SKY BLUE FC RETURNING PLAYERS AND NEW SIGNINGS GEARED TOWARD A RETURN TO PROMINENCE IN 2012 WPS CAMPAIGN
Added by Steven Farkas on November 27, 2011.
Somerset, NJ – After a less then stellar finish in the 2011 WPS season, Sky Blue FC has focused like a laser beam on bringing the team back to the top of the league. Perhaps the most important move came some weeks ago when Sky Blue brought in former head coach of the now defunct Chicago Red Stars and architect of Western New York’s march to WPS champion in 2011, Emma Hayes. Hayes has settled in as assistant coach with the club.
Over the last week the team has brought back two of its stars from 2011 and added three new players as it attempts to put together a team that would bring the club back to its competitive edge and a return to a championship run like that of 2009.
The two re-signings are critical to the future of Sky Blue. Defender Anita Asante and midfielder Carolyn Blank were two shining stars in 2011.
“ When we looked over players to bring back from last year, Anita was certainly one at the top of the list,” Sky Blue FC head coach Jim Gabarra remarked. “I know she also wants to settle down in this area, and it is important to have players who can bring year-round awareness to the team, both during the season and in the offseason. She is the perfect model for what we want Sky Blue FC to represent.”
A native of London, Asante was a key figure in bringing the inaugural WPS Championship to Sky Blue FC in 2009. When Gabarra took over the reins in New Jersey before the 2011 campaign, she was one of the first players he signed to the club and locked her into a starting role as a central defender. Prior to arriving in WPS, she spent 10 years with Arsenal before signing with Chelsea Ladies of the English Women’s Premier League in 2008. Among her club highlights in Europe include a stellar 2006-07 campaign that saw the Lady Gunners win the UEFA Women’s Cup, FA Women’s Cup, FA Women’s National Premier League Championship and FA Women’s Premier League Cup. On the international scene, Asante has been a member of the English National Team since 2004, helping the Three Lionesses to the 2009 Cyprus Cup Championship and playing in each of the past two FIFA World Cups.
“We are delighted to bring Anita back,” assistant coach Emma Hayes stated. “I have known Anita for a number of years, and I can honestly say she is one of the best players with whom I have ever worked. She is technically good enough to play for any team in the world, and we are blessed to have her back. I am excited to be working with her again.”
One of the most prolific players in New Jersey high school soccer history, Blank won four Most Valuable Player Awards and became the all-time leading scorer at Toms River High School East before heading to play at West Virginia University. She helped the Mountaineers to the NCAA Tournament each season she played in Morgantown, receiving NSCAA All-America accolades after both her junior and senior years. She also holds the program record with 92 games played, all of which were starts. For her college career, she totaled 13 goals and seven assists.
“Carolyn is our first Jersey Girl to sign with us this year,” Gabarra noted. “She did a great job for us last season on the field. She also has a big following here in New Jersey and is willing to do all the little things it takes to make soccer successful in this area.”
Blank was drafted by Saint Louis Athletica in the 2010 WPS Draft and started all six matches she played there, contributing a goal to the offensive cause. When the team closed operations, she was then signed by the Atlanta Beat and went on to make eight more starts in 13 games played. After free agency opened last offseason, Gabarra quickly secured a deal to bring her home to New Jersey. Over her sophomore campaign, the Toms River native made 17 starts for Sky Blue FC and tallied a critical 88th minute game-winning goal in a midseason win over the Boston Breakers.
“Carolyn is a proven WPS player, and she is a wonderful person who will bring a great deal to this team,” Hayes commented. “She is incredibly hard working and loyal to New Jersey, and we look forward to her continued development in WPS.”
The first of the new signings, and maybe the most exciting, is that of Dutch striker Manon Melis. The Rotterdam native finished as the top scorer of the Swedish league Damallsvenskan in three of the past four seasons, where she has registered 64 goals in just 63 career appearances for Sky Blue FC affiliate LdB FC Malmö.
“We think Manon will be one of the fastest forwards in WPS, and that is basically a requirement in this league because the defenses are so quick and physical,” Sky Blue FC head coach Jim Gabarra stated. “We expect her to be a goal scorer at this level, and she has a proven track record of doing that in the Swedish league and with her national team.”
Gabarra also says the 25-year-old Melis is a determined player who is more than capable of carrying her offensive success across the Atlantic Ocean.
“Manon is ready to take on the challenge of WPS,” he continued. “We looked at the potential goal scorers out there, and we knew we had to move on this one quickly. She was highly sought after in Europe, and I am also sure that other teams in this league thought about investigating her. It has been a long process to get this deal done, but we are very excited to have Manon sign with us.”
Melis, whose father Harry was a professional soccer player in the Netherlands, joined her native national team side in 2005. She has 83 caps for her country, and her 40 goals are already the most ever in Dutch National Team history. Her ability to find the back of the net truly hit stride this past September when she notched four tallies in a 6-0 win over Serbia in a qualification match for the UEFA Women’s EURO 2013.
“Known as the ‘The Flying Dutchman,’ I think Manon is perfectly suited to WPS,” Sky Blue FC assistant coach Emma Hayes noted. “She is lightning quick, technical and with a wonderful eye for goal. I think she will capture the hearts of Sky Blue FC fans. She was wanted by everyone, and we are very lucky to have her.”
On the club level, Melis began her professional career in 2006, suiting up for Be Quick ’28 of the Dutch league Hoofdklasse before moving to LdB FC Malmö in 2007. She has spent the past five seasons with the club, playing alongside midfielder Therese Sjögran, who was on loan to Sky Blue FC in 2011. In just her second year in Damallsvenskan, Melis sat atop the league scoring table when she equaled then Umeå IK striker Marta by netting 23 goals. The following season, her year was cut short when she suffered a jaw injury, but she quickly returned to her offensive ways in 2010 to lead the league with 25 goals and was named the Damallsvenskan Player of the Year. This past season, a second consecutive championship year for LdB FC Malmö, she was again the top goal scorer in the league when she registered another 16 knocks.
“I am very excited to be bringing such a great forward to New Jersey,” Sky Blue FC President Thomas Hofstetter remarked. “Manon is one of the best scorers in women’s soccer, and to have her on our team next season will help us to improve our roster significantly.”
Sky Blue FC General Manager Gioia DiFlumeri also voiced her pleasure in the signing.
“Manon will be a welcomed addition to our club,” she commented. “She has consistently been successful at both the club and national team level, and we look forward to seeing her score some goals next season here in New Jersey.”
On the defensive side, the club went out looking to secure its back line and goal. As everyone knows, a strong defense wins championships. That’s why goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc and defender Candace Chapman are such important additions to the club. The duo, which also plays for the Canadian National Team, will provide Sky Blue FC with veteran leadership both on the field and in the locker room.
We are very excited to have Karina come back to New Jersey,” Sky Blue FC head coach Jim Gabarra said of LeBlanc, who helped bring the 2005 USL W-League Championship to the New Jersey Wildcats and additionally coached at Rutgers University. “She is a very flamboyant and experienced goalkeeper who will bring a lot of leadership to the field in terms of motivation. She will be a great addition for us in goal, as well as personality-wise.”
Amid a standout career at the University of Nebraska, LeBlanc made her debut for the Canadian National Team in the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup against China. Affectionately known as KK, she has since recorded 90 caps on the international stage and has been named to four consecutive World Cup rosters. When she was just 21-years-old, the former Husker was signed by the Boston Breakers of the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA), remaining with the club for three seasons. After joining the Montreal Xtreme of the USL W-League in 2004, she then arrived in the Garden State and helped bring the league crown to the Wildcats the following year. When WPS announced its formation in 2009, LeBlanc was selected by the Los Angeles Sol fifth overall in the inaugural general draft of the league, backstopping the Sol to the regular season title. After spending time with the Philadelphia Independence and magicJack SC during the past two years, LeBlanc now returns to New Jersey to continue her playing career.
“KK is an experienced, international class goalkeeper,” Sky Blue FC assistant coach Emma Hayes remarked. “She will lead from the back, is a great organizer and brings a lot of spirit and intensity to the team. We are delighted to bring her back to New Jersey.”
When Chapman arrives in the Garden State next year, she will become the only player in WPS history to have played for all three league champions. After suiting up for the Breakers in 2009, she helped anchor the defense of FC Gold Pride and the Western New York Flash over the past two seasons, capping off each year with a WPS Championship. The University of Notre Dame graduate has played with the Canadian National Team since 2002, earning 91 caps and netting six goals. She began her club career with the Toronto Inferno of the USL W-League in 2001 and then joined the Atlanta Silverbacks in 2005 before spending three seasons with the Vancouver Whitecaps. In her first year with the Canadian club, she helped bring the Whitecaps its second title in three years.
“Candace helps us address our central defender needs with someone who is a calm player, and she will organize and motivate our team in the back as well,” Gabarra commented. “She has very good international experience and has also won championships in each of the past two seasons. We think that type of success and leadership will now carry over to us here in New Jersey.”
Hayes, who played a key role in assembling the roster for Western New York’s championship side this past year, agreed with the thoughts of Gabarra.
“I recruited Candace for the Flash and am delighted to bring her to Sky Blue FC,” she stated. “She is quick, tough and has great leadership. Jim and I are building this team from the back, and we are delighted to have a world class center back.”
With these two significant additions to the 2012 roster, Sky Blue FC President Thomas Hofstetter could not help but voice his excitement as well.
“It is great to see Karina return to New Jersey,” he remarked. “She has a huge following here and brings a lot of experience and leadership to Sky Blue FC. With Karina we are adding another important part to our team roster. Referring to Candace, I am very excited to see another experienced player join our team. Her skills and leadership compliment our roster very nicely and will help us to reach our goals for the 2012 season.”