Sky Blue FC’s first game at Red Bull Arena was a resounding success with the players raving about the atmosphere in front of a record-setting crowd.
A 1-1 draw against Seattle Reign FC, which saw Sky Blue take a surprising lead in the first half, sent the over nine thousand in attendance into a frenzy. Fans hung on every pass, including near the end of the game when soccer legend Carli Lloyd nearly gave Sky Blue their first back-to-back wins in almost two seasons.
“Great atmosphere, broke a record and just goes to show you how far Sky Blue has come,” said Lloyd who has performed admirably for the team since returning from the FIFA Women’s World Cup. “The biggest thing is just the fight and belief in one another on the pitch. We’re fighting to the final whistle and I think that’s what you need in this league to be successful.”
Few teams have had the roller coaster ride that Sky Blue has had over the past few years. They’ve reached the lowest of the lows both on and off the field with just one win in all of 2018 and an off-season which saw major questions raised about their ownership.
Sunday’s game at Red Bull Arena was a much needed bright spot for a fan base that has shown loyalty, but also for the players who have seen the lows and now came off the field on a high after playing in front of such an excited crowd.
“Off the field we’ve made some tremendous strides,” said Lloyd. “I know that the ownership is taking more of a lead as well. I’ve known Alyse (LaHue – team interim General Manager) since the Chicago Red Stars 2009 WPS days and she’s fantastic. She’s pushing the bar and it’s just great to see.”
There is little doubt that the USWNT winning a second consecutive Women’s World Cup title has had a positive effect on attendance and perception around the league. Several teams have seen record attendance, with Sky Blue’s game setting new records and making fans clamor for more games in Harrison, New Jersey. But the work will need to continue as Lloyd has seen the failures of previous cycles after attendance boosts.
“We saw this in 2015 as well,” said Lloyd on the attendance boost. “The biggest challenge is how are we going to sustain that. When next year there’s Olympics and the year after that where there’s nothing. I think we have to get to that point where we’re kind of sustaining.
“It’s great, the big increase in numbers, right after the World Cup but we saw that dip down after the last one. The word just has to get out. I think ultimately there are so many people in this country that don’t know there’s a women’s professional league.”
Sky Blue has just three home games remaining in 2019 with little to no chance of making the NWSL playoffs. However Sunday’s performance, mixed with a stunning late upset of Chicago midweek, may be just what the club needs to make people believe in the future.
The team will travel to Houston to play the Dash next Saturday and have another chance at stunting a team’s playoff hopes.