"Sabrina Flores, Midge Purce and Kaleigh Riehl"
Firstly, let’s remember that this Challenge Cup is a rebuild for The Beez. Let’s also remember how lucky we are to be watching soccer right now. With much uncertainty occurring in other leagues - FC Dallas dropping out of the MLS is Back Tournament and MLB Summer Camp experiencing testing issues - we should recognize how fortunate we are to have the Challenge Cup right now. Sport has been badly missed - a shout out and a thank you to all involved in the Challenge Cup, especially the players.
Sky Blue’s defensive effort which has been reliable, will be fully tested today by the Dash. Houston’s offense comes into this match on fire - arguably the hottest offense of the tournament. Rachel Daley, Kristen Mewis and Shea “Air” Groom are clicking and have combined for a total of five goals in 2 games. Houston is tied with NC Courage for the tournament lead at 5 goals, and have played one less game then the reigning champs.
Keeping in mind that today’s game is another early step in the SBFC rebuild, let’s focus on a few defensive players that are integral for the future. It will be both anxiety producing and exciting to see how they respond to Houston’s big three.
Sky Blue’s defense has allowed one goal in two games against the Utah Royals and Ol Reign. Neither club brought the fire power that Houston has the potential to bring today. Sabrina Flores, Estelle Johnson, Gina Lewandowski, Midge Purce and Kaleigh Reil have quietly worked together to quell offenses and limit quality scoring chances (along with great play from goalie Kailen Sheridan.) Specifically, Sky Blue is hopeful that Flores, Riehl and Purce continue the strong play in the tournament, and will become long term fixtures for a team that is hoping to see its youth shine.
Sabrina Flores is a Jersey Girl (Livingston) and was recently signed to a two year deal with the club days before the tournament began (June 21st.) Flores played in four matches last season on a National Team Replacement contract. She is 24 and has played a key role on the back line thus far playing the full 90 minutes in game 1, and 73 minutes in game 2. Sabrina has quietly held her own, has 5 tackles across both games and is adapting to Coach Coombe’s new possession-oriented system with 73% passing accuracy.
Midge Purce (24 years old) has been highly written about as of late. Sky Blue midfielders have struggled to find consistency (0 goals in two games and no shots on goal last game vs. Utah.) Still, it does not appear that Coach Freya Coombe will move Purce from right back. Working under the assumption that Purce starts as at right back today, fans should watch for her continued growth at the position, particularly when facing an opponent alone on the outside of the pitch. Purce did show some offensive pressure against Utah as she was able to aggressively push the ball forward into Utah’s end as the game progressed, and The Beez urgently need more of that today. As Purce discussed in a halftime interview this morning with Marsia Pilla on CBS All Access, she is eager to keep the ball in possession with a purpose.
SBFC’s 2020 2nd round draft pick saw 77 minutes of action vs Utah in her first professional game. Kaleigh Reign was the 11th overall selection in the draft and is 24 years old. Reign was quietly active last Saturday with 51 touches, 3 clears, 4 interceptions and 80% accuracy - all adding up for a solid first game performance. Hopefully she gets the start again today.
Today will be the toughest matchup for Sky Blue thus far - but remember, let’s not get caught up in wins and losses just yet. A win would be amazing, but we can settle for small victories at the moment - and Midge, Sabrina and Kaleigh having strong outings would be a win.
By Mike DeCicco @mdeci316