NWSL Feature With Sky Blue FC Head Coach Christy Holly
The 2017 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) season kicked off last week with nationwide coverage provided by Lifetime highlighting a new era for the growth of women’s soccer.
GoalNation spoke with Sky Blue FC head coach Christy Holly as we present a highlight series of our professional women’s soccer clubs in the United States.
NWSL Soccer News: Sky Blue FC has been on the professional women’s soccer scene for the past decade. The New Jersey club has experienced the growing pains of the sport in the United States as well as the necessity to evolve as a soccer organization during the process. Sky Blue’s new approach was outlined prior to last season and has shifted the mentality of the club with the future on the minds of the players and coaching personnel.
Holly joined the club as an assistant coach for the reserve squad four years ago. He was then promoted to head coach while also serving as an assistant for the first team during 2014/15. Prior to the 2016 season, he was appointed head coach of the professional side.
Holly notes that his experience with the team over the years allowed for his colleagues and himself to evaluate the direction of the club during his transition into the new role. Since his appointment as head coach, Sky Blue has defined the ambitions the club seeks to achieve as a professional soccer organization and the method for accomplishing its goal.
“I was very fortunate to spend so much time around the team,” says Holly. “I was able to immediately recognize some of the areas that we wanted to target and improve upon.”
The past year has seen enormous growth for Sky Blue FC as the club hopes to engrave its presence in American soccer through its specific brand of play.
“One of the things we have worked on in the past 12-15 months is really just the conception of who and what this club is,” says Holly.
We wanted to establish our identity and stamp a philosophy that was attractive to players in the United States in order to bring them here.”
Holly explains that Sky Blue is dedicated to recruiting those that bring something different than your stereotypical players in North America.
The ability to problem solve without direction provides an extension of the creative flare Sky Blue is looking for. This ultimately requires an in-depth understanding of the game, which allows players to not be confined to playing within a rigid framework.
During this process, Holly claims that the growth of the club doesn’t necessarily start with the on-field ability of a player.
The first thing we look at is what type of person the player is coming in as,” says Holly.
He then leans on the leadership of his veteran players – Kelly O’Hara and Christie Rampone – who come in every day setting an example by not only improving themselves but also the players next to them.
Although this requires a bit of molding at times, Holly explains that it allows for Sky Blue to develop a team that produces possession-oriented, creative soccer with a bit of flare.
During the 2017 NWSL College Draft, Holly believes the selection of defenders Kayla Mills and Miranda Freeman from the NCAA Women’s College Cup Champions University of Southern California advances upon these guidelines while also bolstering the backline.
We knew we were bringing in people that met the values and standards we expected,” says Holly.
Combined with their experience and dedication, Holly hopes for a smooth transition into the first team for the former Trojans.
“They bring the experience of understanding what it takes to win a title,” says Holly. “It takes a level of commitment and excellence that can be very hard to meet on a consistent level.”
Holly understands the influence he can have on players that strive for success, which he hopes to provide for all that walk through the Sky Blue hallways.
“My job, I think, is to really cultivate an environment for producing a player’s best performances on a weekly basis,” says Holly.
He explains that it’s not a case of just coming in and the whole focus is to win. But can Sky Blue bring in players who can develop and ultimately fit into a system that is most productive in order to display their best performances.
As Holly looks to the new season, he recalls the 2016 campaign and the reliance on many up and coming players to step into their role and own the responsibility.
“The position we found ourselves in last year was that we needed our rookies to step up and perform,” says Holly. “It was a bit unfair, but they all did exceptionally well.”
Midfielder Raquel “Rocky” Rodriguez returns following a stellar first year in the NWSL that saw her receive 2016 Rookie of the Year honors. Holly explains that younger players tend to have a difficult time maintaining consistency of their level of play, which is an aspect that Rodriquez works extremely hard on to dispute.
“The tough part about being a younger player is finding that level of consistency in terms of what will take you to the next level,” says Holly.
Rocky has a very mature brain and is someone who really analyzes her performance.”
Holly notes that Rodriquez arrived to preseason camp in sharp form, which assures his optimism for her second year in the NWSL.
Sky Blue also welcomes back Australian forward Sam Kerr who led the club with five goals last season, as well as English forward Leah Galton who recorded three goals and four assists. Midfielder Daphne Corboz highlights the club’s offseason signings as the New Jersey native joins from Manchester City of the FA Women’s Super League.
Although Holly remains hopeful for the 2017 campaign, he is keeping his head low as he embraces the challenge ahead.
“There is no such thing as an easy game in the NWSL,” says Holly. “That’s ultimately the best thing we can ask for.”
Holly is focused on taking the season one step at a time as his team seeks to reach their stride.
“We are not naïve enough to think our best performance is going to come within the first three or four weeks of the season,” says Holly. “We want to hit the ground running and take control in order to give our fans a reason to be excited for the rest of the season.”
Sky Blue FC has formed a group that has not only bought into the goal of the club, but is also dedicated to representing the region on a national stage.
We have a pool of young, talented players who are extremely excited to represent not only Sky Blue but also New Jersey,” says Holly.