Sky Blue FC opens its season at the North Carolina Courage Saturday. (Jeffrey Auger Photo)
CARY, N.C. – After having a bye last weekend, Sky Blue FC will open its National Women’s Soccer League season Saturday, traveling to the North Carolina Courage for a 3 p.m. kickoff in Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park.
Sky Blue FC will try to reach the postseason after failing to do so the past four years.
In contrast, the Courage won the NWSL regular-season title last year and reached the championship game last season, losing to the Portland Thorns FC. As the Western New York Flash, the team captured the NWSL title in 2016.
The season will be its sixth in the NWSL and ninth professional campaign overall, making Sky Blue FC the only club that has competed in each of the past nine consecutive seasons that professional women’s soccer has existed in the United States.
Fans can watch Saturday’s action live via NWSLsoccer.com and Go90. Sky Blue FC is currently unbeaten in its previous five NWSL season openers, going a collective 3-0-2.
“Having an extra week of training together has definitely created a good opportunity for us,” Sky Blue FC head coach Denise Reddy said. “It has helped us to find a little bit more gel between the players, whether it has been in the front, the back or together as an 11. At the end of the day, getting out there and playing games is why we do all of the training, so it will be exciting to see where we stand against one of the best teams in the league on Saturday.”
After a busy offseason, Sky Blue FC will have several new faces. The lone returning forward is McKenzie Meehan, who will be joined by Michaela Abam, Janine Beckie, Shea Groom, Jen Hoy, Katie Johnson, Adriana Leon and Savannah McCaskill. Abam arrived at the club via the 2018 NWSL college draft, while McCaskill came through the 2018 NWSL dispersal draft. The remaining group came via a series of trades with other NWSL member clubs, where each player had a big offensive impact in 2017.
Groom finished second on FC Kansas City in 2017 with five goals and a team-leading five assists. Leon was second on the Boston Breakers with five goals and a team-leading six assists. Johnson recorded four goals and two assists (making five starts) for Seattle Reign FC; Hoy registered two goals and two assists over 13 games for the Chicago Red Stars. Beckie scored two goals and an assist for the Houston Dash. Meehan made five starts over 17 games for Sky Blue FC in 2017, tallying an assist.
The Sky Blue FC midfield returns Sarah Killion, Raquel Rodriguez and Madison Tiernan, and that trio will be joined by U.S. national team captain Carli Lloyd and Brazil international Thaisa Moreno.
Killion had five goals and two assists for Sky Blue FC last year. Rodriguez followed up her 2016 NWSL rookie of the year campaign with four goals. Tiernan recorded three goals and an assist in her first professional season. Lloyd returned home to New Jersey after the two-time FIFA Women’s Player of the Year registered two goals in eight NWSL contests last season for the Houston Dash, while Moreno begins her inaugural NWSL campaign in 2018.
On the back line, Sky Blue FC returns Mandy Freeman, Kayla Mills, Domi Richardson, Erin Simon and Erica Skroski. Joining them are Christina Gibbons, Canada international Amandine Pierre-Louis and New Zealand international Rebekah Stott.
Sky Blue FC returns the two goalkeepers who accounted for all 2,160 minutes that were played in net for the club last year, with Canada international Kailen Sheridan and Caroline Casey wearing the team crest once again in 2018.
Sky Blue FC and the Courage met three times during last season, splitting the series at 1-1-1. In their first encounter, North Carolina claimed a 2-0 result despite goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan recording 11 saves. Those saves were the most by a Sky Blue FC keeper since the NWSL was founded in 2013. Two months later, the clubs played again with an 84th minute game-winner giving Sky Blue FC the road win, 1-0. The final meeting came in the 2017 Sky Blue FC home finale at Yurcak Field, playing to a 1-1 draw.
Sky Blue FC returns to New Jersey on Sunday, April 15 at 5 p.m. ET, hosting Seattle Reign FC in its home opener at Yurcak Field.