Sky Blue looking for offense, victory as Flash come to town

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It’s sort of ridiculous to talk about “must win” games in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in the first week of May. After all the season is just getting started.

But if Sky Blue wants to be a realistic NWSL contender, three points against the visiting Western New York Flash Saturday night are a must.

The two teams meet at 7 p.m. at Rutgers University’s Yurcak Field. Both teams won their opening matches on the road. Sky Blue upset Seattle, 2-1, in Memorial Stadium and Western New York edged FC Kansas 1-0.

Neither team has won since.

Sky Blue fell to league-leading Washington, 2-1, and drew with Houston in a scoreless match. Western New York fell to Chicago, 1-0, and the Spirit, 3-0.

“We are really excited to be back in New Jersey for the next two weeks,” said Sky Blue head coach Christy Holly. “We are coming off a successful road trip, and we know our performances will only get better every week. We are looking to build upon the solid platform with have already established, and it is our goal to give all of our fans something to cheer about this Saturday.”

Sky Blue will need to get some offense going, scoring a total of three goals with two coming in the first game of the year. Forward Tasha Kai has been playing up high as a target player but after scoring the opening goal against Seattle, she’s been having trouble getting touches.  Until Sam Kerr recovers from her foot injury and rookie Leah Galton graduates from Hofstra, she may have to come back to gather the ball.

Defensively, Sky Blue has been solid. Uber veteran Christie Rampone and rookie Erica Skroski have been working well as a tandem. Kelley O’Hara has ruled the left back spot and has often been the shutdown defender as well as making great runs.

Perhaps the biggest surprise has been another rookie, Erin Simon. One of the three players making the squad from open tryouts, Simon has improved with each match and literally save the day by clearing a ball off the line late in the match against Houston.

Caroline Stanley played well in her Sky Blue debut in goal against Houston but may be back on the sidelines if Erin Nayler gets to New Jersey in time. Nayler is a New Zealand international with lots of World Cup and Olympic experience. She was signed by the New Jersey club earlier this week.

After winning championships in three different leagues from 2010-12 and finishing runner-up in the NWSL’s 2013 inaugural season, the Flash are 14-21-9 the past two seasons — the only in which they’ve missed the playoffs in their seven-year history.

Western New York has a very young roster and a new coach in Paul Riley, recycled from Portland. Gone are the stars of the past such as Abby Wambach, Christine Sinclair, Marta and Alex Morgan.

The most familiar name on the roster is American international Sam Mewis, who has the team’s only goal of the year — on a penalty kick.  Mewis made an impact on the United States Women’s National Team this past winter, seeing extensive playing time and putting herself in the mix to make the Olympic team for this summer’s Rio Games.

Central defender Abby Dahlkemper and midfielder Elizabeth Eddy, a former New Jersey draft pick who never played for Sky Blue, are key for the Flash. Jaelene Hinkle has also seen time on the national team but has been nicked up in the early going.

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