Sky Blue set for home opener with Washington Spirit

rampone 2016

by TOM SLATER

Get ready for the Washington Spirit to become a familiar face for Sky Blue FC and its fans.

The Spirit and Sky Blue will hook up Sunday at 6 p.m. at Rutgers University’s Yurcak Field in Piscataway — and it will be the first of four meetings in 2016.

It’s the National Women’s Soccer League’s (NWSL) answer to fixing an unbalanced schedule with Orlando making it an even 10 teams. Rivalry week, if you will.

For those not able to get to Piscataway, the game will be shown on YouTube live.

“You have to start somewhere and the league is trying to do the right thing,” said coach Christy Holly. “You need these rivalries to generate more of a fan base. You need the passion from the fans and for the players.”

Sky Blue comes off a season-opening 2-1 victory over the Seattle Reign, an upset considering that the host was the defending Supporters Shield winners and Sky Blue were starting six players logging their first NWSL minutes.

“If youre good enough, you’re old enough, that’s the kind of attitude we have, ” said Holly. “I’m delighted with the players we have. Looking around the league, everybody wants to have a team full of national team players but you need a balance.  You need players who want to represent; players with technical ability and a good understanding of the game.”

The newcomers impressed. Rookie Kelly Conhenney, one of two starters found by Holly in March open tryouts, was the heroine by knocking in a serve from Taylor Lytle to break a 1-1 draw.

But the key to the match was defensive organization by the Sky Blue that staying tight and disciplined. Veteran Christie Rampone — who now is playing her 10th pro season with there different leagues — teamed up with rookie Erica Skorski from Rutgers to keep the middle clean.

Kelley O’Hara did a great job shutting down Seattle’s Manon Melis and was still able to rule the flank and set up Natasha Kai’s goal in the first half.  All in front of another rookie — goalkeeper Caroline Casey.

“Christie is as valuable to us as she has been to any team that she’s been on,” said Holly. “She gives us leadership and organization out there. Her leadership and Kelley O’Hara’s leadership, you can’t put a price on that.

But Washington presents a different type of problem. Crystal Dunn comes in as the 2015 NWSL Most Valuable Player and is making her mark as a high scoring and free-wheeling forward, combining speed and technical ability.  O’Hara may have her hands full.

In its opener, the Spirit beat Boston, 1-0, on a spectacular bicycle kick from Joanna Lohman, set up by Dunn.

“The Spirit is a solid team and very well coached because of Jim (Gabarra, the Spirit coach),” said Holly. “You know they’re going to be organized. They have that X factor in Crystal Dunn, who is one of the most dangerous forwards in the words and they have Katie Stengel, who is a very good target player. It’s going be a challenge and we’re looking forward to it.”

Sky Blue won’t be going in at full strength. Conheeney is a scratch because of the flu and the three players who sat out last week — Sam Kerr, Coco Goodson and Danielle Schulmann — are still not available.

 


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