Sky Blue looking to rebound against tough Chicago Red Stars

conheeney 2

By TOM SLATER

On paper, this might not be the best time for Sky Blue FC to visit the Chicago Red Stars when the two meet Sunday night at 7 p.m. at Toyota Park in a National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) match.

Sky Blue (2-3-1, 7 points) is coming off a 5-2 road loss to Western New York Flash where very little went right as they fell behind 4-0 at the half. The Flash controlled the match from the outset, establishing the tempo and riddling the Sky Blue defense on set pieces.

When striker Leah Galton came on in the second half, Sky Blue’s offense woke up and scored twice – marking the first time this year they got two goals in one half — but it was too little too late.

Chicago, meanwhile, is on the upswing. They are tied with Washington Spirit for the top spot in the table with a 4-1-1 record for 13 points and are unbeaten in their last five matches.

Their latest outing was a 2-1 win over Seattle at Memorial Stadium. Jen Hoy got both goals in the victory with United States National Team goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher making a bevy of spectacular saves.  Kim Little’s 89th minute penalty kick for Seattle ended Chicago’s streak of being unscored upon at four games.

But Naeher and her defense did set a new record by holding opponents scoreless for 485 consecu. tive minutes. The streak broke the previous record of 435 minutes set in 2013 by Sky Blue FC.

However, this match won’t be on paper and both teams will be missing key players.

While Sky Blue FC defender Kelley O’Hara is going to the USWNT camp, so will Chicago’s Christen Press, Julie Johnston and Naeher. All will be at team camp in preparation for a pair of pre-Olympic friendlies against Japan on June 2 and 5.

But there are other worries. Hoy obviously is a concern as she is tied with Press for the team lead with two goals. The team is not a high-scoring side but it has played organized defense with Samantha Johnson teaming with Johnston as capable center backs.

Sky Blue needs to find a way to put together a full 90 minutes of play. At times, their defense has looked solid; at other times, their playmakers seem able to put together a diverse attack by getting multiple players involved. Rarely has both occurred at once.

Sunday’s match will be the first without Maya Hayes, who injured her knee in a collision last week. She’ll be out up to a month. Galton should get the start in this match. Although she might not be totally match-fit, the English international went through pre-season with Sky Blue and has been training while fulfilling her final graduation requirements at Hofstra.

“Obviously, we were disappointed with the result last weekend in Western New York, and the players have been very motivated to step up and correct some of the mistakes that we made,” said Christy Holly, Sky Blue FC head coach. “We now face a very good Chicago team on Sunday, and we are focused on getting back to winning ways. We have seen a great attitude and application from the players throughout the week, and we are really looking forward to putting that into action.”

With a week of for international play following this weekend’s matches, Sky Blue needs at least a point on the road to stay within reasonable distance of a playoff spot.

Another change may come in goal where New Zealand international Erin Nayler is waiting. While goalkeeping hasn’t been terrible, it has not been as consistent as 2015 when team MVP Brittany Cameron was outstanding.

To make up for O’Hara’ s absence, Sky Blue has activated midfielder Theresa Diederich as an amateur player for Sunday’s game.

“We are very excited for Theresa, and she has truly earned this opportunity,” said Holly. “It is great to see her awarded for all of the effort and hard work that she has been giving our club. Theresa has been with us for two seasons now, and she has continued to develop her game since arriving here in New Jersey. We are very confident that she can make an impact at this level of play when called upon.”

Sunday night will mark the first match this year where Diederich is available for Holly after making three appearances for Sky Blue FC during the 2015 season. Collegiately, the Florida native played at the University of Alabama, where she accumulated 56 career points on 23 goals and 10 assists.