Sky Blue rally for a point
For only the second time this season, Sky Blue managed to pick up points after conceding. The result Sunday came after a below-par first half that was followed by a second half in which the hosts had meaningful stretches of possession to accompany Lloyd’s equalizer.
“We just talked as a group and just had to raise the level, and that’s what we did,” Lloyd said following the match. The improvement was instantly visible, and though the end result satisfied Sky Blue, there remains obvious room for improvement.
“The first half was definitely not our team,” goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan said. “When we came out in the second half, it was us and it was how we wanted to start the game. I think going into the next week, we need to start how we did in the second half and not allow ourselves to be climbing in the second half.”
After conceding this season, Sky Blue has typically responded well performance-wise, though it has been inconsistent in turning those efforts into victories. The only time the team has scored after conceding was in a 2-1 win over the Chicago Red Stars in August, when Paige Monaghan’s winner completed the comeback from a 1-0 deficit.
While Sky Blue will finish low in the standings, Sheridan believes this campaign has been an impressive response to last season’s woes.
“Last year, we were trying to dig out of a hole, whereas this season, we’re already level and we’re trying to win,” Sheridan said. “Instead of going uphill, we’re on par and trying to catch up now which is huge for us because I think it just gives us more of an advantage and more confidence.
“If [the players are] confident, they’re phenomenal players and athletes,” Sheridan added. “They work together.“
Sky Blue shot creation increases
Though Sky Blue posted an impressive 16 shots against the Pride, it was a slow build for the team. Midway through the first half, the team had only three shots, and it managed its first shot on target when Lloyd scored in the 88th minute. It was an unusual case, according to interim head coach Freya Coombe.
“I think this is a credit to Orlando to being up to shut us out a little bit more and it was because of our impatience on the ball, especially being able to build possession in the offensive third,” she said. “We didn’t really create good, solid opportunities.”
Coombe said she had no concerns in that area, considering the team has improved to some degree. A month ago, Sky Blue’s shot conversion stood at 8.2 percent, but going into Sunday’s match, that number was 8.7 percent. Under Coombe, the team has averaged 15.5 shots in four matches. Previously, the average was 7.9 shots in 19 matches. Under Denise Reddy, who was fired after the ninth match of the season, Sky Blue averaged 12.1 shots per match.
“We saw the problem and we recognized the problem,” Coombe said about the attacking performance against the Pride. “It’s not the way that we like to go, but I don’t think it’s a habit of ours.”
8,000-plus fill Red Bull Arena at 11 a.m.
Sky Blue played its second match of the season at the 25,000-seat Red Bull Arena in Harrison, receiving more ticket demand than the 5,000-seat Yurcak Field in Piscataway could hold. Though the venue was an obvious upgrade, the team had to push the match from 1 p.m. to 11 a.m. to accommodate the New York Red Bulls, who hosted D.C. United at 5 p.m. in Major League Soccer action. The crowd was ultimately about 1,000 people short of last month’s match at the stadium, but it was a success from Sky Blue’s perspective.
“When you have to move to an 11 a.m. time slot, we basically cut into all youth soccer, so we actually lost a lot of groups,” general manager Alyse LaHue said. “We had to give a lot of refunds for this game, which was, of course, unfortunate for us but the right thing to do.”
Regardless, the Sky Blue players once again enjoyed the experience of playing at Red Bull Arena. Lloyd again shared that the venue is one of her favorites, adding that it allows players to feel like professionals.
Sky Blue continues to search for a home venue for 2020, and as a result has not begun selling season tickets. LaHue has not ruled out any options — including a return to Yurcak. She admitted “it would have to be a very quick turnaround to next season to make it compliant” since Rutgers University has not told her of any plans to add showers onsite. Red Bull Arena, she said, remains a possibility.
“The conversations continue,” LaHue said of the New York Red Bulls’ home. “I think we’re still in a position where there’s so many potential venues being built and coming.”
As the search continues, Sheridan hopes the standard of Red Bull Arena is met no matter where the team plays in 2020.
“This is the benchmark,” she said. “This is the lowest. This is what we’re expecting.”