By: Shannon Duffy
Sky Blue FC is in its final stages of preparation for the preliminary round of the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup. The club will play four preliminary round games across a two-week period, with the aim of earning top seeding before the tournament’s knockout rounds. Sky Blue announced its official roster for the tournament on Monday and it can be viewed here.
After returning to the field for phased-in training earlier in June, Sky Blue players are ready to compete again. Rookie defender, Kaleigh Riehl, spoke to the team’s expectations for the Challenge Cup. “I’m just happy that we have this tournament,” said Riehl. ”I think that the mindset is the same for any season, any tournament that you go into, you want to win. It looks a little different than what I expected, but we still have the same goal, and that’s to win it.”
Sky Blue will kick off the NWSL Challenge Cup on Tuesday, June 30 at 10 p.m. ET against OL Reign. Previously known as “Reign FC,” the Tacoma-based team finished fourth in the league in 2019. The Challenge Cup will serve as the Reign’s first action with their new head coach, Farid Benstiti, as well as several new additions, including Sofia Huerta, Amber Brooks, and Alana Cook, who is on loan from Paris Saint-Germain. Sky Blue and OL Reign have a history of exciting, back and forth encounters, most notably in 2017 when the teams exchanged 5-4 victories with each other. Last season, Sky Blue split the series with the Reign, going 1-1-1 across their three meetings. The balanced history between the two teams will surely make for an exciting opening matchup. This game is proudly presented digitally on Sky Blue social media channels by Hackensack Meridian Health.
Sky Blue will return to action for their second preliminary match on Saturday, July 4 at 12:30 p.m. ET against Utah Royals FC. With 20 of their players returning from the 2019 season, the Royals will be led by internationals Kelley O’Hara, Diana Matheson, Desiree Scott, Vero Boquete, and Aminata Diallo, who is on loan from Paris Saint-Germain. The team will be entering the Challenge Cup with their new head coach, Craig Harrington, who formerly worked as an assistant for the Chicago Red Stars. Sky Blue is 1-3-2 all-time against the Royals, who finished 6th in the league in 2019. Both teams will be looking to improve off of their 2019 season, making for a matchup fans won’t want to miss. Sky Blue digital channels will feature Hackensack Meridian Health once again as the digital presenting sponsor for this game.
On Wednesday, July 8 at 10 p.m. ET, Sky Blue will play their third match of the tournament against the Houston Dash. After finishing 7th in the league last season, the Dash made some notable additions to their team, including NWSL veterans Kate Naughton, Megan Oyster, and Katie Stengel. These players will join Dash leaders Rachel Daly, Jane Campbell, and Kristie Mewis to round out the team’s roster. Sky Blue has a winning record against Houston, going 7-5-3 in all-time competitions. After going 1-2 against Houston in 2019, Sky Blue will be looking to add another win to the series history during the NWSL Challenge Cup. Provident Bank will serve as the sponsor for this match on Sky Blue digital channels.
Sky Blue will finish off the preliminary round against the North Carolina Courage on Monday, July 13 at 10 p.m. ET. Having won the 2019 NWSL Championship, the Courage will enter the Challenge Cup with a target on their backs. The team’s roster contains a wealth of experience, with players such as Crystal Dunn, Lynn Williams, Sam Mewis, and Denise O’Sullivan all returning for 2020. Sky Blue is 1-6-2 all-time against the two-time NWSL Champions, but they will be hoping to rewrite history in their final preliminary round matchup. Returning partner, NJM Insurance Group, will be the digital Sky Blue FC match sponsor.
NWSL veteran and Sky Blue newcomer, McCall Zerboni echoed Riehl’s winning mentality while giving a nod to the SBFC supporters. “I just want to thank all of our supporters for their patience and belief and for sticking with us through everything and being excited about this tournament,” said Zerboni. “It’s going to be a great year and it’s going to be a great tournament. Sky Blue has some great things coming ahead and I’m proud and happy to be a part of it.”
Results from the preliminary round will determine seeding for the knockout stage, which will start with the quarterfinals on July 17th and 18th. With the Orlando Pride’s recent withdrawal from the tournament, all eight teams competing are guaranteed a spot in the quarterfinals. All games will be played at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah, with the semifinals and final to be played at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
“I think we’ve got such a good group of positive players and they are competitors,” said Head Coach Freya Coombe. “It’s just a shame that we won’t be able to do it in front of our fans because we know what a good group they are, but I know that they’ll be watching from home and cheering us on.”
Fans in the U.S. and Canada can watch all of Sky Blue’s preliminary round games on CBS All Access, while international fans will be able to watch all games live on Twitch.
2020 Sky Blue FC Challenge Cup Preliminary Round Schedule
Tuesday, June 30: Sky Blue FC vs OL Reign, 10:00 p.m. ET
Saturday, July 4: Sky Blue FC vs Utah Royals FC, 12:30 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 8: Sky Blue FC vs Houston Dash, 10:00 p.m. ET
Monday, July 13: Sky Blue FC vs North Carolina Courage, 10:00 p.m. ET