How to train with WPS ... and fail
The author spent time training with reigning WPS champion Sky Blue FC
A little too much offensive-minded play drew the ire of a teammate
The women gave mixed reviews to the author and his SI.com colleague
SOMERSET, N.J. -- And so it began.
When WPS officials first spoke to me in the summer about potentially training with a league team, the options were plentiful -- Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington, Boston and Sky Blue FC were mentioned as candidates. All had their pros and cons and I had my pick of the litter, but in the end, there could only be one outcome:
"I've decided to take my non-talents to Somerset, N.J., home of Sky Blue FC."
Admittedly, one lure was Sky Blue FC's cache as the reigning WPS champion; the other was simply the desire to find out why a franchise named Sky Blue FC had a team logo that actually didn't contain the sky blue color. Or why the team typically wore orange. But I digress.
With my partner-in-crime, SI.com college basketball writer Andy Glockner, in tow, we both set off for training at the Sky Blue facility earlier this month. Any minor nerves we had -- "Dude, I just looked up the Sky Blue roster and all their goalkeepers are taller than me," Glockner said the night before -- were negated by our convenient, ready-made excuse as two middle-aged, out-of-shape rec league moonlighters who, once upon a time, dabbled in college soccer. Frankly, we were prepared for and resigned to total humiliation.
"It is the premier league for women's soccer," said Sky Blue FC midfielder Heather O'Reilly, a U.S. national team standout. "Week in and week out, we're playing against the best players in the world, which is an incredible opportunity for us.
"We're very competitive, very motivated. [We feel we're] some of the best athletes out there, male or female."
After meeting the team pregame, we could see the majority of the Sky Blue squad was clearly looking forward to trying its luck against Glockner in goal. In fact, coming off a five-game stretch in which the team had scored only three goals, one couldn't help but feel that we had been offered up as morale-boosting practice fodder, or, as one Sky Blue staffer kindly noted, "slumpbusters."
My game plan (playing at left midfield) in the 7 v 7 scrimmage had been to conserve what little stamina I had solely for offense. However, after two early raids forward by the opposition down the right side where I was ... ahem ... derelict in my defensive duties, I got The Look from teammate Carli Lloyd and immediately resolved to put in some effort into tracking back. How much use I'd be defensively was questionable -- although you can say the same applied to my "offense" -- given my past life as an attack-minded player who rarely met a tackle that he liked.
But then something odd happened. Something quite out of character with my game. With O'Reilly on the ball and steaming forward in midfield, I reached out my foot and apparently tackled her -- call it my Paul Scholes moment.
"You totally tripped her," was Glockner's assessment.
"I say play on, play on," Sky Blue FC coach Rick Stainton said when asked about it. "But then, that's why I should never be a ref."
Oh, and I never did find out why the Sky Blue FC logo doesn't contain Sky Blue.
"He impressed, I'll be honest. He showed well, [especially] for a couple that I thought were definite side-netting and he got some finger tips on them. He needs to work on his general conditioning and agility, though [laughs]." -- Heather O'Reilly
"He's actually got ups for a 37-year-old man who hasn't played in a while. He's still got a little bit of athleticism. ... He does [go] backward a lot, he did dive for a few balls he didn't need to dive for, he's a little flashy sometimes and he got beat a couple of times. But, to be fair, these are the best women's players in the world. " -- Meghann Burke
"I think as soon as he understood the directions of the game, he did OK. [He was] a little slow initially on the instruction side of things. You can definitely see some glimpses of skill and cutting-back from him. ... Being in better shape would definitely help his one-on-one moves [laughs]." -- O'Reilly