That is the number of goals Sky Blue let in this year.
That’s more than Portland and Chicago let in this year. Combined. That is nine more than top-ranked North Carolina and Portland gave up, combined. It is three more than bottom-ranked Washington gave up.
It’s safe to say they had a bit of a break down on defense this year.
That is where 2018 has to start for Sky Blue. They have to start with fixing the defense and letting their strength help push the midfield and forwards to new heights. Sam Kerr can score as many goals in 2018 as she did in 2017 and it won’t matter if their defense can’t hold on to leads and can’t keep them from going down early and often.
So how does Sky Blue turn the boat around and find a way to go from 6th place to the Top 4 and a chance to go to whichever city is going to host the NWSL championship next year?
1) Newly named head coach Denise Reddy needs to bring a clear vision of what she wants the team to be and use her considerable skills to make the team into her vision.
2) They need to part ways with some players and get experience in return.
3) The game plan can’t just be “Sam Kerr is magic”.
Reddy For a Change
Reddy comes into 2018 facing an uphill battle. The team needs a coach who can come in and provide some steadying forces on the team. There is no telling which of the current assistant coaches will stay. A total cleaning house may be the way to go.
Sky Blue finished their season with a triumvirate of assistant coaches taking over the helm after their head coach, Christy Holly, stepped away from the team. That left the team in an odd place even as it seemed to galvanize them.
Allowing Reddy to put her own unique stamp on the team, in terms of the assistants she feels comfortable with, would put her in the best position to build this team in her image. And that image is likely what got her the job in the first place.
If Reddy can find a way to elevate their defense from the bottom of the league to the middle while at the same time finding a way to bring this team together, it will go a lot way toward bridging the gap between Top 4 and middle of the pack in terms of their finish.
Fix the Roster
One of the biggest indicators of a team’s success is their roster. It sounds silly to type out but it’s the building block of the team’s DNA.
Yes, sometimes rosters do over or under perform what they say on paper. However, if their backline options are seasoned defenders mixed with some rookies they will likely have a better season than one or two solid defenders and a mix of pretty good to just OK defenders.
As of now, the current Sky Blue roster is young. Really young. Reddy is going to have the benefit of experience in the development system that might give her a leg up on training up some of the younger players.
And with 18 players either having their contracts picked up or having been offered new ones, it might stay that way into 2018.
Take a look at the roster (as listed on their site) they are currently sporting:
Goalkeepers: Caroline Casey, Kailen Sheridan
Defenders: Cassidy Benintente, Mandy Freeman, Kayla Mills, Christie Pearce, Domi Richardson, Erin Simon, Erica Skroski
Midfielders: Daphne Corboz, Sarah Killion, Taylor Lytle, Raquel Rodriguez, Nikki Stanton, Madison Tiernan
Forwards: Leah Galton, Maya Hayes, Sam Kerr, McKenzie Meehan, Kelley O’Hara
This roster needs augmenting. Experience needs to be injected into it before they are going to be able to close the gap between goals scored and goals allowed.
Their goalkeepers are both under 24. Sheridan has a chance to be one of the best in the league – and might lead Canada one day as their number one – but it might benefit Sky Blue to find a more seasoned backup. Kailen Sheridan should stay but she needs a more experienced training partner.
Their defenders need experience with Pearce’s expected retirement. And O’Hara needs to give up the ghost and finally admit she will always be a defender, or at highest a midfielder, at this point. I would keep Mandy Freeman, Kayla Mills, Erin Simon, Erica Skroski and Kelley O’Hara on defense and try to find two defenders on the open market, most likely two center backs, to come in and try to help the defense out.
The midfield is more solid than it might look but suffers from Rodriguez often being played too far back to try to compensate for a weak defense. Stanton is a stand-out player for them who does a lot of the tough work that needs to be done but she needs more help out of her teammates. Daphne Corboz, Sarah Killion, Taylor Lytle, Raquel Rodriguez, Nikki Stanton, and Madison Tiernan can all stay. I think they could use an experienced midfield leader but if all 6 midfielders step their game up for 2018 this might be the most solid area for the team as of now.
Meehan was fine but not much else. O’Hara isn’t a forward. The trio of Leah Galton Maya Hayes, Sam Kerr make a nice group of forwards. If Hayes can keep playing provider and remain a threat to score, if Galton can get and stay healthy, and if Kerr can keep being Kerr they don’t need much more here.
They need to strip away a lot of the fat on the roster that likely is there because they can get away with not paying them much and they need players for practice. Money might be tight but a few key upgrades need to happen or they might give away more goals in 2018 than they did this year.
I’d keep the following and hunt as hard as I could for some experienced players by either trading the rest or trading 2019 and 2020 draft picks.
Also if I were them I’d draft Daphne Corboz’s younger sister Rachel if she is still there when they get to their first pick of the 2018 draft – they hold the 5th spot. She is the type of player who can be put in front of O’Hara or Skroski and make a big impact right away.
The only way for them to compete is to have a roster full of players who can defend. That means looking at who on the team just doesn’t cut it anymore and let them go no matter how difficult it is. This team embraces the “us against the world” mentality but that will only get you so far with sub-par defensive talent.
Sam Kerr is Magic but What Else Ya Got?
Having a more dynamic gameplay on offense helps the defense. They need to move past “just let Sam do it,” or they might stop giving up goals but they won’t score enough to counter the one or two they let in.
The 2017 season taught us two things: 1) Sam Kerr is, in fact, magic and, 2) She is only able to make so much magic when her team puts her in a hole.
Reddy is not the type of coach I worry about being uncreative with her game planning. I look forward to both her developing the team and seeing what she can do to Kerr’s already impressive talent.
It is as important for Kerr’s own development to have a defense worth a damn backing her up as it is for the team’s chances at winning.
Reddy also needs to take a look at in-game planning. Because next year? Teams are going to be on Kerr as tight as the head of a drum. That means Hayes, Galton, Corboz, Rodriguez and company are going to need to be better at their own finishing when they are left open by the double or triple teaming Kerr will get.
Tiernan has the chance to turn in to a hard-playing winger who can come in and open up games but using her properly, and keeping her from hitting 5 cards before week 7, is something that will need to be kept in mind. Rodriguez and her stint at Perth Glory with Kerr and Stanton will hopefully bring back the attacking side that can be so deadly when she uses it.
If the defense is stronger in 2018 a lot of the midfield problems go away. And when the players who had to tighten up to prevent the weak defense from seeing more shots can relax then they will be more able to be more creative as a group.
The core of the roster isn’t rotted. But they need to work on not always expecting magic or they are going to end up with spells blowing up in their faces.
If they can bring in two or three defenders who have experience on top of one or two attacking players who can concentrate their attacking talents, they have a shot at going from a team that finished in the middle of the pack to a team that has a solid playoff shot.
Reddy was a smart hire by a team that needed to have a solid win in the search for a new head coach. She brings experience and a fresh perspective I think will go a long way to bringing Sky Blue back in the playoff picture.
So, are you Reddy for 2018 yet?