By: Shannon Duffy
Sky Blue will continue its NWSL Fall Series campaign this Saturday, October 3, in their matchup against the Washington Spirit. Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m. ET, and fans can stream the match on Twitch. The game will be presented digitally for Sky Blue fans by Hackensack Meridian Health.
Due to precautions surrounding COVID-19, there will be no fans in attendance at the match. Fans can attend the digital tailgate presented by Lyre’s Non-alcoholic Spirits. Registration is required and can be done so by clicking here.
Saturday’s matchup will be Sky Blue’s first home game in 369 days since the 2019 regular season. The Club will play at MSU Soccer Park at Pittser Field, home of New York Red Bulls II, on the campus of Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey.
Sky Blue and the Spirit will be meeting in the Fall Series for the second time on Saturday, after the two teams opened the series in a thrilling September 5 matchup at Segra Field. The score was 1-0 in favor of Sky Blue for much of the match, until Spirit defender Paige Nielsen converted her penalty in the 89th minute to bring the game level. However, the draw was short-lived as Sky Blue forward Midge Purce scored the winning goal in the second minute of stoppage time to give her team the 2-1 victory.
The Spirit have picked up four points since their opening match against Sky Blue. On September 12, the team defeated the Chicago Red Stars 2-1, with goals from Bayley Feist and Jessie Scarpa. After trailing to the Red Stars for most of the game, the Spirit turned it up a notch in the last 20 minutes, scoring in the 71st and 93rd minutes to earn the three points.
Washington was back in action against the Red Stars last weekend when the two teams played to a 1-1 draw. The team continued with their last-minute success, as they scored the equalizing goal in the 89th minute. In their three Fall Series matches, the Spirit have scored all their goals past the 70th-minute mark. Sky Blue will need to stay strong defensively for the full ninety minutes to keep the Washington attack off the board on Saturday.
Leading the Spirit attack will be NWSL rookie Ashley Sanchez. Despite just recently making her professional debut in the 2020 Challenge Cup, the Spirit forward has already established herself as a consistent starter for her team. Sanchez led the Spirit with four shots in their first matchup against the Red Stars, and she will be looking to produce more opportunities on goal this Saturday.
Joining Sanchez on the Spirit’s list of rookies is Jessie Scarpa. Although a series of injuries have caused the forward to play only fifteen minutes in the Fall Series, she has still made quite the impact. Scarpa scored the winning goal against Chicago on September 12 after entering the match just minutes earlier. There is no question Scarpa can make the most of limited time on the field, and the Sky Blue defense will have to be wary of this on Saturday.
In the Spirit’s midfield, Bayley Feist and Dorian Bailey have both played every minute of the Fall Series thus far. Feist has recorded five shots and one goal through three matches. Meanwhile, Bailey brings a 100% success rate on tackles and a 60% success rate on duels. The pair’s combined effectiveness, both offensively and defensively, makes them quite the threat in the midfield.
In the back, the Spirit will likely start with their familiar center back pairing of Paige Nielsen and Sam Staab. After joining the club in 2019, both players started almost every game together on the Spirit’s backline. Nielsen scored the lone Spirit goal as a penalty against Sky Blue while Staab was picked off by Sky Blue forward Ifeoma Onumonu en route to a Sky Blue goal back on September 5.
Sky Blue’s offense will have to be clinical in front of the goal on Saturday, as they will be tasked with getting the ball past the 2019 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year, Aubrey Bledsoe. The Spirit keeper has recorded ten saves in the Fall Series and has proven tough to beat.
Saturday’s matchup will be Sky Blue’s first game since their 4-1 loss to the Chicago Red Stars on September 20. The team felt they made several fixable errors in that matchup, and after two weeks of training, they are ready to return to the field in an improved form this weekend.
On the attack, fans can expect to see forward Ifeoma Onumonu pressing high and connecting with her teammates to create multiple chances on goal this Saturday. Onumonu has recorded six shots and two goals in the Fall Series, leading to an impressive conversion rate of 33.3%. With goals in the first two matches, Onumonu will be hoping to continue the scoring streak this weekend.
Onumonu will be joined up top by forward Midge Purce. After playing the entire Challenge Cup at outside back, Purce had an explosive start up top for Sky Blue in the Fall Series. She scored the winning goal in Sky Blue’s opener against the Spirit and has recorded five total shots for her team through two games.
In the midfield, Sky Blue is led by team captain, Sarah Woldmoe. Bringing an 80% success rate on tackles and a 70% success rate on duels, Woldmoe will make it hard for the Spirit to build their attack on Saturday. Domi Richardson will likely appear alongside Woldmoe in midfield. With a 100% success rate on long passes in the Fall Series, the Sky Blue midfielder brings an ability to jumpstart her team’s attack from anywhere on the field.
On the Sky Blue backline, outside back Imani Dorsey will likely be very active on the left side of the field. The Sky Blue defender has been very successful in making her way up the field and contributing to her team’s attack in the Fall Series, and fans can expect more of the same on Saturday. After returning to the field for the first time in two years during the Fall Series, Sky Blue defender Mandy Freeman will likely gain more minutes this weekend. Freeman makes it very hard for her opponents to find success in the attack, as she has a 100% success rate on tackles in 2020.
In goal for Sky Blue will likely be Canadian international, Kailen Sheridan. She earned the Save of the Seek for her kick-save in the match against Washington in week one after earning the NWSL Challenge Cup Golden Glove presented by Verizon.
After their earlier games against the Spirit and Red Stars, Sky Blue will enter Saturday’s game with three points. With just two games left in the Fall Series, the team will be looking to double this total on Saturday to stay in the fight for the NWSL Verizon Community Shield.