Sky Blue FC hosts Seattle in NWSL opening night rematch

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By TOM SLATER

Sky Blue FC will get a chance to see how far they’ve come in the last few months when they host Seattle Sunday at 6 p.m. in a week 9 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL)  match at Rutgers University’s Yurcak Field.

The two teams started the season in April when Sky Blue stunned everyone with a 2-1 victory at Mermorial Stadium, snapping a two-year home win streak for the Reign.

Since then, Sky Blue has won just once. They’ve tied their last two games and this will be the final game in a two-game home stand. They sit at 2-3-3 with 9 points.

Seattle just broke a four-game winless streak with a 1-0 win over Houston and sits ahead of Sky Blue in sixth place with 11 points. Which makes this match even more important to the home team.

And doesn’t Sky Blue head coach Christy Holly know it.

“Preparation for Seattle has gone very well,” said Holly. “We are very familiar with what they can do and how dangerous they are, and we fully respect them. We enter this weekend after two solid performances where we overcame deficits, and the focus is to add a level of consistency to our overall execution. If we can do that, we are very confident that we will get the three points on Sunday, which is what we need as we move forward.”

Unlike their last two matches, Sky Blue hopes to jump out in front of the Reign and then dictate the tempo going forward. And that might mean playing starting Leah Galton, Sam Kerr or Tasha Kai. Or maybe a combination of two of them. All three were on the field for the final 15 minutes as they comprised Holly’ entire substitution list. Kerr, however, is listed as doubtful and Kai probable.

Although Kerr had a couple of shots and Galton was her aggressive self, the trio didn’t provide a goal. And scoring has been a slight problem. While Christie Rampone and Kelley O’Hara have provided the anchor on defense, no one has emerged as a go-to goal-scorer. Maya Hayes and Sarah Killion have two goals each — of the nine scored by Sky Blue. But Hayes is injured and Killion’s were on penalty kicks.

In a perfect world, Kerr, who has the leading goal scorer a year ago, would have stepped back into the lineup immediately. But the Australian international is just back from foot surgery to correct an injury sustained last fall. Galton, who chose to wait until she graduated Hofstra last month, is just getting into game shape.

Against a Seattle team that has troubles scoring — only eight goals in as many matches. But they will have their full alignment of internationals this weekend — Hope Solo in goal, Kim Little creating havoc up front with Jess Fishlock, back from an injury.

Seattle will be looking to avenge the April loss to Sky Blue and use it as a springboard to a strong July in preparedness for the Olympic break. The Reign and Sky Blue are tied with a 3-3-3 mark against each other but Seattle has a 2-1 advantage at Yurcak Field. In addition, the Reign have allowed only two away goals this year.

Here’s some things to look at:

  • With her next goal, Seattle’s Little can become the first NWSL player to score 30 goals in a career. The Scotland international has not scored in her last two games but she will undoubtedly want to find her goal-scoring form as the Reign seek a measure of retribution for the afore mentined Sky Blue win in Seattle.
  • Kristin Grubka looks steady in the back. The second-year defender has started the last two matches in place of Erin Simon and has done a credible job. Rookie Erica Skroski has moved from central to outside back in the move. Skroski has also looked comfortable there and has made timely runs up the field — a la O’Hara. Her service into the box led to a penalty kick against FCKC last weekend.
  • Can Kelly Conheeney get some magic back? Her season-opening goal and YouTube-worthy celebration kicked off the season in wonderful storybook fashion. Immediately after, she was injured and sat out in the home loss to Washington. She’s played since then and has started at the outside midfield spot with no goals or assists.
  • Seattle Reign FC announced today that the club has signed Japanese international forward Nahomi “Naho” Kawasumi, pending receipt of her P-1 Visa and International Transfer Certificate (ITC). Per league and team policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed. Naho is expected to arrive in Seattle within the next ten days. She returns to Seattle after spending the 2015 and part of the 2016 seasons playing for INAC Kobe Leonessa, who loaned Kawasumi to Reign FC in 2014.
  • Sunday is Pride night. For every ticket that is purchased onlineusing the code PRIDE, Sky Blue FC will be donating $5 to Equality Florida’s GoFundMe to support victims of the shootings that occurred this past weekend in Orlando. Ahead of the opening whistle on Sunday, Sky Blue FC will also be observing a moment of silence in memory of those who were lost in the senseless tragedy.