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Sky Blue vs. Utah Royals — three questions with Once A Metro

The Royals head to New Jersey to take on a refreshed Sky Blue

Cindy Lara | RSL Soapbox

Utah Royals FC are on the road to Sky Blue FC. Sky Blue recently fired their coach then got their first win of the season. We reached out to Allison Lee of Once A Metro to get some info on the team.

Sky Blue fired Denise Reddy a few weeks back — do you feel that was the right move for the team and who’s taking the reins until a replacement is found? Are there any leading candidates out there for the new head coach?

Firing Denise Reddy was absolutely the right call. I know I’m not the only person surprised that she was given a second chance after going 1-17-6 in her first season with the team, but her departure seemed inevitable once she failed to coach the team to any wins to start off the 2019 season. With the talent that Sky Blue has on paper, she should have been able to produce more results than what she did. Personally, I would like to see more women coaching in the NWSL, but Reddy just seemed to be in over her head, and from the murmurs coming out from those close to the team, she did not create a positive team environment or culture, which did not help. So, as much as you hate to see a coach go midway through the season, especially with no replacement immediately available, it was the right call.

As for who will be taking over for Reddy, it seems that the rest of the coaching staff are jointly leading the team until a new coach is hired, much the same way they did following Christy Holly’s early departure in 2017. The club is being extremely tight-lipped about the coaching search and any prospects for the team, so right now there’s no information about any possible leads available.

In their last game, Sky Blue won 2-1 away to Chicago. It’s their first win of the season and seems like a massive result given how good Chicago have been. What did the team do to find success and shutdown a player like Sam Kerr?

Sky Blue defeated Chicago for two reasons. The first, was the defense is much stronger with Kailen Sheridan in goal. She’s with the club for her third season now, and she knows her teammates. She has a very commanding presence in goal, both in directing her back line and in making saves. Sam Kerr put three of four shots on goal during the match, and the rest of the Red Stars put nine of 23 shots on target, but Sheridan had an insane game, making seven stops to help Sky Blue to the win.

The second reason is that the team looked to finally be able to play like themselves and to have fun on the pitch, which I think has been lacking for the last season and a half. Sources close to Sky Blue have told me that players felt stifled and unconfident playing under Reddy, and on Saturday they were free to play like their games. They’re all extremely talented players--they wouldn’t be playing in the NWSL if they weren’t--and none of them ever give up despite the scoreline or their season record. So I think that, combined with the amount of heart the players have, led to a tenacious, hard-fought win. They weren’t the best team on the field for much of that match, but they played their game and were able to finally find that success that’s eluded them all season long.

What players have stood out for the team this season? Will Carli Lloyd returning to the team be a difference maker in the attack?

Raquel Rodriguez has been absolutely dynamic in the attack for Sky Blue, especially in Carli Lloyd’s absence. I expected Imani Dorsey and Savannah McCaskill (before her trade to Chicago) to start racking up goals and to kind of take over for Lloyd, but Rocky is the player who stepped up. She now leads the team in scoring (3 goals, 1 assist), and the most recent of which was the first goal for Sky Blue in their win last weekend. Rodriguez also leads the team in shots on goal, so while she doesn’t create the most opportunities on goal, she makes the most of them.

If Lloyd returns to Sky Blue with the same intensity that she played with during the World Cup, she will be a difference maker in their attack. There’s no way she won’t be. She led the team in goals before leaving for international duty, and her veteran leadership is unparalleled on the team. However, she’s notoriously performed better for country than club and has earned a bit of a bad reputation with previous clubs because of seemingly checking out after returning from major tournaments. Hopefully 2019 will be different and her presence will benefit Sky Blue’s attack, but that remains to be seen.

You can read our responses to Allison’s questions at Once A Metro