Last season, the NWSL’s Sky Blue FC limped its way to a 1-17-6 record, landing at the bottom of the league table with a whopping -31 goal difference. Despite having USWNT star Carli Lloyd, the 2018 Sky Blue season was the worst in league history: nine total points, “beating” the previous record of 11, set by the 2016 Boston Breakers.
Whereas they would have been easily relegated in a European-style pro-rel system, in the NWSL, the Sky Blue were given a golden opportunity to turn it around, earning the No. 2 overall pick in the next draft (they would have given the first overall pick, but that was awarded to—and traded by—expansion team Utah Royals FC) for their poor record. The New Jersey-based team also had the No. 6 pick thanks to a trade with the Chicago Red Stars. Sure, having the worst season in league history is ignominious, but at least the rebuild would start off with the arrival of two good young players.
Or maybe not. Per ThinkProgress, both Hailie Mace (No. 2 overall) and Julia Ashley (No. 6 overall) will forego joining the Sky Blue for the 2019 NWSL season, choosing instead to pursue other opportunities abroad. Why? The Sky Blue aren’t just a mess on the field; they’re a trainwreck off of it.
As Erica L. Ayala and RJ Allen reported last year, the team—which is owned by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy—was missing basic accommodations, such as proper housing, bathrooms in the locker room, or even running water. Half a year later, many of the same problems remain.
A lot of the blame for the mismanagement of the club falls on Murphy and Sky Blue president and general manager Tony Novo; there have been calls by supporter sides to sell the team or, at least, fire Novo. The team’s poor facilities and operations have been embarrassing before, but now they are actively hurting the on-field product.
Mace is already playing in Australia for Melbourne City FC (which is owned by City Football Group, overlords of the Manchester City empire). This was not a surprise for the Sky Blue; Mace told them before the draft that she would not join, so blowing the No. 2 pick on her was part for the course for the messy Sky Blue.
Ashley’s departure the one that hurts more for the club, though; the Verona, NJ native was expected to sign for her home state team after the draft, but instead she is heading to Sweden’s Linkopings FC. Speaking to soccer website The Equalizer after the draft, Ashley didn’t shy away from placing the blame squarely on management for her decision to not report to the NWSL side:
All my friends and everyone saying, ‘Oh, Julia’s coming to play in New Jersey.’ That was really cool. But the downside, just from what I’ve heard in terms of organization, some of the housing issues that they’ve had this past year — I’ve heard some bad things. I think everybody has.”
Murphy even called Ashley to try to convince her to join the team, with no luck.
Losing your two first-round picks because they’d rather take their chances abroad than play in unacceptable conditions is a huge blow for a club looking to claw its way back to mediocrity. For a league that finally has stabilized the women’s game in the United States, having one of its teams be a public embarrassment like this only hurts credibility, and it’s costing the NWSL potential national team players.