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Sky Blue FC gears up for NWSL

Sky Blue FC hopes a new training ground will help stabilize the franchise's off-field fortunes

National Women’s Soccer League news out of the Pacific Northwest has been steady. Seattle Reign FC and Portland Thorns FC establish their identities. The eastern front, however, has been quiet — publicly, anyway.

Half of the eight National Women’s Soccer League teams look starkly familiar to fans who endured the ups and downs of Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS).  Sky Blue FC, the Western New York Flash, Chicago Red Stars and the Boston Breakers are already established, even if they have most recently spent their time waiting in the wings, playing in the obscurity of a semi-professional league.

So for Sky Blue FC owner and president Thomas Hofstetter, the daunting task of launching a new league in just over three months isn’t a panic-inducing endeavor; it is a test of applying lessons of past leagues.

“We are much more relaxed than four years ago, two years ago,” he said earlier in December. “We got that out.”

The sense of calm comes from Sky Blue FC already having several pieces in place. Sky Blue FC of the NWSL will look a lot like Sky Blue of WPS, with a shrunken budget, of course.

The 2009 WPS Champion club will return to Yurcak Field on the campus of Rutgers University in Piscataway, N.J., by the looks of things on the team’s website. Speaking in early December, Hofstetter said the club looked at other venues in Northern New Jersey, closer to New York City, but that he is happy with Piscataway’s demographics, its central location in the middle of the state and the quality of the venue.

“Rutgers is one of the best pitches in the state,” he said. “From a stadium size I don’t think you want to go much bigger than Rutgers.” Yurcak Field seats approximately 5,000 fans.

Jim Gabarra returns as head coach after staying in the central New Jersey area to coach affiliate club New Jersey Wildcats in the 2012 USL W-League season. Gabarra coached Sky Blue FC during the 2011 WPS season after 10 years with the Washington Freedom in three different leagues.

So what exactly is different in New Jersey this time? On the surface, not much. The difference, Hofstetter says, is the scale of the NWSL.

“The league business model is on more solid footing and that’s why we’re in,” he said. “We’ve built something good in New Jersey and we want to continue to do that.”

Whether or not crowds at Yurcak Field can live up to expectations remains to be seen. Sky Blue FC’s average attendance was 3,036 fans per game from 2009-2011.

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