PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Though the score was tight in Sky Blue FC’s 3-2 loss to the Washington Spirit on Saturday, the team remains without a win five matches into the season. Here are three takeaways following the loss:
In many ways, the loss against the Spirit was reflective of the 2019 season for Sky Blue so far. At times, the team had meaningful possession, and it sometimes resulted in goals. In those situations, the team would press the opposition back line, sometimes through wide players, and would rack up shots and occasionally even score. Other times, though, Sky Blue ends up absorbing as much pressure as a team can for long stretches of the match, keeping the defense as tight as possible, but eventually conceding. While the team has made an improvement from last season, it is still looking for consistency in performances.
“What we wanted to accomplish was the three points,” midfielder Raquel Rodriguez said following the match. “That was the goal for today and I think initially, we started off with that mentality, and somewhere in the middle during the game, we just got lost in there. Our morale kind of came down and I think, of course, that’s a scenario that, as a team, we have to work on.”
The Spirit’s first goal, scored by Cheyna Matthews in the 22nd minute, did not seem to rattle Sky Blue at first. The team responded by going forward on multiple occasions and then with Rodriguez scoring 10 minutes later. For head coach Denise Reddy, that was Sky Blue’s best chance to take control.
“One-one, I think we have them,” Reddy said. “I think we started a high press and I think they couldn’t get out. I think we had opportunity after opportunity, corner kick. We have shots blocked. It’s there for us and then we knew as well, if we’re going to be on the front foot, and we’re going to be attacking and we’re going to be susceptible to transition so we have to do a really good job of setting up shop or take a tactical foul, so we gave up a few for transition situations, but it was a risk-reward for us and we didn’t capitalize on the on the risk side.”
However, the group continues to remain optimistic, as it has since the start of preseason.
“It’s a mentality, really, and believe me, we’ve been working on it,” she said. “We’re just not there, but we’ll get there soon.”
McCaskill impresses in first start of the season
Despite the loss, Sky Blue could take a positive away from the match. Midfielder Savannah McCaskill made her first start of the season after recovering from an injury, and was instrumental on both goals.
On Rodriguez’s goal, McCaskill picked up an assist after passing across the goal to find her teammate. As for Sky Blue’s second, scored by Imani Dorsey, McCaskill’s cross landed at the feet of Amandine Pierre-Louis, who eventually picked up the assist to the goal. After a pair of substitute appearances, McCaskill was happy to get more minutes.
Both Rodriguez and Dorsey remarked on McCaskill’s role in their goals, with Dorsey in particular calling McCaskill’s ball to Pierre-Louis “amazing.” In general, McCaskill enjoyed an active match, getting forward frequently and particularly so in the first half.
“[It] felt good,” McCaskill said. “It was good to be able to contribute from the start.”
The division of McCaskill’s minutes so far was by design, per Reddy. For her, though, McCaskill’s ability in the match made a difference to a Sky Blue team that continues to struggle at times for goals, scoring in only two games this season.
“She’s a threat in behind,” Reddy said. “She’s able to stretch back lines, stretch teams so we can find space in between.”
McCaskill’s recovery comes just at the right time, as Sky Blue look to capitalize during the World Cup period that sees many players leave the league’s other teams, but only three, including the U.S.’ Carli Lloyd, leave New Jersey.
Lessons from draws with Thorns, Courage
With the NWSL season a month old, the league’s teams can begin to pick out the trends of their season to date, and what they need to work on. That is true for Sky Blue, and the team’s players and coach began to discuss specifics following the match.
Considering the team racked up shots against the Spirit, ending the match with 14 and four on target, it seemed as if offense was a priority of sorts for Sky Blue. Reddy said as much following the match, noting that the previous draws against the Portland Thorns and the North Carolina Courage led her to want to focus on the attack. While that resulted in Sky Blue scoring twice, making the team’s tally to four goals in five games, it seems that for this match, a strong offense was traded with a shakier defense.
Consistency, of course, was on the mind. McCaskill picked out certain elements from the match against the Spirit that needed work.
“We kind of gave balls away that we should have played at the feet and that led to them [having] opportunities in front of our goal,” she said. “We have to be cognizant of the fact that teams can punish us so we have to play the proper foot, play the right pass.”
For Dorsey, there were positives to take out of results against the Portland Thorns and the Courage that the team could use going forward.
“We were able to put more together, more spells where we would control the ball, or at least have solid defense and not really giving teams opportunities,” Dorsey said. “We need to get back to that point.”