Sky Blue’s Hayes is Having Best Year as a Pro

maya hayes

sky blue logoDespite what many people may think, Sam Kerr isn’t the only Sky Blue player who can score goals. It only seems that way.

As Sky Blue looks to put together a September playoff drive, Maya Hayes might be as important as Kerr. Well, almost.

Hayes, one of the many New Jersey natives (she is from Montclair) on Sky Blue’s roster, is having her best year as a pro with four goals. That’s one behind Sarah Killion for second on the team. While four of Killion’s goals have come from the penalty spot, Hayes’ have all been from open play. Three have been instrumental in picking up points in the National Women’s Soccer League .

She had a game-winner against Orlando on Memorial Day weekend. And her goal against Chicago in mid-July preceded Kerr’s 90th minute header to earn a 2-2 draw. Then there was last week’s stoppage time score that knotted the game at 4-4, setting the stage for Kerr’s remarkable game-winner two minutes later.

Those four goals have equaled Hayes’ total over the past three seasons, which included a short trial at outside back two years ago. And whether it’s as a starter or coming off the bench, Hayes is hoping to keep things moving.

The Boston Breakers come into Yurcak Field on Saturday night in a crucial game for Sky Blue, which is in sixth place, three points out of the fourth and final playoff berth. And Sky Blue (8-9-2, 26 points) has a favorable schedule with four of its remaining five matches against teams currently at the bottom four of the standings.

Boston (3-9-7, 16 points), which is in ninth place, has never beaten Sky Blue in New Jersey and brings in a weak offense — averaging 0.84 goals per game. That should be good news for a beleaguered Sky Blue defense that has given up 18 goals in the last four games.

“From now on, no matter who we’re playing we have to treat it like a playoff game,” Hayes said. “We can’t play down or up to any team’s standards. We have to play up to our own standards.”

Easier said than done. Sky Blue has had a roller coaster of a season — playing inspired soccer at times, playing bad soccer other times — and enduring the departures of Christy Holly as coach as the veteran defender Christie Pearce within the space of a couple of days.

“We’re ready,” Hayes said. “That atmosphere has been positive and competitive. That’s been the deal since last week. Especially after a crazy weekend, we were able to enjoy it a little bit but then once we were back at practice, it was like ‘all right, it’s in the past.”

For Hayes, the past four years have been like a post-graduate course. Coming from Penn State, where she led the nation in goals (30) and points (70) in 2011, she was the sixth overall pick in the 2014 NWSL draft.

Her first two years were seasons of adjustment — to the professional game and to a seemingly revolving door as teammates. And then there was the short-lived experiment to use her speed as an outside back.

“I think the two biggest factors are finding your own place in the team and meshing with the team,” she said. “Those were key factors especially in the early years. It was hard as I bounced around from position to position.  And we had a lot of turnover in the first two years. We had a lot of different players coming in and out. Even though we’re young, this is most familiar team we’ve had in my four years. It’s been consistent and we’ve meshed on the field.”

This year, she’s started nine of the 17 games. She’s added three assists — also a career-high — to go along with her four goals. She’s also played up top all season and has been one of the main strike partners with Kerr.

“I’ve played with a few in four years and it’s always been a matter of sticking to what I know I can do and what I can bring to the table,” Hayes said. “Sam attracts a lot of attention and there’s not much I need to do with Sam. She’s very easy to play with. She makes everyone around her better.”