PISCATAWAY, N.J. — With Sky Blue FC’s 1-0 loss to the Portland Thorns on Saturday comes a mixed set of reactions, from a player debut to another inconsistent showing. Here are three takeaways from the match:
“Things aren’t going our way”
As has been the case for most of Sky Blue’s matches this season, the team has kept scorelines tight, and has not always bowed to its opposition. Against the Thorns, possession was even, and though Sky Blue is frequently the team absorbing the pressure, the team still managed eight shots. The New Jersey-based side even looked like it would score at times, but it never converted. As goalkeeper DiDi Haracic said, “things aren’t going our way.”
For example, one would expect, considering some of the chances, that Sky Blue might have more than five goals in the seven matches they have played so far this season.
Sky Blue coach Denise Reddy said her team wasn’t able to execute early in the match.
“The first half, it wasn’t the game plan we had set out for,” Reddy said. “We wanted to be front foot, we wanted the ball. It didn’t happen. I don’t know if it was the wind or whatever, but we didn’t happen.”
Throughout the season, Reddy has mentioned a desire to play an attacking style, which is only sometimes on display.
The Thorns controlled the ball a lot in the first half and Sky Blue ended up with a limited number of forward runs on the counter. The second half saw more attacking prowess from the hosts. The introduction of goalscorer Midge Purce was a game changer, as she was easily effective for the entirety of her 31-minute shift.
While the performances have been promising, it has only been so in bits and pieces. Reddy acknowledged about a third of the way through the season, Sky Blue has yet to manage a relatively steady 90 minutes.
“We didn’t do so well starting off the season,” Reddy said of the team’s 2-0 loss at the Washington Spirit, “but I think we’ve played some good games. I don’t think we’ve really strung what we’re possible of, 90 minutes of our potential. … We’re still looking to put together definitely a better 90 than today for sure. Today, we’re not not happy that we weren’t in control of what we wanted to do.”
Haracic, though, remains optimistic that eventually, things will fall in Sky Blue’s favor.
“I think chemistry off the field is great, chemistry on the field is great,” the goalkeeper said. “Everyone is working every single day. We’re not slacking. … I think the most important thing is for us to stay positive, keep grinding, and eventually things will change.”
Though the results have not gotten much better, Sky Blue was able to mark Saturday’s match as the debut of defender Gina Lewandowski. The Pennsylvania native made her return to the United States after a brief stint with the Western New York Flash in 2011, arriving in New Jersey after a seven year run with Germany’s Bayern Munich.
Slotting in at right back with Caprice Dydasco out with an ankle injury, Lewandowski showed off her attacking skills..
“It was exciting,” Lewandowski said of playing her first match. “Of course, a little nerve wracking when you join a new team, but it was good to get back into the game after a couple weeks off from my last season. I think with every day, every training, every game, it’ll get even better.”
Even without the World Cup stars, playing against the Thorns is a tall order, but the task was not particularly easier in Lewandowski’s case. In addition to playing with new teammates, the defender had just four days to prepare for the match, though Reddy was impressed. In particular, she believed her status as a veteran, particularly as Cameroon’s Estelle Johnson and the United States’ Carli Lloyd are away on international duty, helped in the match against the Thorns.
Reddy said Lewandowski exuded a sort of calm that helped the team get through the Thorns’ first dominance half .
“It’s like, ‘Hey, it’s alright,’” Reddy said, describing Lewandowski’s presence. “We can defend. Let’s get to halftime, we’re good. … Her experience coming in is very important to us.”
Though Reddy is happy with her introduction, Lewandowski acknowledged that the adjustment period will continue as she begins her Sky Blue career.
“I’ve been overseas for quite a time, and in a different style of play, but I want to maybe balance the style,” Lewandowski said. “I know they have their own style, and just coming in, and maybe bring what I can to the team and adjusting to their style.”
World Cup reset
Sky Blue does not play again until June 15 at the Utah Royals, giving the players and coaching staff several weeks to regroup following a tough opening to the season. The group is interpreting it as a fresh start of sorts.
“We’re going to regroup and everyone has a small break mentally, physically to come down a little bit and then I think each of us wants to come back and start a different path going forward,” Lewandowski said. “I think we’re going to come back with a new drive and focus and trying to win a couple more games.”
Considering the World Cup group stage does not end until after the Royals match, Sky Blue may have an advantage as some opponents will be missing more World Cup players than they will. It will be a further test of every team’s depth, but for now, Sky Blue players just see it as a portion of the season full of opportunity.
“Hopefully this break, we can recover and then we’ll get back and it’s a new season for us,” Haracic said.