By: Morgan Turner
Sky Blue FC to Meet Utah Royals FC in its Second Match of 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup
Sky Blue FC will go head to head against Utah Royals FC in the Club’s second preliminary match of the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup presented by P&G and Secret on Saturday, July 4 at 12:30 p.m. ET. After earning a point in a scoreless draw against OL Reign on June 30 to open the tournament, the focus shifts the Utah offense that scored three goals in its opening match. Hackensack Meridian Health is the proud presenting sponsor of this holiday match.
“I think after a scoreless draw in the last game, our team is itching for those three points,” said defender Sabrina Flores. “We want to keep who we are and play the way we know how to and play to our strengths but want to have more of a killer mentality in the box and finishing in the final third. I think our build up and possession has been great. We feel good and feel unified, but we just want to have that final third click now.”
All preliminary matches will be streamed on CBS All Access in the United States and Canada. If fans are unable to view the games live, recordings will be uploaded after the conclusion of play. For international fans, the NWSL Challenge Cup can be streamed live on Twitch.
Sky Blue’s first matchup of the tournament, a draw against OL Reign, highlighted a promising new, competitive team. First year Head Coach Freya Coombe’s offseason moves seemed to pay off as rookies Evelyne Viens and Jennifer Cudjoe made their professional debuts while newly acquired McCall Zerboni was named the team’s Saker ShopRite Electric Woman of the Match. The contest also marked Midge Purce and Ifeoma Onumonu’s first games in a Sky Blue jersey.
Kailen Sheridan appeared to have picked up where she left off after her phenomenal 2019 campaign. She was solid between the pipes earning a clean sheet which included both the Secret Deodorant No Sweat Play of the match and the Verizon Save of the Match for a stellar block in the 85th minute.
The Club’s various roster changes leading up to the tournament have allowed for more creativity and variety in the lineup. Fans can expect to see new looks with each game as the technical staff works through fresh formations.
“We have different options that allow us to either bring Imani Dorsey forward or be able to spring and play (Midge) Purce a little more forward,” said Coombe. “It just creates great options. We definitely have options as a team, which is really encouraging, and is going to lead to us pushing on throughout the tournament.”
Throughout the offseason, Sky Blue has focused on maintaining possession and playing through the middle third to develop strong attacking plays. Despite 2019 top goal scorer Carli Lloyd missing the tournament due to injury, Sky Blue was still able to generate a strong offensive attack. This was evident in the opportunities Sky Blue’s midfielders created against OL Reign and, if the forwards can capitalize on these moments, will be the key to success on Saturday.
“We definitely need to get more support around our striker,” Coombe explained to reporters following the match against OL Reign on June 30. “I think the moments that we were successful, we were able to build on that.”
Utah Royals FC officially joined in 2018 after being founded in 2017. They are led by first year Head Coach Craig Harrington, formerly an assistant coach of the Chicago Red Stars. Similar to Sky Blue’s Coombe, the English native was determined to implement a more offensively focused style of play this season fixated on scoring goals.
In addition to technical staff changes, Utah saw numerous high-profile adjustments this off season.
Ahead of the Challenge Cup, forward Amy Rodriquez was named the team’s captain following the trade of former captain, defender Becky Sauerbrunn, to Portland Thorns FC. Rodriquez led the team in goals last season (9). Sauerbrunn’s departure was not unique as Katie Stengel and Makenzy Doniak were both traded, and five other players retired. In filling this substantial gap, the Royals brought in nine new players, including rookie midfielder Tziarra King with the eighth pick in the 2020 NWSL College Draft.
USWNT star Christen Press elected not to participate in the tournament on account of COVID-19 concerns.
Utah also earned a draw in their first contest, a 3-3 tie against the Houston Dash. Veteran Diana Matheson opened scoring before the Dash put three consecutive points on the board forcing the Royals into a two-goal deficit. Utah saw a shift in momentum in the 82nd minute off the boot of Verónica Boquete before King found the back of the net in the 89th minute for the first time in her professional career. Goalkeeper Abby Smith, who is in her second season with Utah, played all 90 minutes and recorded one save.
Last year, the two teams faced off three times, including a 1-0 Sky Blue win at home.