With just one team training session under her belt, Samantha Kerr’s impact with Sky Blue FC in their game Saturday was hard to predict. And yet, that’s the caveat that made her debut even more special.
“It’s exciting to play for a new team,” Kerr said after the game. “I love all the girls here. Everyone here was welcoming [to me], which made my job easier.”
It was a fitting inaugural game for forward Kerr, as a season-high 3,041 fans packed their Yurcak Field — a total largely attributed to fans welcoming back players from the World Cup-winning United States National Team. More specifically, fans embraced the return of USA players Christie Rampone and Kelley O’Hara, two individuals that are integral to Sky Blue’s roster. Neither suited up to play on Saturday.
On the field, however, the team was engulfed in a ten game winless streak entering the home game against Portland. Needing fast results to try and reverse their rocky two win season twelve games in, Sky Blue hopes a fresh face can produce. The team welcomed Kerr’s playmaking and offensive ability in practice earlier this week and for 90 minutes in the game on Saturday, a short turnaround after her World Cup appearance for her home country Australia.
Kerr joins Sky Blue FC after being traded from the Western New York Flash in the offseason. She tallied 15 goals during her two years with the Flash — an output Sky Blue has been desperate for throughout the entire 2015 campaign. Through 12 games this season, Sky Blue has failed to score more than one goal in a game, a reality that has haunted the team. Furthermore, with Sky Blue’s postseason chances hanging in the balance, Kerr’s ability to generate offense could not come at a better time.
“The biggest difference Kerr, (midfielder) Caitlin Foord, and even (defender) Maya Hayes have made is their pace. Team’s aren’t going to have an answer for that,” Gabarra said. “Then you add O’Hara and Rampone, and we have the pace we want to play.”
Saturday showed the team’s true need for someone of her caliber, despite Kerr’s still developing comfort level with her new team. Lacking their usual national team talent, Sky Blue required something to jumpstart their struggling offense into action and someone to complement standout forward Nadia Nadim, who’s true sidekick in O’Hara been missing for weeks. That situation sets the stage for a lot of Kerr moving forward.
“Play her as much and as often as you can without costing you games down the line,” said Jim Gabarra, Sky Blue head coach, when asked about the game plan for Kerr’s integration.
That pressure for results did not appear to impede Kerr on Saturday, and her contributions energized the team and the fans. Her goal in the 51st minute — a picturesque header off of a Maya Hayes cross — went down as the only goal in the back-and-forth match. And in the waning moments of the contest, she nearly netted another one. “I actually expected more, expected a couple more goals. She had a couple more chances [in the game],” Gabarra admitted.
Nevertheless, Saturday was an exhilarating introduction to Sam Kerr’s potential — perhaps a glimpse of what may become.