Sky Blue have high hopes in Portland this weekend

rampone 2016

By TOM SLATER

Flying across the country to face the Portland Thorns — the top team in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) — in front of a traditionally huge and partisan crowd is never an easy task.

But Sky Blue FC may never have a better chance than they do this weekend.

True, the Thorns are leading the league with a 6-0-5 record with 23 points.. They’re the only unbeaten team in the NWSL and they haven’t lost in the last 11 matches.

But this game may be about the players who aren’t there. Sky Blue FC will face Portland in a 10:30 p.m. (EST) match at Providence Park Saturday. Portland will be missing a slew of United States National Team players as the Americans begin preparations for a pair of friendlies this month and have the Rio Summer Games in Brazil about a month away.

Lindsey Horan, Tobin Heath, Meghan Klingenberg, Emily Sonnett and Allie Long will all be missing as they are at USWNT camp ahead of the July 9 match with South Africa.

Toss in the fact that Sky Blue has a winning record on the road and will only be missing USWNT defender Kelley O’Hara, it gives the New Jersey side a more than sporting chance against the Thorns. All-time Sky Blue FC are 5-2-2 against Portland as well as the only team other than the Reign to record multiple road victories over the Thorns.

This season alone, Sky Blue FC have beaten Seattle and Washington away from home. Both wins broke long-time unbeaten home streaks for both teams.

But Portland won’t roll over and die. The Thorns still have some firepower in former Sky Blue striker Nadia Nadim (three goals) and Canadian international Christine Sinclair, who has registered a point in the last four matches. They also picked up French midfielder Amandine Henry, who registered an assist in her first action.  Dagny Brynjarsdottir also has three goals on the season.

Sky Blue (3-3-4, 13 points)comes in with a four-game unbeaten streak of its own. After a shaky start to the season, coach Christy Holly has been shaping the roster since pre-season and lately it has paid off as Sky Blue became healthy.

“The team has responded very well since our last defeat, which was obviously up in New York,” Holly said. “We sat down after that game, discussed some things and made a few changes in our approach. All credit must go to the players for their fantastic attitude that they have maintained throughout the process. There is an incredible unity among the club, and we look to build upon that as we head into July. We will continue to move forward in the same positive manner to ensure that we are playing for one another throughout the field.”

Sam Kerr, in only her 16th minute of play this summer, scored the game-winner against Washington last week. The Aussie international volleyed a perfect cross from Leah Galton on her first touch of the night for the goal that was eventually the game-winner.

Galton, the Hofstra grad from England, has sparked Sky Blue’s offense with a goal and three assists in the last five matches. More than points, her aggressiveness and speed have combined to keep defenses off balance and allowed more Sky Blue players to move forward.

Perhaps the most consistent part of the team has been the backline. A mixture of young players (Erica Skroski, Erin Simon, Kristin Grubka) have melded with veterans O’Hara and Christie Rampone. Their play against Washington last week helped notch the win as the Spirit used high pressure the final 25 minutes