Skroski Looks to Lead Sky Blue’s Defensive Rebirth

Bridgeview, IL, USA - Sunday, May 29, 2016: Sky Blue FC defender Erica Skroski (8) during a regular season National Women's Soccer League match between the Chicago Red Stars and Sky Blue FC at Toyota Park. The game ended in a 1-1 tie.

sky blue logoSky Blue‘s 2017 season has been full of twists and turns.

In a crazy up-and-down summer, the team’s young and inexperienced defense took a hit with the departure of the veteran captain Christie Pearce a few weeks ago. Pearce, 41, was the voice of experience on the Sky Blue backline, using her years of international experience to guide the young Sky Blue defenders.

But that position now belongs to Erica Skroski, who has fewer than two years’ experience in the National Women’s Soccer League. Two defending partners are the rookies from the University of Southern California — Kayla Mills and Mandy Freeman — along with third-year player Dom Richardson, who has made all of four appearances over three seasons.

And it’s been a bit of a whirlwind for Skroski and Sky Blue (9-9-2, 29 points).

“It’s been a little different being the veteran back there even though I’m only in my second year,” she said as her team readied for a trip to face FC Kansas City (6-9-5, 23) on Sunday night. “But I’ve been concentrating on what I had to do for the team, making sure I helped connect the defense to the midfield to the forwards. That’s been mostly what’s been on my mind.”

Skroski was the 23rd pick over all in the 2016 draft after a hugely successful career at Rutgers University. In her senior year, the Scarlet Knights went to NCAA College Cup, falling to Raquel Rodriguez and Penn State, the eventual champion.

Skroski, 23, has been the model of consistency, playing all 18 games, starting 17. Drafted as a central defender, Skroski has seen more time this year as an outside back. And even when Pearce stepped aside, Skroski stayed on the flank.

“I’ve been a natural central defender all my life, never played as an outside back,” Skroski said. “It was definitely a learning experience. And Christie was a huge help. Having her as my center back, she taught me when to step and when to stay. I love center back but if I have to play outside back, I don’t have a problem with that at all. Especially if we get some results.”

“But it doesn’t matter where I play. I’ll do what I have to do to win. If that’s playing outside back, then that’s where I’ll play.”

Skroski has grown weary of hearing about the team’s defensive deficiencies, particularly when leaking 18 goals over four games is mentioned. And perhaps nobody — sans goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, another rookie — was happier after last week’s 1-0 win over Boston.

“You know the Seattle game [a 5-4 win] was insane and we still let up too many goals,” Skroski said. “But we went over film and looked at what we had to work on. Just keeping it tight. What happened happened, but Seattle game was Day One with the new backline. That’s just what our mindset had to be and we worked hard in training and we got the shutout against Boston.”

Sky Blue is three points behind Orlando and Chicago for the third and fourth playoff spots and has a favorable schedule — three of their four final games are against the bottom four teams.

“We can’t look at it like that,” Skroski said. “We really need to take it one day at a time. One training session at time, one game at a time.”

Sky Blue is after its third win in a row for the first time this year. Sam Kerr, the team’s Australian international striker, has scored five goals in her last two games and 16 on the season. A 17th would give Kerr the NWSL single-season record, which was set by Seattle’s Kim Little in 2014.

FC Kansas City’s Nicole Barnhart will make league history, assuming she plays, becoming the first goalkeeper to play in 100 games.