The National Women's Soccer League kicks off on Saturday with Alex Morgan and the Portland Thorns battling FC Kansas City. Before it does, Maura Gladys offers up what you need to know.
April 10, 2013
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Western New York Flash: Ambitious
Before even stepping on the field in the National Women’s Soccer League, the Western New York Flash has the potential to make history. The Flash have won three straight championships in three different leagues (W-League in 2010, WPS in 2011 and WPSL-Elite in 2012) and could make it four this season. The biggest name on the roster, and arguably in the league, is Rochester native Abby Wambach, who will lead the team up front. Carli Lloyd, the only other USWNT allocated player, will miss the beginning of the season. The midfielder injured her shoulder during the Algarve Cup, and likely won’t appear for the Flash until mid-May. The team, however, has other effective players including Adriana and Sarah Huffman.
FC Kansas City: Intact
FC Kansas City made it to opening day without losing any players to injury, international club commitments, pregnancy, or retirement. In this league, that is a real accomplishment. Nicole Barnhart is one of the best goalkeepers in the league, and she has Becky Sauerbrunn and Lauren Sesselmann patrolling the defense in front of her. Lauren Cheney is a force in midfield, while Kristie Mewis, who is not an allocated player but has been seeing meaningful time with USWNT, and Sinead Farrelly create a layered, dynamic attack.
Seattle Reign: Scrambling
At the beginning of the year, Seattle had one of the most promising outlooks in the league. But, thanks to Hope Solo’s wrist injury, Megan Rapinoe’s commitment to Lyon, and Amy Rodriguez’ pregnancy, the Reign will not have any of its USWNT allocated players available for opening day (and very likely, no Solo or Rodriguez for the entire season). Throw in general manager’s Amy Carnell’s recent resignation from the club, which forced head coach Laura Harvey to take over GM duties, and the Reign is scrambling. The team traded for Keelin Winters and got a nice surprise when Mexican international Teresa Noyola was released from her contract with ADO Den Haag in the Netherlands, but there will be enough holes in the squad on opening day to cause concern.
Portland Thorns: Dangerous
Since the first announcement of the Portland Thorns’ allocation in January, not much has changed: the squad is still really good. With Canadian legend Christine Sinclair and American legend-in-the-making Alex Morgan up top, supported by Tobin Heath (when she returns from playing in Europe in a few months) in the midfield, the Thorns have the most high-powered office in the league, on paper at least. Veterans Karina LeBlanc and Rachel Buheler lead a strong defense while midfielders Allie Long and Becky Edwards provide even more depth and zip. Be afraid of the Thorns.
Chicago Red Stars: Middling
With lots of age and experience in the midfield, the Chicago Red Stars has a solid core, but doesn't appear to have enough to separate it from the middle of the pack. Thirty-five-year-old Shannon Boxx, 29-year-old Leslie Osborne, and 29-year-old Lori Chalupny make up the nucleus of the team, all of whom can play defensively in the midfield. In fact, the Red Stars were so heavy on middies the team traded Keelin Winters, one of its allocated players, to Seattle. Lindsay Tarpley, who was selected first in the supplemental draft, is still rehabbing a knee injury and is not on the squad’s opening day roster but is expected to join the team in the coming months. Tarpley should be an integral cog in the Red Stars offense, once healthy, and join Zakiya Bywaters, the first overall pick in the college draft, and Ella Massar on offense.
Washington Spirit: Defensive
The Spirit was the only NWSL team to lose two pre-season games, falling 2-0 to the University of Maryland and 6-3 to the University of Virginia. With no proven goal scorer on the opening day roster, there is measure for concern for the Spirit entering the season. The person most likely to fill that role long-term is Natasha Kai, who is still rehabbing a knee injury and not on the opening day roster. In the meantime, Stephanie Ochs and Tiffany McCarty will be up front and need to develop into goal scorers.
Defensively, the Spirit have one of the stronger lineups in the league with right back Ali Krieger, center back Candace Chapman, defensive midfielder Lori Lindsey and goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris. But, unless the front half of the team gels together to create offense, it will be a long season.
Boston Breakers: Fast
With speedsters Sydney Leroux and Kyah Simon up top, backed by bulldog Heather O’Reilly on the wing, the Breakers are fast. The only real mystery is who will start in goal. The Breakers were allocated Mexican goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago, but the 18-year-old is extremely green, and last-minute signing Ashley Phillips, who has previous pro experience playing for the Breakers in 2010, could emerge as the starter. Another word to describe the Breakers? Short. No player is over 5-foot-9, and the lack of a big, target striker could hurt the team in the long run.
Sky Blue FC: Versatile
Sky Blue has a solid lineup, with adaptable starters easily slotting into each spot. Veteran Christie Rampone leads a defense that includes Australian international Caitlin Foord, while Brittany Bock should hold down the midfield with Lisa Devanna and Danesha Adams playing big roles on offense. Sky Blue are without goalkeeper Jill Lloyden who broke her hand during international duty, but perennial backup Brittany Cameron should fill that hole.
The big question will be how the versatile Kelley O’Hara is used. O’Hara has evolved into one of the U.S. women’s national team’s best defenders but Sky Blue coach Jim Gabarra has used her primarily up top. She also has the ability to play on the wing, but if she keeps up the scoring streak she started in the pre-season, chances are she’ll stay at forward.
Maura Gladys, a featured ASN columnist, works in production for KICKTV. She also runs the goalkeeping blog All You Need Is Glove.