Despite recent transfers, Sky Blue can focus on improving its offensive productivity
By Mike DeCicco
3rd September 2020
Sky Blue opens the Fall Series in one day. The team recently loaned away Elizabeth Eddy, Nahomi Kawasumi and Evelyne Viens - all of which were key contributors during the Challenge Cup. Sky Blue now finds themselves very light at the forward position, yet improving their offensive output is still a reality as many key pieces are still in place.
The three loans have left Sky blue with only two remaining forwards - Paige Monaghan and Ifeoma Onumonu. This is a scary lack of depth, but 2020 has created unusual circumstances and the club is only looking at four matches. The roster now has some openings available with the retirement of Madison Tiernan, and presumably with the three players on loan. Good front offices always have their eyes on the next move, still with all the barriers COVID-19 creates, it would take some creativity to bring a new player in at this particular moment. Perhaps Sky Blue has an ace up their sleeve, and has a discovered player at their training facility - but if not, one would think they are just going to cross their fingers and use their current roster to plug any holes.
The probable reality is that players are going to have to be flexible with filling in, however not many on the current roster have professional experience at forward. The Beez may rely heavily on a 4-4-2 formation, or even a 4-5-1 at times.
The team's midfield appears intact. Zerboni, Waldmoe and Cudjoe worked well as a unit and have formed into a competitive midfield. Cudjoe will need to continue to get quality minutes to continue to develop her game at the NWSL level. Perhaps Imani Dorsey will be given more time at the midfield position as well, given that there are more pressing needs here and attack. Sky Blue moved Dorsey to a defensive role, but she did score 29 goals during her four years at Duke as a midfielder. Expect to see Domi Richardson log minutes too, and perhaps in a more offensive role.
However, It is not about who is playing the midfield position, it is about the collective objective. This group needs to gel with Paige Monaghan and Ifeoma Onumonu to create more scoring chances, and ultimately goals. The Beez took many positive steps during Cup play, most noticeably their possession based ideology, and their short and accurate passes to move the ball forward. Sarah Woldmoe ranked second during the Challenge Cup in total passess at 329, Gina Lewandowski ranked third with 327 passes, and McCall Zerboni ranked sixth with 275. Also, Sabrina Flores and Ifeoma Onumonu both tied for sixth regarding most key passes, with five a piece.
Furthermore, Sky Blue was tied at the top with the Portland Thorns for a possession percentage of 54%, and they were third with the best passing percentage of 79.7% behind Washington and N.C. With all this good passing, Sky Blue had no players rank in the top ten for total shots. Also, Sky Blue had no players in the top ten for crosses.* Growth was clear, still it seemed that the team was consistently one or two passes away from scoring opportunities. During the four-game preliminary round, Sky Blue had a total of 12 shots on goal amounting to four goals. Both numbers could use a boost.
Two noticeable offensive weapons came from the backfield in the form of Midge Purce and Sabrina Flores. Both players showed a potential to push the ball up the field and create opportunities.
Both players should expect to play big minutes during the Fall Series - Purce at RB, and Flores at LB. Sabrina is in the first year of a two-year deal with the club, and she emerged during the Challenge Cup as a vital player for Sky Blue - both defensively and offensively. Sabrina aggressively looks to distribute the ball ahead as 52% of her passes move the ball forward. Flores is also not hesitant to cross the ball. She had six total open play crosses.
In regards to Midge Purce, it is predictable that fans and analysts will again be calling for Midge to be pushed to the forward position, especially after the transfers of Eddy, Kawasumi and Viens. However, the argument can also be made that she needs these games to grow at RB. Midge has stated that she wants this, and we should all believe her. She is comfortable talking truths. If becoming a RB is her goal, SBFC should give her these four games. Let her play up more and let’s see how this affects the game. These four games are the perfect time to try different tactics, and giving Midge more freedom to play in the opponent's end makes sense now. Let her attack as she did in the semi-final match vs Chicago, in which she tallied her only goal of the Challenge Cup
Statistics provided by @NwslAnalitica