January 3, 2010

Sky Blue FC - The Offseason So Far

When Last We Left Them...

Sky Blue finished 4th in the WPS regular season with 26 points. A very slow start left them in last place with a 2-5-3 record by midseason. At that point, they had scored only 6 goals and already had a coaching change behind them. Under new coach Kelly Lindsey, SBFC made a strong move going 3-0-1 to start July. Just when things were going well, Lindsey resigned and defender Christie Rampone was named as Sky Blue's 3rd coach. A loss to Washington in their last regular season match put them in the precarious position of needing help from Los Angeles, which they received as Boston dropped a 2-1 decision, putting Sky Blue in the playoffs.

So let's see, two coaching changes, a losing record in the regular season, a terrible record against the other three playoff teams (0-7-2) and what does that mean. Well, in Sky Blue's case, it means a WPS Championship. They put together a memorable playoff run of 3 one-goal victories, defeating Los Angeles 1-0 in the final. So what changed?

For one thing, Jen Branam became the league's hottest keeper in the playoffs, in spite of her 40 yard adventures into the midfield. After spending most of the early season on the bench, Yael Averbuch finally got a chance to start and became a big part of their playoff run. After missing the first 3 games of the season, Rosana became a consistent force in the offensive end. Natasha Kai's ailing shoulders held together just long enough and two seldom used subs, acquired in late June from Saint Louis, both got key game winning goals. Kerri Hanks scored in stoppage to defeat Chicago in mid-July and Francielle scored the game winner in the 1st round playoff match against Washington.

And then there was Rampone, whose leadership on and off the field enabled Sky Blue to weather a lot of storms, overcome adversity, and win a championship.

Roster Moves

It wouldn't be Sky Blue if we didn't start off this section by mentioning that they have hired their 4th head coach, Paula Miettinen of Finland. The 2010 version of Sky Blue will have a decidedly more European flavor to it on the field as well.

Back will be 12 players from their championship roster, including their top 4 goal scorers, Rosana, Natasha Kai, Heather O'Reilly, and Kacey White. They will also return their entire back line with Rampone, Anita Asante, Keeley Dowling, and Meghan Schnur.

Sky Blue did lose Jen Buczkowski and Noelle Keselica in the expansion draft. Buczkowski was a key factor in New Jersey's playoff run. She held down Asante's back line position in the playoffs and did a great job. She started 8 regular season games and all 3 playoff matches, seeing action at defensive mid and center back. Keselica played in 5 regular season contests at forward. Sky Blue also lost Julianne Sitch, who was signed by Chicago. Sitch played in 16 and started 11 games for Sky Blue, scoring one goal.

Sky Blue's first acquisition was to sign free agent midfielder Carli Lloyd. Lloyd is coming off of a disappointing season in Chicago, where she scored 2 goals and an assist for the Red Stars. She has a powerful shot, but will need to focus on better accuracy. Only 7 of her 40 shots last year were on goal.

Then Sky Blue turned its attention to the international market. Gone from last year's international group are Kelly Parker, Francielle, and Collette McCallum. SBFC signed Dutch defender Daphne Koster in October. Koster will be 29 when the 2010 season opens and she has nearly 100 caps for the Dutch National Team. Next, Sky Blue signed two Scandanavian strikers, Jessica Landström of Sweden and Laura Kalmari of Finland. In two seasons at Linköping, Landström scored 23 goals. The 25-year old has been on the Swedish National Team since 2007 and has earned 30 caps, while scoring 9 goals. Kalmari has 119 caps and 36 goals in her career with the Finnish National Team and is their all-time leading goal scorer.

Current Roster

Goalkeepers (2)- Karen Bardsley, Jen Branam.
Defenders (6)- Anita Asante, Keeley Dowling, Ashleigh Gunning, Daphne Koster, Christie Rampone, Meghan Schnur.
Midfielders (5)- Yael Averbuch, Carli Lloyd, Heather O'Reilly, Rosana, Kacey White.
Forwards (4)- Kerri Hanks, Natasha Kai, Laura Kalmari, Jessica Landström.

Additions- Gunning, Kalmari, Koster, Landström, and Lloyd.
Subtractions- Jen Buczkowski (drafted by Philadelphia), Noelle Keselica (drafted by Atlanta), Julianne Sitch (signed by Chicago), Collette McCallum (waived), Kelly Parker (waived), Francielle (waived).

Other Free Agents from 2009 roster- Cori Alexander, Mele French, Katie Hooker, and Lauren Sesselmann.
Internationals-Asante, Kalmari, Koster, Landström, and Rosana.
Draft Choices (in first 3 rounds)- Nos. 6, 26, and 29.

Needs To Address

Quite frankly, there aren't many because Sky Blue has already addressed their most pressing needs. On defense, there is certainly some doubt as to when Rampone would be ready after coming back from her pregnancy, but Sky Blue signed Koster, so that problem is solved. With McCallum, Parker, and Francielle gone out of the midfield, there might have been a need there, but SBFC signed Carli Lloyd. There also had to be concern about Natasha Kai's shoulder surgery and their lack of scoring in 2009, but Sky Blue has added Kalmari and Landström. In fact, Sky Blue already has 17 players under contract for 2010, so there aren't many openings.

In light of this, Sky Blue should be able to use the 6th overall pick to choose the proverbial "best player available." Or it could mean that they could take more of a chance on a player with a lot of raw ability that still needs to develop. In either case, it's an enviable position to be in.

One thing that Sky Blue will miss is the solid play they got out of role players like Buczkowski and Sitch. These are the type of players that aren't big headliners, but that every championship team needs, the ultimate team players if you will. Who will take on that role for Sky Blue in 2010?