NEW YORK — Sky Blue FC was American soccer’s most scandal-ridden team last year. The team’s one win at the end of the season was coupled with reports of training facilities and living conditions below a professional standard. As a new season and a fresh start, at least on the field, approaches, it seems the only way to go for Sky Blue is up.
Off the field, the team boasts new furnished apartments for players and a training facility that has showers and other professional amenities. Most notably, though, Sky Blue president and general manager Tony Novo departed after months of criticism, scrutiny, and a public campaign for his firing by the team’s official supporters’ group.
On the field, Sky Blue plans to combat defensive issues with the addition of former Washington Spirit defenders Caprice Dydasco and Estelle Johnson, and the group is also excited about additions further up the pitch. Rookie midfielders Julie James and Paige Monaghan have impressed, while Brazilian midfielder Gabi and Japanese forward Nahomi Kawasumi are expected to aid in the team’s attempt to outdo 2018’s total of 21 goals in 24 matches.
Additionally, a number of the team’s more high-profile players, such as Carli Lloyd, Savannah McCaskill and, in particular, Sarah Killion, stuck around for the 2019 season.
Questions still remain, though.
How well this team can stack up against the league’s more polished and well-rounded teams is still up for debate in many respects. Novo may be gone, but any further change of direction for Sky Blue is unknown.
Yet, head coach Denise Reddy and her players exhibit an optimism about the tasks at hand and the current situation. The group has accepted an underdog identity and is hoping to turn the page on a 2018 season they would all like to quickly forget.
Sky Blue opens 2019 at the Washington Spirit
When: Saturday, April 13, 7 p.m. ET
Where: Maryland SoccerPlex
The Buzz: If Sky Blue is to make significant improvements from last season, Saturday’s game could be a good place to set the tone. The Spirit was only a win and two points better than Sky Blue in 2018, winning twice and ending the season with 11 points. They, too, have defensive issues, which could be to Sky Blue’s gain.
This match, though, will likely be about the first test for the Sky Blue defense. Defensive organization has been a priority for Reddy and company during preseason. Some of the Spirit’s most recognizable players happen to be in their attacking group, and are hard to beat if in form.
Other key matches
April 20 vs. Houston Dash — The team’s home opener against a Houston Dash team with a new coach in James Clarkson. The Dash will likely be a bigger challenge than the Spirit, and an opportunity to show just how much better Sky Blue is early in the season.
May 27 vs. Portland Thorns — The early summer months have the potential to surprise. Several teams send their players off to the World Cup and will have to rely on depth. Sky Blue will likely only send off the United States’ Lloyd and Canada’s Kailen Sheridan. Should their replacements slot in well, the Spirit could have a chance against Portland at the end of May.
Aug. 7 at Utah Royals — This match falls at the end of a nine-day stretch that sees Sky Blue play three away matches, and it comes as teams search for a playoff spot. It could be a stretch that makes or breaks the season.
See full schedule here.
Quotes & notes
Carli Lloyd on improvements to the team: “You don’t want some of these situations to deter people from coming here, but I can say that things are better than last year so far and a bit more professional, but a lot of these things do require a lot more money. We don’t have, in this league, we don’t have owners that have billions of dollars in deep, deep pockets, like the MLS did. So it’s just going to take time.”
Caprice Dydasco on what to expect on the field: “I want people to see us as a different team than last year. … I think it’s exciting to see our first game [and] just to put a stop and be like, ‘We’re a new team.’ I want teams to realize that we’re different.”
Denise Reddy on the personality of her team: “I think we’re going to be a very fine-tuned unit, and I think each individual is going to find confidence in that. … [The players are] extremely confident. It’s almost like if you were going to dance in two; The lead dance, they’re the alpha, but they are so considerate of who they’re dancing with.”
Biggest offseason moves
Sky Blue picked up defenders Caprice Dydasco and Estelle Johnson, as well as goalkeeper DiDi Haracic, from the Washington Spirit in a trade. The team also signed midfielder Gabi from Brazilian side Iranduba, and picked up forward Nahomi Kawasumi in a trade from Reign FC. Going the other way in that trade was forward Shea Groom, while forward Katie Johnson was traded to the Chicago Red Stars.
Additionally, defender Christina Gibbons retired, and the team was unable to secure the signings of draft picks Hailie Mace and Julia Ashley.
Roster breakdown (20 players)
Goalkeepers (2): Didi Haracic, Kailen Sheridan
Defenders (6): Caprice Dydasco, Mandy Freeman, Estelle Johnson, Amandine Pierre-Louis, Domi Richardson, Erica Skroski
Midfielders (9): Imani Dorsey, Gabi, Nahomi Kawasumi, Sarah Killion, Julie James, Carli Lloyd, Paige Monaghan, Raquel Rodriguez, Madison Tiernan
Forwards (3): Jen Hoy, Savannah McCaskill, McKenzie Meehan