The door has not shut on Sky Blue making the playoffs in 2017. Even with 41 goals given up, the historic season Sam Kerr has put together has kept Sky Blue in the picture far longer than some predicted.
While it is not totally under their control–they would have to make up 4 points as they own neither the tiebreaker with Chicago or Orlando who both sit ahead of them–there are some factors they can control.
With both Christy Holly and Christie Pearce gone for this year the team here are three things Sky Blue needs to do if they want to not only make the playoffs but have a chance at winning a title.
Find an Identity
Figuring out who they are as a team is something Sky Blue must do if they want to find a way into the playoffs.
Are they the underdog? Are they the team that always comes up a dollar short and a minute late? Are they overachieving? Underachieving? Are they peaking at the right time?
Depending on who you are, or who you ask, you might ask any of these questions, and get any number of answers.
Even with the awe inspiring season that Sky Blue has had, they have never really had a coherent identity other than “Sam Kerr is magic and will fix everything.” And while yes, Sam Kerr is 100% magic, that isn’t really an identity that a team can rally around.
Building a stronger defense and being the team that will stifle you like a North Carolina, who has given up only 14 goals all season, is an identity. If Sky Blue can find a solid identity it can go a long way toward them being able to build on their past success.
Find Some Midfield Personality
The Sky Blue midfield is the white bread of the NWSL. Unoffensive but lacking a depth that you only realize you’ve been craving when you see midfields with more zest.
Raquel Rodriguez has been forced to give up her better position in the attack to play farther and farther back, plugging up this season’s defensive holes. Not only does it render her best qualities mute but she has struggled at times to be able to battle with more experienced players in this new role.
Sky Blue would do well to push Rodriguez higher into the attack so her natural nose for goal and playmaking skills can be work to their advantage in the forefront of the attack. She can be one of the truly great playmakers in the league if allowed to shed some of the defensive duties and moved into a more attacking role more often.
Corboz, Stanton, and Galton all have some flair built into their games, though they each have very different styles, but what they often lack are other players on the field with them who are on the same page at the same time. Sky Blue has frequently had to rely upon moving the ball up the field from the back, over the midfield to the feet of Sam Kerr. While this has worked for them so far, it becomes the type of predictable play that allows teams like Orlando to beat them 5-0, easily countering Kerr’s attack.
If Sky Blue can find a way to get the whole midfield not only on the same page but working in tandem, they have a shot at controlling more games and helping the forwards get better chances overall. We’ve seen what they can do when the midfield clicks, it’s a matter of having it click more often.
Find Some Veteran Presence
Without Christie Pearce no longer active with the club it falls to the more senior players on the team to lead. Sky Blue does have a host of players who have spent four or five years with the club. Taylor Lytle has been at Sky Blue since 2013, Maya Hayes and Nikki Stanton have been there since 2014.
This core of players, along with newly minted dual captains Kelley O’Hara and Sam Kerr, is tasked with leading a team that has previously only ever known one player to take the title of Captain in the NWSL era. A team that features only three players not born in the 90s on the active roster and only eight players 24 or older.
It’s a tall order to expect relative rookies to step up, and taller still for the current leadership pairing to have to take the reins this late in the season, and with little prior experience at captaining a team, but if Sky Blue wants to find themselves in the post-season, they’re all going to need to out-perform themselves. The balancing of guiding the team while handling their own duties on the field is going to be a test as they head into the last handful of games of the season.