Two first-round NWSL draft picks may refuse to play for Sky Blue FC after reports of squalid living and practice conditions for players

  • Sky Blue FC was a dumpster fire on the field and off last season, and now the New Jersey club may have trouble retaining its first-round draft picks as a result.
  • The team selected UCLA Bruins defender Hailie Mace and North Carolina Tar Heels defender Julia Ashley with the second and sixth picks of Thursday’s NSWL draft, but both have – to varying degrees – expressed their reservations about joining the club due to previously reported issues with playing and living facilities.
  • Club President and General Manager Tony Novo assured the press that the team is “going to continue to improve” and that he was confident that both Mace and Ashley would sign with Sky Blue.

The 2019 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Draft represented an opportunity for teams to invest in the future by bringing fresh, young talent into their ranks.

But for Sky Blue FC – the NWSL team based out of New Jersey – Thursday’s draft was a reminder of lingering issues that have made them the league’s worst team both on the pitch and off.

Sky Blue selected UCLA Bruins defender Hailie Mace and North Carolina Tar Heels defender Julia Ashley with the second and sixth picks of the draft, respectively, but both have – to varying degrees – expressed their concerns with joining the club due to issues with playing and living facilities.

Before the draft, Mace indicated to The Equalizer’s Dan Lauletta that she had no intention of playing for Sky Blue if they selected her. After budding USWNT star Tierna Davidson made a last-minute decision to enter the draft, Mace was considered a lock for the New Jersey club’s second overall pick and subsequently chose not to attend the draft events in Chicago.

Meanwhile, Verona, New Jersey, native Ashley was present at the draft festivities and did not appear entirely opposed to joining her hometown team in the spring, though she admitted that she was considering opportunities to play the beautiful game abroad.

“I’m excited for this opportunity. I’m really happy that Denise [Reddy, Sky Blue head coach] believes in me,” Ashley said Thursday, per Lauletta. “I’m from New Jersey, but I’m not positive of what I want to do in regards to if I’m going to stay or go abroad. I have to explore those options.”

Both players’ reluctance to join the team likely stems from reports that Sky Blue players – including USWNT star Carli Lloyd – endured gruesome living situations and substandard playing conditions during their abysmal single-win season last year. According to reporting from Deadspin’s Erica L. Ayala and RJ Allen, some players lived in homes with trash bags and cardboard for windows, while the entire team practiced at a facility without running water.

“I’m just going to say the girls deserve better, and leave it at that,” NWSL star and former Sky Blue player Sam Kerr told The Equalizer after facing her former team last season. “These girls are great girls. They give everything for this club and this league, and they just deserve better. I scored a hat trick, but I wasn’t myself today. I feel sick playing against these girls.”

Sky Blue’s President and General Manager Tony Novo – who came under fire last year for neglecting player needs and promoting such a substandard atmosphere for a professional club – acknowledged his draft picks’ reasons for concern.

“There’s a lot of things that we have to overcome and a lot of things that we’re going to continue to improve: housing, training facilities, all of the above,” Novo said, per Once a Metro’s Allison Lee. “And I think those are concerns anybody has, and we’re trying to eliminate those concerns.

“Perception is something that we have to change,” he told SBNation’s Kim McCauley. “We will make changes. When we make those changes, I’ll be glad to share with everybody.”

Novo also maintained his optimism that the team’s first-round draft picks would report when the preseason arrives.

“There’s challenges with [Mace],” Novo said. “But I think that she will be here once we talk to her and get by some of the negativity we’ve had in the past… [I’m] very confident we’ll be able to sign [Ashley].”