At the 2017 draft, Sky Blue FC picked up a lot of up and coming talent, including a few Jersey girls, Madison Tiernan (Rutgers) and Catrina Atanda (Clemson).
The New Jersey club also selected Canadian National Team goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan (Clemson), McKenzie Meehan (Boston College), and defenders Mandy Freeman and Kayla Mills.
Both Freeman and Mills were selected in the first round. The duo won the 2016 NCAA National Title with the University of Southern California (USC). Additionally, both participated in the U-23 US Soccer January camp with current Sky Blue FC defender, Erica Skroski. Double G Sports caught up with Skroski to chat January camp, reuniting with former Rutgers teammate Tiernan, and the impact of international experience on Sky Blue FC.
Reflections on the 2017 NSWL College Draft
Skroski and a handful of other current NWSL players found themselves training with several NWSL prospects days before the draft. The Women’s U-23 January camp ran the week before the draft. “I think it was 11 girls that were in camp [and] declared for the draft, and expected to go really high,” shared Skroski. She recalls the women beginning camp with a nonchalant attitude towards the draft, but getting more anxious as time went on, “It was cool to be on the opposite side of the spectrum this time,” said Skroski.
She was exactly one year removed from the same situation, attending U-23 camp while awaiting her fate at the NWSL College Draft. Therefore, she felt equipped to give her U.S Soccer teammates advice. As it turns out, two of the players would find their way to Sky Blue FC, including her roommate at camp Mandy Freeman. “At fourth it was Kayla … she’s such a great girl. Easy to get along with, so outgoing, and a perfect fit for our team, and obviously an amazing player.”
Sky Blue FC then selected Freeman, keeping the defensive pair together, “they are such a good fit, both amazing defenders and versatile too,” noted Skroski. She added, “There physical ability, they’re talent overall, is a great fit for what we’re trying to build Sky Blue into, and where’s it’s already at.”
A Jersey thing
Skroski herself is a New Jersey native, and played at Rutgers before returning to Yurcak Field again as a pro. Last year, Skroski was one of two Rutgers players selected in the draft. This year, Tiernan and Erin Smith continued the tradition. Smith joins the Houston Dash, the team of another Jersey girl and Rutgers standout, Carli Lloyd. Madison Tiernan was taken as the 24th overall draft pick by Sky Blue. Skroski chatted about reuniting with Tiernan at the professional level, “I literally talked to her, it must have been, 30 seconds after her name got called. I’m so excited, she’s such a great girl on and off the field,” she gushed. The two played together for several years at Rutgers.
They helped build the program into the postseason mainstay that it is now. At the close of the 2016 season, Rutgers women’s soccer finished 12-5-6 overall on the season and 4-2-5 in conference play. Head coach Mike O’Neill led his Scarlet Knight to a fifth NCAA Tournament, and a second consecutive Big Ten Conference Championship appearance. O’Neil drilled into his team the notion of taking things up “one more level”. Being at Rutgers gave Skroski the mental toughness to set aside any doubts placed on her, or her team, and work everyday to get better and stronger.
Sky Blue FC has adopted a similar mentality with Christy Holly at the helm. The young squad began the season with a new coach, no starting keeper, and low expectations. However, the mindset was always to fight for a spot in the top four. Holly and his team nearly snuck into the playoffs in what was a tight race 4-7 in the 2016 NWSL standings. However, injuries and losses to teams like the Washington Spirit and the Chicago Red Stars in late July and August hurt the team’s playoff hopes.
The team may have missed out on the playoffs, but there is a healthy mix of youth and veteran presence returning to Sky Blue, as well as a great deal of exposure to international soccer.
A global game
Skroski has benefitted from playing around elite international talent like defenders Christie Rampone (US National Team – retired) and Kelley O’Hara (US National Team), Raquel Rodriguez (Costa Rican National Team), and Sam Kerr (Australian National Team), just to name a few.
Personally, and for Sky Blue as a whole, Skroski sees all this experience as a positive, “it’s a huge physical, mental an emotional [boost] for an individual,” said Skroski of training and competing at the international level. “Even just one camp, one training with a national team, I think it builds your confidence … and I think every single person can bring something back to our team which can improve our team atmosphere on and off the field.”
Sky Blue FC added four more players with international experience in 2017. Freeman and Mills join Skroski on the backline. Free agent Daphne Corboz (Manchester City) and keeper Kailen Sheridan (Team Canada) will also contribute a fresh perspective to the evolving Sky Blue FC approach to soccer.
“From day one, I think our goal again will be to make the playoffs – to try to get into the top four as quick as we can, and stay there,” said Skroski, “I just can’t wait to start.”