Analysis

Reddy to work? Defining an identity first on long to-do list for Sky Blue's new boss

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Can Denise Reddy lead Sky Blue FC back to the playoffs? The NWSL’s only current female coach is optimistic amid a shifting league landscape.

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After almost a decade, Denise Reddy is back where her coaching career began.

Reddy is the new head coach of Sky Blue FC, returning to New Jersey with multiple head coach roles in Europe, a UEFA Pro License (the highest certificate available), and two seasons as an assistant coach in National Women's Soccer League under her belt.

She’s also, at the time of her hiring, the only female coach in the 10-team National Women’s Soccer League following Laura Harvey’s recent departure from Seattle Reign FC.

“I don’t see it as extra pressure,” she said in a conference call on Wednesday. “Of course I’m honored, and of course I’m going to do everything I can to support females, whether it’s players wanting to go on and be head coaches or females that are trying to get to the next level in the coaching realm. I want to be a part of a support system for females, but I don’t know if I’m going to feel pressure. I mean, I’m going to coach the way I coach no matter if everyone’s a female or I’m the only one.”

Consider that Reddy’s predecessor, Christy Holly, did not have the same amount of head-coach experience at the pro level as Reddy, and came in with a UEFA B license. That’s not a slam on Holly, who spent three seasons as an assistant coach at Sky Blue and undoubtedly was familiar with the league, but an example of the challenge women face.

Holly and Reddy were both under consideration by Sky Blue when the team was hiring after the 2015 season, but Sky Blue ultimately went with Holly, who ended up resigning in August 2017. Now it’s Reddy’s time.

“There had been definitely talks,” Reddy said of her original discussions with Sky Blue about the head coach position. “I was still in Sweden while these talks were going on, so that was difficult as well. I think they were looking for somebody that had experience in NWSL … At that time it wasn’t a good fit for either of us, I don’t think. No hard feelings. That’s how it works sometimes.”

But Reddy still wanted to return to the States.

“I’ve been living in Europe 16 years of my adult life,” she told FourFourTwo. “But I also have a large family. I wanted to come back and be closer to my family…. There’s more security in the league after so many years up and running, and I’ve heard great things about it so yes, of course that was a factor.”

ISI Photos-Trask Smith

ISI Photos-Trask Smith

And so Reddy spoke to several other NWSL teams in search of an open position, even if it meant returning to an assistant coach position. She found a connection through her old boss at Chicago, Emma Hayes. “[Hayes] had worked with Jim Gabarra,” said Reddy. “So she kind of talked to me a lot about, this would be a really, really good place for you, I’ve worked with Jim, I know you, I’ve worked with you, it would be a great place for you to both learn and develop as a coach.”

Reddy spent two seasons as an assistant coach under Gabarra with the Washington Spirit, but will now take on the job of turning Sky Blue FC into a playoff contender again. The team was hit-or-miss in 2017, capable of stunning highs from 2017 league MVP Sam Kerr, but also cruel lows. Sky Blue finished sixth, six points behind fourth-place Chicago for the final playoff spot. Sky Blue hasn’t been to the playoffs since the NWSL’s inaugural season in 2013. Reddy has work to do immediately.

“I think that the way our league is built, and with the[salary] cap that we have, I think it’s fair that almost every team kind of needs to have that goal of being in the playoffs,” she said. “And it’s doable. It just comes down to the small details. Like I said, yes that needs to be a goal, but that needs to be a goal from every team. When you have a 10-team [league] and it’s so even, I think it needs to be a goal.”

Doing that entails giving Sky Blue a firm identity, something the team has sorely lacked throughout its existence.

“I want to have an identifiable playing style,” she said. “And it’s both sides of the ball in the attack and defense, identifiable. I want to be able to change it into systems depending on who we play, where we’re playing … I would love to – and it’s kind of cliché, I don’t want to say basic things – but I would love a high-percentage possession-oriented playing style. There’s a lot of different things that go into that. Where are we going to possess? How are going to possess? Is it indirect, how indirect? There’s so many different things and that’s all depending on the players.”

While there’s a developing trend in the NWSL between the haves and have-nots, Reddy sees parity, and with that, opportunity for Sky Blue FC.

“I think that’s why the league is so exciting and it’s actually attractive to players,” said Reddy. “People say, oh why would you want to leave Europe, one of the best teams or whatever. I mean [in NWSL] day in and day out you have to tactically, technically, physically, mentally do work in order to take points.”

For a team that was two wins shy of playoff contention, Reddy’s work with Sky Blue is definitely going to draw scrutiny. The first step will be seeing what she does at the 2018 college draft; Sky Blue has the fifth pick in the first round. Then it’s the carousel of possible preseason moves: signings, re-signings, trades, internationals. Whatever happens, Reddy has been prepared for this moment for a long time.

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