NWSL: The biggest issues facing Sky Blue FC for 2019

PISCATAWAY, NJ - MAY 19: Sky Blue FC Head Coach Denise Reddy during the first half of the National Womens Soccer League game between the North Carolina Courage and Sky Blue FC on May 19, 2018, at Yurcak Field in Piscataway, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
PISCATAWAY, NJ - MAY 19: Sky Blue FC Head Coach Denise Reddy during the first half of the National Womens Soccer League game between the North Carolina Courage and Sky Blue FC on May 19, 2018, at Yurcak Field in Piscataway, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

Sky Blue FC had a dismal season this past year, only winning one game and finishing at last place. Rachael McKriger has some insight on off-season needs.

Editorial (Sept. 28, 2018) — Denise Reddy still has a job.

You read that correctly. Denise Reddy, the head coach of Sky Blue FC, still has a job, despite having a horrendous season. Sky Blue FC finished in last place in the National Women’s Soccer League this past year.

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In attempts to boost a couple of spirits, Sky Blue FC did win one match: the final home contest against the Orlando Pride on Sept. 8. After that match, Reddy said that the team was “excited” to end the season on a win:

"“Before the game, we spoke about putting all of the previous results behind us and just focusing on this opportunity that we had in front of us. We came out with a mentality to just go for it, get it and keep it. These players are so deserving of this result, and I am really happy that they get to finish off the season with a win.”"

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The win was a glimmer of hope in an otherwise dark season.

After trading away Samantha Kerr — NWSL MVP in 2017 — for Carli Lloyd, Sky Blue FC began preparations. Adding in players from the NWSL College Draft like Imani Dorsey and Savannah McCaskill made this team look solid on paper.

However, on the pitch, there was hardly any connection.

Throughout the season, distractions rose to an all-time high for Sky Blue FC. Stories about the rough conditions, unfit for professional athletes, became headline news. Kerr, who now plays for the Chicago Red Stars, even went as far to say that felt “sick” playing against her former teammates in the terrible conditions.

The Equalizer talked to many disgruntled former Sky Blue FC players and coaches about the conditions. No one was happy talking about the “horrific” conditions, as former assistant coach Dave Hodgson said.

Not every player is Carli Lloyd.

They don’t make the millions of dollars that Lloyd makes through commercials, endorsements and her time with the U.S. Women’s National Team. Some players are forced to live in shabby housing, as Hodgson described in The Equalizer’s story. Also, some players live with host families.

Not every player gets the recognition they deserve and they are not treated like professionals. Sky Blue FC is owned by Philip D. Murphy — someone who claims to be a lifelong fan of soccer. He wanted to bring soccer to New Jersey for his daughter and other young girls.

However, he brought a soccer team that — with all of the debacles inside the organization and shone through the terrible player conditions — should not be looked up to.

This is clearly the main problem for Sky Blue FC, going into the 2019 season. Forget about Denise Reddy for a minute — that will come later. Right now, Sky Blue FC players are enjoying the off-season, but when they return, will anything change?

Will this team finally turn around and run like an efficient women’s soccer team?

On the Field Issues

I could go on for hours about the ridiculous conditions that professional athletes are forced to play in through Sky Blue, but other outlets already let you in on it.

So, moving on to on-the-field issues, let’s return to Carli Lloyd.

Lloyd hasn’t been the same player since the 2015 FIFA World Cup. The same midfielder that struck three goals in the World Cup final against Japan has decreased her level of play through the last three seasons.

She had a dismal season last year with the Houston Dash, with only eight appearances, two goals and 647 minutes of action. This past season with Sky Blue, Lloyd’s numbers were still shaky and she was inconsistent. In 17 starts out of 18 appearances, Lloyd scored four goals and only had one assist.

The big problem here is the inconsistency and the fact that Reddy tailors the team around Lloyd. Let’s face it, Sky Blue FC fans — and NWSL fans, in general — this is not the same Carli Lloyd from the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

She’s not at the peak level she once was — for club and country.

Lloyd should have been benched multiple times this season, but it seemed like Reddy was afraid. Because of her name, Lloyd was deemed the franchise player for Sky Blue FC, despite being 36-years-old. However, just because a player has a big name and over 100 goals with the national team, doesn’t mean the spot should be solidified.

There were times this season where Raquel Rodriguez, a stellar striker/midfielder from Costa Rica, took the bench in favor of Lloyd. Throughout the season, Shea Groom’s name flew under the radar, due to Lloyd completing maybe one good pass.

Should Reddy remain in the position next season, she needs to let go of her fear of the fan-base. The Sky Blue FC fan-base — and NWSL, U.S. Soccer fans in general — might go into an uproar if Lloyd is benched, but if that could help Sky Blue to victory, do it.

Sheridan is fine; the defense needs revamping

Mandy Freeman, Amanda Frisbie, Christina Gibbons, Amandine Pierre-Louis, Domi Richardson, Erica Skroski and Rebekah Stott were all rotated throughout Sky Blue FC’s defense this year.

In general, they did not perform at the level expected.

Kailen Sheridan, the undisputed starting goalkeeper for Sky Blue FC, was fine this season. In the team’s season finale against Orlando, Sheridan tied Washington Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe with 108 saves on the season, an NWSL-record set this year by the two goalkeepers.

However, Sheridan struggled throughout the year with a shaky defense. Many times, she was relied on to bail her defenders out. Other times, there was nothing Sheridan could have done to stop balls from going past her.

However, defenders could have — and should have — made plays.

This needs to be Reddy’s main focus going into the off-season planning. Having the same defenders as last year is inexcusable. It’s not the formation that Reddy is using — because it’s the same formation that other teams use, and it works for them. Right now, Reddy needs to clean the house with defenders.

A trade or two wouldn’t hurt, either.

A much-needed offseason

Reddy and company need to really sit down and analyze the 2018 season.

Only so many excuses can be made for the facility. There is blame that needs to go on the manager, but also the players as well. Right now, this team needs to find a new morale and a new spirit for the beautiful game.

Having the support of Cloud 9, the official support group, is huge for a struggling team. That needs to be the spark for next year, giving the faithful fans that stuck through this past season’s debacle a good, solid, consistent season.

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Reddy needs to revamp her roster — and get rid of the fear of benching certain players.