Sky Blue and the NWSL Challenge Cup: Sky Blue Looks to Fly High in Utah
Head Coach: Freya Coombe 2019 record: 20 points, 8th place Player you should know: While everyone knows Carli Lloyd and now Mallory Pugh, the name on everyone’s lips really should be Midge Purce, acquired in a trade with Portland. She was becoming a star in her own right with the Thorns and I believe that joined with the other star players, she’ll continue to stand out. Under the Radar: Naho Kawasumi joined the team last season, and her tenacity, technical skills and refusal to quit on a play make her essential to Sky Blue. Offseason moves: Sky Blue was EXTREMELY busy as soon as the season ended, putting the pedal to the metal and only taking a breath after the draft. They began with a bang, trading midfielder Rocky Rodgriuez to Portland for Midge Purce. Shuffling back to the east coast, they traded the rights to Hallie Mace for McCall Zerboni. Going back to the west coast to Reign FC, they traded the rights to Julia Ashley for Ifeoma Onumonu. As if those three big trades weren’t enough, they traded three 2020 draft picks and one 2021 draft pick for Mallory Pugh.
They selected four players in the draft; Evelyne Viens, Kaleigh Riehl, Amanda McGlynn and Chantelle Swaby. At the time that I’m writing this, Viens, Riehl and McGlynn have officially been signed. Viens broke the NCAA scoring record and many Canadian fans are hoping this is will help propel her onto Team Canada's radar. What makes them exciting: Sky Blue has really come to life the last two seasons, with many of their players producing dynamic plays and making them a real joy to watch. They may be missing Lloyd and Pugh to injury, they have plenty of other talent at forward and midfield. Last season showed a lot of promise and with the addition of even more promising players, Sky Blue looks ready to put on a great show.
OL Reign – 6/30
Utah Royals - 7/4
Houston Dash -7/8
North Carolina Courage – 7/13
While Sky Blue and the Reign have a history of really explosive matches, what I'm really interested in seeing is the match against Houston. Like Sky Blue, Houston added some new attacking power and experience. Both teams have iffy defense so it'll be intriguing to see who cracks first.
Why they could win the Cup: Since this is a World Cup-style tournament, there’s very little turnaround for teams to rest and get back at it. As I mentioned before, Sky Blue has acquired very leveled-headed and dynamic players. If they can all gel together under their new head coach and keep healthy, they stand a decent chance of advancing past their opponents and winning the Cup.
Biggest challenge: Sky Blue's defense has always been on the...shaky side. There's a reason people say defense wins championship and Sky Blue have struggled with defending. They may have bolstered the midfield and rounded out their attacking offense, but it's hard to win games when you keep leaking goals.
Predicted finish: I truly believe there’s no reason why Sky Blue shouldn't make the semi-finals, if they can keep cool, calm, collected, and healthy.
ICYMI, Sky Blue added Becca Moros to their technical staff as first assistant coach. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Moros was a player herself until she retired last year. She played for FC Kansas City, Portland Thorns, Houston Dash and Utah Royals. I love seeing players break out into the coaching positions, so I’m happy for her.