It’s preseason preview time, and I have the honor of covering Sky Blue FC. This is by no means your ordinary, run-of-the-mill NWSL team. They don’t play in a huge stadium. They don’t have fluffy bathrobes in their locker rooms (as far as I know). And they don’t rep a major city. They rep a whole state: Jersey.
What they do have is a loyal fan base, a welcoming supporters group, and a whole lot of talent. And they wouldn’t want it any other way. So put on some Bruce Springsteen, sit back, relax, and let me tell you a little bit about the bad-ass football club that resides in Piscataway.
Head Coach: Denise Reddy
2017 Record: 10-11-3 (33 points), sixth place in the league
Projected Starting XI: To some extent, it’s a mystery, considering the number of roster changes they made in the offseason, the number of players they invited to preseason camp, and the amount of attacking talent they have on their roster currently. What I do know is that you can guarantee Carli Lloyd will be out on that pitch at the start of the match, and that Kailen Sheridan will be hanging out in goal. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine.
But if I was forced to give you a lineup, then how about this:
Goalkeeper: Kailen Sheridan
Defenders: Christina Gibbons, Mandy Freeman, Erica Skroski, Rebekah Stott
Midfielders: Daphne Corboz, Raquel Rodriguez, Sarah Killion
Forwards: Carli Lloyd, Janine Beckie, Shea Groom
Player you should know: Carli Lloyd (if you don’t already know her then I will direct you to the first half of the 2015 World Cup Final)
Under the radar: Madison Tiernan—she’s a workhorse, unafraid of physical play or a hard tackle, and game for whatever the team needs. She went to school at Rutgers, so she is a bit of a home-crowd favorite. Word on the street is that her dad, Big Joe as he is affectionately called, has some of the best tailgates before the Sky Blue home matches.
Biggest offseason acquisition: There were a lot of them, but I’m thinking Carli Lloyd takes the cake on this one.
Biggest rival: It isn’t the most intense rivalry, but I would have to say the Washington Spirit. Last season Washington, who ended in dead last, had Sky Blue’s number ever time they met. Accompany that with their close proximity with one another, and there is an extra notch of gamesmanship that gets added to their matches.
Most memorable moment from 2017: The 5-4 come-from-behind win against Seattle. Sky Blue was down 0-3, but with second half heroics from Sam Kerr, Jersey prevailed with a magnificent stoppage time header. And yes, Sam Kerr is no longer on Sky Blue, but that fight—that never-say-die attitude—surely has not left the team. They are proud, and they are strong, and they will most definitely still bet on themselves even when the chips are down.
Why they’re the team to watch in 2018: Because you can never quite count them out, and they are frequently underestimated. Sky Blue is the type of team that can be amazingly entertaining to watch, and part of that is because you never know what you are going to get from them. The other part is because they are amazingly talented, incredibly humble, and quite proud to represent the team that they do.
Predicted finish: Some say middle of the pack. Some say bottom of the table. But like I said before, they are frequently underestimated.
Success depends on: If they can field a solid, working back line. And if they can come up with a strategy for how to use the plethora of attacking talent that they possess.
Fun prediction: Denise Reddy accepts the nickname “D-Nice,” Sheridan has 15 clean sheets, and Big Joe adds a chocolate fountain to his tailgate.