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NWSL Week 11 preview: Leah Galton was Sky Blue's missing piece. For real, this time.

Sky Blue FC has touted players as the missing piece before, only to have them turn out to be from an entirely different puzzle. But with rookie Leah Galton, they may have finally found the one that fits.

Johannes Simon/Getty Images

It's happened to you. You're clicking around on Facebook and there's a link that that kid you worked with like ten years ago who now goes by Bat M. An shared. It's puppies and you're all about looking at pictures of puppies because you're not allowed to have one where you live so this is the next best thing. You click and you look at the puppies, and then you click again and look at cats knocking over babies and then it's four in the morning and you're 20 pages deep into a slideshow of Child Stars You'll Never Recognize As Adults. And then the internet tells you that There Is One Weird Trick New Jersey Drivers Are Using To Lower Insurance Rates. And with the room illuminated only by the glow of Netflix asking if you're still watching and the slowly rising sun, you think, "maybe I am paying too much for my car insurance." Your daytime self knows this is an ad. Your middle of the night self, fresh off learning -- and not for the first time -- that Chunk from the Goonies is a lawyer now, doesn't know what's real anymore.

There's this other one: One Weird Trick To Make Your Soccer Team Better. Click the link, fill out the survey, do some stuff with email and eight to ten weeks later a player will arrive that will fix your team. I've never seen this particular one, but I know it exists, because I've followed some of the signings Sky Blue FC has made over the years.

And because of that, I also know that you never get quite what's promised.

Go back as far as you want, to the WPS days if you're feeling particularly nostalgic, and look at some of the names that have come to New Jersey with high hopes. One Weird Trick That Will Turn This Thing Around. And then there's Eniola Aluko, Petra Hogewoning, Laura Kalmari, Daphne Koster and Jessica Landstrom. More recently, Nadia Nadim and Tasha Kai. All of them at one time touted as the player that would fix everything. And all of them, save for Nadim's first (half) season in New Jersey, giant let downs.

It's not unusual for teams to do this, and it's even less unusual for coaches of struggling teams to reference players that haven't joined the team yet as the missing piece. Sometimes, like in the case of Seattle with Megan Rapinoe in 2013, it works out and things do come together and get better. Other times, it doesn't. Boston is, perhaps, going through a little of this now with Eunice Beckmann.

Sky Blue, despite its past record with this sort of thing, has tried both the big signing and the "when so and so gets here" strategy again this season, and with mixed results.

First, the "big signing." Tasha Kai had been one of Sky Blue's leading scorers and a fan favorite in the early days of WPS. She hadn't played professional soccer since 2011, but after trading Nadim to Portland, Sky Blue needed someone who could score goals. And when Kai scored in her NWSL debut in Sky Blue's season opener, it suddenly didn't seem ridiculous to wonder if maybe she was the missing piece. Except that ten games in, that goal is still the only one Kai has scored. Maybe she was a suitable replacement for Nadim after all, just the 2015 version instead of the 2014 one.

Then it was the "when she gets here." Sky Blue's first try with this this season was with goalkeeper Erin Nayler. Following the departure of Brittany Cameron after last season, Sky Blue came into 2016 with two inexperienced keepers: Caroline Stanley, who had one professional appearance for Seattle in 2015, and rookie Caroline Casey. Neither of the Carolines had played particularly poorly, but Sky Blue's goals-against numbers weren't great, either. Nayler hadn't played in the NWSL, but had valuable experience on the international level with New Zealand, something Sky Blue needed with a very young back line. Nayler arrived in New Jersey in early May. Three weeks later she was gone, having never made a single appearance for the club.

Nayler wasn't the only one touted as the missing piece though. There was also Leah Galton, who Sky Blue had picked up as the no. 13 overall pick in the 2016 draft. Galton and fellow rookies Raquel Rodriguez and Erica Skroski would be the cornerstones of a new era in New Jersey. Except that Galton opted to finish the school year at Hofstra before joining the team, leaving Christy Holly to do the whole "when Leah gets here" thing for the first five games of the season.

Leah did finally get there though, and here's the thing: unlike with Kai or Nayler, or any of those other players from years past, Galton might actually be the missing piece.

Galton made her pro debut on May 21st against Western NY. She came in as a second half sub, playing 45 minutes, registering one assist, and acting as one of very few bright spots in an otherwise ugly 5-2 loss for Sky Blue. A week later, again as a second half sub, Galton scored Sky Blue's only goal in a 1-1 draw with Chicago. Two weeks ago against Seattle, she made her first start for Sky Blue and though it was apparent in the timing of her runs and crosses that she was still adjusting to her teammates, Galton was also one of the best players on the field that night.

That game, a 0-0 draw, turned out to be a pretty good preview of what was possible with a little more time. Last weekend in Washington, Galton was again in the starting lineup, and the rookie forward helped the New Jersey team to a 2-1 win over the Spirit, registering the assist on both of Sky Blue's goals.

After the Seattle game, Galton had acknowledged that her timing maybe wasn't quite right just yet. "I'm pretty sure -- give me another week or two -- and we'll be there with crosses and finishes," Galton told the media at Yurcak Field that night. A week later, her second assist in the Spirit game: a pitch perfect cross to Sam Kerr, who scored on the volley. Shot. Called.

Sky Blue has lost just once since Galton joined the team, and comes into this weekend's meeting with Portland unbeaten in their last four. It's still too early to tell what her contributions will be long-term in New Jersey, or even if she'll be able to continue at the pace she's on through the rest of this season, but with a goal and three assists in five games, Galton's already taken herself from missing piece to major part.


Western New York Flash vs. Chicago Red Stars, 7 pm, Rhinos Stadium (YouTube)


Washington Spirit vs. FC Kansas City, 7 pm, Maryland SoccerPlex (YouTube)
Seattle Reign FC vs. Boston Breakers, 10 pm, Memorial Stadium (YouTube)
Portland Thorns FC vs. Sky Blue FC, 10:30 pm, Providence Park (YouTube)