Come springtime, New York City will have another professional sports team to call its own. After years of playing at Rutgers University, Sky Blue FC, of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), will be playing their home games at Red Bull Arena — just over the river in Harrison, New Jersey. It’s a chance for the club to play in front of a bigger audience at a superior facility, and for soccer fans in the metro area to watch some of the top talent in the American game — such as Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan — come to compete with their respective clubs week in and week out.
The club, which is owned by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, in recent years struggled on and off the pitch with reports that players were being subjected to poor working conditions. But in the last eight months, Sky Blue, which is captained by U.S. women’s national team star Carli Llloyd, has sparked new life with its move to Red Bull, the hiring of a new head coach and general manager, and big roster changes this offseason that are making the team a threat once again in the NWSL.
Alyse LaHue, Sky Blue’s general manager, spoke to Our Town about all of these changes and how she’s working to expand the team’s fan base to Manhattan.
What does the transition to Red Bull Arena mean for the club and the players?
We've always thought that if we got ourselves to a more dense geographic center, and obviously Red Bull Arena does that by being in North Jersey and being so close to New York City ... then more fans would be able to come on to the games. After having the opportunity to play two games there in 2019, and seeing the fan response, it helped set the bar for success for us. To be able to play in that environment, on a beautiful pitch in that venue, obviously, the players enjoyed that experience. So being able to take them back there for a full season feels really great.
What style of play can people who are coming out to a game for the first time expect to see from Sky Blue?
In spite of the growth that the club has been going through, I still think this team has remained competitive. The team fought and got out of the basement last season and we're really proud of that; but for us, looking forward, it's the playoffs. This is a league from top to bottom that is incredibly competitive. We want to be a playoff bound team. You’ve got to made big moves and we’ve recently made a trade and we’ll continue to look at our roster and see what we can do to build that out. Freye Coombe, our head coach, has come in, and we’re excited to get a full season under her belt and really give her the opportunity to build out her roster the way that she sees it to be the best, most competitive roster that's going to put on entertaining style of soccer on the field.
How do you plan to engage new fans and embed Sky Blue into NYC’s sport culture?
For us it's about being a part of the fabric of the community. I’m a firm believer in living, working and finding the community in which you're going to be having your games. That means our players are in the community, as well as our coaches, me as a general manager, and our staff. We've developed some partnerships over the last year that we launched, whether that was in the public school system, animal welfare agencies or with women's equity groups, and we're going to continue some of those partnerships in the 2020 and expand upon them now that we are in North Jersey and clustered in New York City.
With that proximity to New York City, we know we have an opportunity to attract more adult fans. Our fantasy camp (taking place on Jan. 18 at SoFive in Brooklyn) is essentially an opportunity to do up a fun skills camp for adults, 21 years and over, to be coached by our pro players. And it's really just about having fun and bringing more people into the Sky Blue club, and providing an experience that’s not just for children or just the youth soccer player. We’ve had a huge response to it and we're already planning our next one.
For people who are not yet fans of the league and Sky Blue, what’s something you want them to know about this club?
This is a club for the fans. It's the fans’ club. To me, one of the most important things is for the fans to know that you have a home with us. You're welcome here and your voice is heard. I listen to you. So make sure you speak up and be a part of this club. That's going to affect the direction of where we go.
Season ticket memberships are currently on sale for the 2020 season: skybluefc.com/tickets.
This interview has been edited and condensed.