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Sky Blue demonstrates team identity in draw with Portland Thorns

Through three matches, Sky Blue FC has showed consistent signs of improvement.

Sky Blue FC continues to improve and could be in a better position than most teams when it comes time for players to leave for the World Cup. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Sky Blue FC pulled out a surprise 2-2 draw with last season’s National Women’s Soccer League championship runners-up, the Portland Thorns. Sky Blue made their best case in the young season that a particularly rough 2018 is officially behind them. Here are three takeaways from the match.

Sky Blue show style in strong performance

Through Sky Blue’s three matches to start the season, the team has showed consistent signs of improvement. The changes were evident in between the first and second matches, but the team built on the positives of the second match in order to start impressively against the Thorns. While Sky Blue comfortably absorbed pressure, they also applied the pressure early against the Thorns, and had a brace from Carli Lloyd in the opening 18 minutes to show for it.

Defender Erica Skroski said the defensive line was further up the pitch than it had been in previous matches, which naturally pushed the entire team further up the pitch. She added that it was part of an effort to get the team to control the game more, a mission that also had the back line involved.

We worked on an aggressiveness of outside backs, and just the back line in general, so we can win that ball in our back line and then build it through the midfield and the forwards,” Skroski said. “They’ve been so fluid working off each other and I think you guys are starting to see the chemistry between all the lines.”

Fluidity of movement was something Skroski said she’d like the team to become known for, as well as physicality and aggressiveness.

With us, the number one thing is mentality,” she said. “I think it comes from setting the first tackle on the field, whether it’s in the first minute or in the fifth minute and that’s just a contagious energy and it’s just a confidence thing, too.”

Defensive errors

Though the match was marked by Sky Blue’s surprisingly strong start, the 2-0 lead achieved by the 18th minute was gone by the 34th. Lloyd described the sequence as part of “growing pains” the team will experience as it tries to establish identity.

Lloyd specifically identified set pieces, referencing the visitors’ first goal. The 32nd-minute goal came off a free kick taken by Tobin Heath and eventually scored by Emily Sonnett. Several of the Thorns’ opportunities throughout the match came off set pieces. Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, though, managed to perform similarly to last week’s masterclass, saving several of those opportunities.

Skroski called the two goals Sky Blue conceded “two quick lapses, when they come in three minutes of each other. … It’s unfortunate.”

That was similarly true for the Thorns, who conceded twice in the span of 12 minutes. Goalkeeper Adrianna Franch was unimpressed, saying those moments and the overall performance was “not good enough.”

She also noted both sides “capitalized on opportunities” in the first half. The efforts were matched in the second half, though no breakthrough came. At the end, though, it had the classic markings of an open game, particularly because both sides came close to scoring on a number of occasions.

Summer statement

As the World Cup approaches and the some of the league’s top players leave to join their respective national teams, including Lloyd for the U.S. and Canada’s Sheridan, Sky Blue might be in a position to enjoy a strong stretch of the season.

For starters, the team will not lose too many players other than Lloyd and Sheridan. Additionally, the possibility exists that midfielder Nahomi Kawasumi may join Japan at the tournament. While all of those players have been rather impactful in the early stages of the season, Skroski says the team has built the chemistry to handle opposition without them.

With our team, it’s a little different,” the defender said. “I think it’s going to be good for us compared to a lot of other teams.”

Several teams around the league stand to lose more than Sky Blue’s possible three. The Thorns, for example, could see up to seven players depart for France, including goalscorers Heath and Sonnett.

“We already have that chemistry built and we’re just going to [continue to] build,” Skroski added. “This is the team we are that you saw tonight, and hopefully we can just take another step up from there.”

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