Sky Blue Preview: Playoff spot within reach with a win over Chicago

Rocky v Chicago

by TOM SLATER

For one of the few times all season, Sky Blue will have all its weapons available when they take on the Chicago Red Stars Saturday at 7 p.m. at Yurcack Field.

International players Kelley O’Hara (United States) and Sam Kerr (Australia) are back in training and expected to be on the field after finishing up Olympic duties more than two weeks ago. Striker Leah Galton is recovered from a hip injury that kept her out of her first national team camp with England’s senior team. Goalkeeper Caroline Stanley is sufficiently healed from a shoulder injury suffered in early July against Portland that has kept her out for nearly two months.

And it couldn’t come at a better time for Sky Blue (6-5-4, 22 points). They face a Chicago (7-4-4, 25 points) team that is just three points above them in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) standings.

A Sky Blue win would not only pull them into a tie with the Red Stars, it would give them the season series and a key tiebreaker for a playoff spot.

“The break came at a good time for us,” said Sky Blue coach Christy Holly. “It allowed us to heal up a little bit. Leah was battling with her hip and was limited in practice. We had other injuries, Erica Skroski, Kristin Grubka, Taylor Lytle. It gave them time to heal.”

Stanley’s recovery is key. She was playing well and had established herself as the number one keeper on the roster when her injury put her out of commission. Rookie Caroline Casey stepped in and did well with three straight victories included a pair of shutouts.

“I was talking to Jill Lloyden after practice and she was raving about Caroline Stanley and Caroline Casey too,” Holly said. “Both are practicing very well, pushing each other. It’s a good problem to have right now.”

Galton’s health is also aconcern. Her addition to the lineup coincided with Sky Blue’s push for the playoffs. She has three goals which ties her with Tasha Kai and Sarah Killion for the team lead. Just as important has been her ability to get behind defenses with her speed and aggressiveness.

“She needed that break,’ said Holly. “She pushed through July. She was taking a lot of hits in games. She’s a tough card; a tough kid. But there’s a fine line and I didn’t want to put her in a position where she would hurt herself. She’s able to fully play in practice again. In July she was only practicing once a week.”

O’Hara and Kerr will also be welcomed back. Kerr played in a four games mid-season, scoring once. O’Hara played in the backline earlier this year but may be teamed with the Aussie striker going into the final quarter of the season.

“We’re glad to have both of them back,” said Holly. “I was in contact with both of them during the Olympics. My message to them is to take your time. Rest up and make sure you’re mentally and physically ready.”