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2011 Season Preview: Sky Blue FC has questions to answer in defense

In the 47 games Sky Blue FC has played since the inception of WPS, the New Jersey-based club has scored just 43 goals.  That includes the three playoff game, miracle championship run the team made to win the 2009 title.

Needless to say, there have been many of scoreless nights and chances gone begging at Yurcak Field.  This year, though, new Head Coach Jim Gabarra is confident that scoring goals should not be a problem.

English forward Eniola Aluko has been brought in from the Atlanta Beat to be the team’s go-to goal scorer, although Gabarra expects several players to share the scoring responsibilities, including a brand new midfield of Therese Sjögran, Carolyn Blank, Allie Long and Casey Nogueira.

All four of those players featured in Sky Blue FC’s preseason tournament in Turkey.  Gabarra went with the exact line-up of field players in both games played (with Karen Bardsley and Jenni Branam playing a game each in net):

Taylor——–Fletcher——–Asante——–Johnson

—————–Long——–Blank———————–

Nogueira—————Kalmari————- Sjögran

————————Aluko—————————

Expect that 1-4-2-3-1 formation to feature close to the exact personnel come opening day.  While Sky Blue FC blew several chances in both matches in Turkey, Aluko and Long in particular generated several dangerous opportunities.

The biggest question mark surrounding Sky Blue FC entering 2011 is the back line, which no longer features Christie Rampone, who now plays for magicJack.

“Defensively I think is just one place that we haven’t been able to bring in that extra – that one defender,” Gabarra said.  “That dates back to months ago in free agency when we lost out to some defenders that I would have liked to have.”

Brittany Taylor wore the captain’s armband in Turkey and that could become permanent, but Sky Blue FC lacks a defined leader.  That is particularly evident in the anticipated on-again, off-again presence of veteran midfielder Heather O’Rielly, who along with Tobin Heath will miss significant time with the U.S. Women’s National Team as it prepares for this summer’s Women’s World Cup.

U.S. players are expected to train during together during the week and fly out to WPS games on the weekends, but just because they are elite players does not mean they will be immediately inserted into the starting lineup.  Heath and O’Reilly are yet to report to training camp.

“For players that come in two or three days before your first game, I think what is best for the team is certainly they won’t be starting,” Gabarra said.  “How much they play is going to be that balance of what is best for the team.”

In other words, U.S. players may be riding the bench (and not just in New Jersey).

“With only three subs it is difficult to say, ‘well hey, if we have them I can play them a half here or there,’” Gabarra said.  “You are always going to have to balance what is best for the player but also what is best for the club.  I would hate to be in a situation where we have to play somebody.”

That should help Sky Blue FC build team chemistry, which it will need in the back.  As Gabarra said, Kendall Fletcher, Anita Asante, Danielle Johnson and Taylor will have to develop together in the back.  Karen Bardsley and Jenni Branam will help clean-up some inevitable mistakes in the back.

Goal scoring by committee could work for Sky Blue FC, but there will still be pressure on Aluko and Laura Kalmari in particular to score goals.

Key Points of Schedule:

  • Three game home stretch against magicJack (July 9), Western New York Flash (July 17) and Philadelphia Independence (July 23)
  • Three game road trip to end the season: magicJack (August 3), Philadelphia (August 7) and Boston Breakers (August 14)

Opening Day Roster:

Eniola Aluko
Kristin Arnold
Anita Asante
Karen Bardsley
Carolyn Blank
Jenni Branam
Kiersten Dallstream
Carrie Dew
Kendall Fletcher
Erin Guthrie
Tobin Heath
Danielle Johnson
Lindsey Johnson
Laura Kalmari
Angie Kerr
Allie Long
Adriana Martin Santamaria
Alyssa Mautz
Casey Nogueira
Heather O’Reilly
Therese Sjögran
Brittany Taylor
Michelle Wenino

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