New Jersey — These are unprecedented times in the world right now. COVID-19 has shifted the world to its heels and sent people indoors and in isolation. For competitive sports leagues around the world, everything is currently on halt. That’s the case for the NWSL and Sky Blue FC.
The league was supposed to kick off its historic eighth season last month. However, COVID-19 had other plans, and teams are slowly starting to begin individual training. New Jersey is a hot spot for the disease, so players are staying home and training with roommates.
Caprice Dydasco and Gina Lewandowski chatted with Last Word on Soccer about what isolation training looks like, as well as the growth of Sky Blue FC and the league. Dydasco has been in the league since 2015, when she was drafted by the Washington Spirit. However, she joined Sky Blue FC in 2019.
Lewandowski also joined Sky Blue in 2019, but signed in May after her season with FC Bayern Munich ended in Europe.
Both players are veterans. While Lewandowski is new to the league, she’s been part of the former WPS, and watched it fold. That’s why she went back to Europe and continued her career. However, now she’s back, and playing for her hometown club. Meanwhile, Dydasco has been part of two clubs and is entering her sixth season in the league.
Growing the league is on the radar of both players, too.
“It’s cool that we’re a part of this league and the building part of it, to sustain it and keep it alive,” Dydasco said. “We obviously don’t do it for the money; we do it for the love of the game. We’re all here because we love it, and it’s for a bigger cause.”
Positive growth for Sky Blue FC
A few years ago, Sky Blue FC was on the bottom of the table in the NWSL. The club was also facing some critique for lack of adequate training and match locker rooms. However, now, the club is shining with tremendous growth. Last year, the club improved on the pitch, as well as off.
Dydasco, who was traded to Sky Blue FC, said the club has a great group of girls that she gets to play with. She also applauded the front office and general manager Alyse LaHue for the club’s growth.
“[Sky Blue] has the quality of players and had some unfortunate games and situations that put them behind,” Dydasco said. “But, I was with the sprit when we were in the rebuilding phase, so I knew what we were going through. I have confidence in the team and the direction.”
Meanwhile, Lewandowski said that she felt a calling home after 12 years in Europe. She elected to sign with Sky Blue FC because she wanted to be close to family and friends. Lewandowski is originally from Bethlehem, Pa. While in Europe, she did keep close tabs on the league. She says that the growth is great to see.
“I think it’s been awesome to see how it’s grown over the years,” Lewandowski said. “Now there’s an amazing opportunity for young, college graduates to play the game. I never had that. I never had a draft day. Now, it gives young girls the chance to continue to play the game.”
The only training #SBFC players have right now is SOCIAL ISOLATION! But here’s a message to our Sky Blue Fam ✋🧼🖐
— Sky Blue FC (@SkyBlueFC) March 16, 2020
Sky Blue’s game plan for 2020
Right now, players for Sky Blue are training at home. Dydasco and Lewandowski complimented the training staff and coaches for sending equipment and workout plans for the players to follow.
“We have regular check-in’s, which is really nice,” Lewandowski explained. “We have a workout plan that we’ve been given for six days in the week. It’s been a really great support system, what the club has provided and the league as well. Whether it’s Zoom session or team workouts on Zoom, there are opportunities to check in here and there.”
Dydasco said that if the weather is clear and good, players can go for individual runs. However, the club has not yet been cleared for individual workouts on the pitch. She also said that, in addition to the workouts, the club has provided team-bonding activities, like coffee chats and webinars.
“As a team, we have twice a week coffee talks,” Dydasco said. “It’s nice cause you can see other people’s faces. You can catch up with people on Zoom calls. They do a good job with keeping us focused, keeping morale high. They bring in webinars once a week to talk about a wide range of topics like nutrition and opportunities after soccer. The staff is doing a great job.”
In addition, players are keeping contact with fans open, too.
“We’ve had calls with our season ticket holders and bingo calls,” Dydasco explained. “Alyse is doing a great job with keeping us in contact with the fans. We wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing without the support. If we can sacrifice 30 minutes or an hour to chat with fans, it goes a long way and it’s important that we do that now during this time during this time of stress.”
However, while both players are keeping fit at home, they’re eager to get back to action. Last season, Sky Blue finished with a 5-5-15 record, in eighth place. The players are intent on improving this season. They’ll have a new home venue to do so, too, with the team playing home games at Red Bull Arena.
Good memories 🙌😁 https://t.co/kt1D2g8mPr
— Gina Lewandowski (@gll088) April 22, 2020
Confidence is key for Sky Blue’s 2020 season
Starting fresh and having confidence is key for Sky Blue in 2020. Last year was a year of small improvements. Clubs aren’t going to take a major leap, and Sky Blue has been working on improving little by little.
“I think our first goal is to mentally come in with a good mindset and put all of this behind us and start fresh again,” Dydasco summed up.
Meanwhile, Lewandowski said that the players are setting goals for not just themselves, but the club as well. “As a team, we were trying to create higher standards for ourselves this season,” she said. “… We have a lot of goals this season to compete higher up in the table and maybe make a playoff spot.”
Lewandowski and Dydasco aren’t just teammates, but they’re part of a smaller group of the team’s defenders. Lewandowski said that it’s been great to combine all the experiences of the defenders, and figure out what works for the team culture and chemistry.
“Each player, each veteran has their own experiences over the years,” Lewandowski said. “Our defense has done fairly well at the end of last season. We can continue that going into this new season and be a little more successful as a team.”
While the season does not have a start date, the two, as well as their teammates, are working hard to improve Sky Blue FC. Off the field, the improvements are clear. Now, it’s up to the players to hold up their end on the pitch.