard and the statistics demonstrate the Courage’s dominance, the first half was a much more even affair. In some ways, Sky Blue rose to the opponent. For Courage head coach Paul Riley, though, the story of the first half was about his side’s failure to dominate despite the expectation to do so.
“To be honest, the first half was unacceptable for our level of performance,” Riley said. “I was just disappointed with the effort, disappointed with the passing. … We couldn’t pass the ball in the first half.”
Sky Blue bounced back quickly from conceding what Carli Lloyd described as a “bizarre” own goal in the opening minute. Once again this season, Sky Blue responded well to going down a goal, getting an equalizer through a 14th-minute penalty scored by Lloyd.
“I think then we really put it to them,” Lloyd said. “I thought we controlled the majority of the first half, played really well, had a couple more chances that I think if we put away would have probably been a different game.”
The second half, though, was a very different story, leading Riley to describe the match as “a tale of two halves.”
“Second half was great reaction from the team,” Riley said. “[We] pinned them in really for the entire 45 minutes. … I think for a good 45 minutes we played like we can play.”
The Courage limited Sky Blue to two shots in the second half, one on target, while the Courage recorded 16 of their 21 shots in the second half. Riley gave credit to his attacking substitutes Jessica McDonald and in particular Debinha, who he said changed the game. It required a little bit more than a smart substitution to change the rhythm for the Courage, he said.
“They got a kick in the ass at halftime,” Riley said. “I think that helped everybody.”