Sky Blue’s 2018 Forecast? Cloudy with a Chance of Blue Skies

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The 2018 NWSL draft is in the books.

Sky Blue walked away with 5 picks.

Michaela Abam, the listed forward, midfielder, defender out of West Virginia University; Imani Dorsey a forward, midfielder out of Duke University; Kiana Palacios a forward, midfielder from UC Irvine; Amandine Pierre-Louis a defender out of West Virginia University; and not to be without a Rutgers player they picked Casey Murphy, the goalkeeper.

While each of the players drafted are a talented bunch who each could make an impact in different ways for the club, the team left the draft with only one defender taken. Sky Blue might have been wise to bring in a Taylor Isom or a Indigo Gibson to help out the backline along withPierre-Louis. But we can’t really talk about the draft in the bubble. Sky Blue’s mega trade, announced in the middle of the first round and slowly leaked out over the next day, changes the team more than who they drafted.

In short, Sky Blue send Sam Kerr and Nikki Stanton to Chicago, Chicago sent Christen Press to Houston and Houston sent, along with Jen Hoy from Chicago, Carli Lloyd and Janine Beckie to Sky Blue.

It is the type of trade that changes the league without tipping too far the balance of it. Christen Press is a world class forward and now replaced in Chicago with Sam Kerr. Carli Lloyd was the face of the Dash marketing now replaced by Christen Press. Sam Kerr was the star power on the Sky Blue roster now replaced by New Jersey’s own Carli Lloyd.

Breaking down the Sky Blue off season so far is a needed step in understanding where they will be two months from now.

So let’s dig in.


The Trades Heard Around WoSo

Christie Pearce, Kelley O’Hara and Sam Kerr all sported the captain’s armband in 2017. Pearce, the former near decade USWNT captain, left the team before the end of the season due to accumulated injuries leaving O’Hara and Kerr to fill the position for the rest of the year.

And their leadership seemed to have a positive influence on the team. They looked ready to step up as 2018 came into focus. Now they, along with veterans Nikki Stanton and Taylor Lytle, wear different crests.

Losing O’Hara and Lytle for Shea Groom and Christina Gibbons was a needed exchange for the club. It brought in two players that can help in a few different ways. Groom can score and Gibbons is as flexible a player as can be hoped for, though her talents shine the most in midfield.

The Kerr and Stanton trade that brings in Lloyd, the likely next captain, Beckie and Hoy may be a harder pill for some to choke down.

In Kerr they are losing a player who many call the best forward in the world. In Stanton a force in the midfield who cleaned up after her teammates. In return they get the already mentioned Lloyd, Janine Beckie, a Canadian international who should be allocated and give them a bit more cap room, and Jen Hoy who went to Princeton and can be a nice depth option in the one area of the field they need less depth than farther back on the pitch.

But they did manage to get something for Kerr. If she had skipped the NWSL for France they would have been left with nothing but memories.

The trade leaves Sky Blue in much the same position as they were in before they made it. They have a large group of attacking options ranging from NT quality to role player, but as soon as you look at the defense you can see how threadbare the lineup is in talent.

It is not as though this team could not put together a back four. Skroski, Freeman, Stott and Gibbons or Mills would make a passable backline. It’s the issue of having little to no depth past that point. Erin Simon runs hot and cold, Doni Richardson is a reserve player at best and all their draft picks would need the time of conversion to be able to take up the position. Barring a trade of 3 or 4 players for another starting level defender or two. In short, I worry about the depth of the backline.


The Carli Lloyd Effect

I’m not sure if it’s possible to speak of Carli Lloyd in neutral terms.

On one hand she scored the winning goal in both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic goal medal games. She had a hat trick in the 2015 Women’s World Cup in the first 16 minutes complete with a half field shot that stunned the world. She has shown up time and time again in big moments when all eyes are on her. She is the reason so many USWNT players have gold medals at home after all.

On the other she is best remembered over the last year or two as often a cause of formational change on both of the teams she finds herself on. She is no longer the first choice number 10 that she tried so hard to be for so many years. She is sometimes viewed as someone who is best left on the bench until two thirds of the game have finished. She blocks people on Twitter for seemingly mentioning her name, media included.

She is both the player who has managed 15 games with 7 goals and 3 assists on just 1200 total minutes in the last 2 seasons and the player who can fire a shot from 30 yards out that no one can stop seemingly at will. She is both a player who has a work ethic that is legendary for how she will not stop training nor does she slack off in her desire to be the best she can be, and someone who will block media on Twitter.

So where does that leave us in 2018 when Lloyd is heading home to New Jersey after a career away from it?

Should Sky Blue fans rejoice that the home town girl is back to lead them to the post season? Should they jeer and criticize the team for trading away a player that scored 17 goals in 2017 in Sam Kerr to end up with Lloyd in return?

Personally? I think they should wait. They and we all need to see what 2018 Lloyd looks like. They should hope that after two years of starts and stops she’s ready to take on the world and show that the two World Player of the Year trophies at home were given on merit and not name recognition.


So Let’s Talk About The Roster

We can talk about who Carli Lloyd is as a player or who might appear in the captain’s armband all we want, but at the end of the day it’s the 18 to 20 players that make the roster that matter.

My projected roster if nothing changes is more straight forward than I would have guessed before looking at the options. Breaking them down section by section it becomes pretty clear getting under the 20 player limit might be harder than expected.

Goalkeeping

Starter: Kailen Sheridan
Backup: Caroline Casey
Overseas: Casey Murphy

With the reports that Casey Murphy, has signed in France the team is left deciding between Kailen Sheridan and Caroline Casey as they were in 2017.

It will come to little surprise to anyone that Kailen Sheridan will be the likely starter for the team. The Canadian international is young, green at times but has the greater upside between the two.

Defenders:

Defenders kept: Christina Gibbons, Kayla Mills, Mandy Freeman, Rebekah Stott, Erica Skroski, Erin Simon

Let’s see preseason: Amandine Pierre-Louis

Likely out: Cassidy Benintentem, Domi Richardson

Sky Blue’s defense was thin last year and it remains thin in 2018, albeit in different ways than the year before.

Gibbons is a better midfielder than defender but she will likely be needed on the wing more than the midfield. Mills is an unpolished defender at times but if she can pull her talents together in her second year in the league might be a true blessing for the team. Freeman showed a lot of promise before being injured in 2017. While she had some rookie moments she does look to be a net positive for the team. Stott is a truly great centerback that Sky Blue received in a trade, along with Katie Johnson, for giving up the rights to Caitlin Foord. Skroski is a better centerback than outside back but her ability to play both might be the biggest blessing for head coach Reddy as she readys her lineups each week. Simon can be a nice late game sub on the outside even if her speed can at times be an issue.

Benintentem and Richardson are both likely not making a 20 person roster. The team might try to keep them around for practice purposes but there are just not enough open spots on the roster.

The Attack

Attackers: Thaisa, Daphne Corboz, Sarah Killion, Raquel Rodriguez, Jen Hoy, Shea Groom, Carli Lloyd, Katie Johnson, Maya Hayes, Janine Beckie
Let’s see preseason: Madison Tiernan , McKenzie Meehan, Michaela Abam, Imani Dorsey, Kiana Palacios

The one area Sky Blue is blessed in is attacking talent. They have strong center midfielders, wide players, and center forwards. They have up and coming players, international talent, they have a little bit of everything. I would break them down the way I did the defenders but neither of us have that kind of time.

The 16 attacking players listed above are frankly just too much. There are too many of the same kinds of players, too much talent for the 6 attacking spots in a starting 11.

The bottom line is that Sky Blue needs to make a trade. If they are able to package say 3 of their young talented attackers for a starting level outside back. Otherwise they will be cutting deep into the players newly drafted and likely from those drafted the year before and still coming up short on defense.

This attack will score. They have midfielders who can get the ball down field and forwards who can score. Say what you want about Lloyd but she is good at finding space outside the box and letting off a shot most other players would not try.


So, What Does It All Mean?

Sky Blue has added a new head coach, Denise Reddy, they have traded away fan favorites, they have changed the make up of the team in fundamental ways.

And on paper they look nearly identical in all but player names.

They are still a team with a depth of attacking talent. They are still a team with major defensive questions. They are still a team with a pair of young goalkeepers who are growing in to their gloves.

If the right trades are made, and so far the trading under Reddy has been a solid B, to bring in at least one more starting defender and offload some of the redundant attacking talent?

They have a shot at landing on Cloud 9 at the end of the season with a trophy in hand.