Category Archives: WPS

Playoffs at the ‘Plex

Lori Lindsey holds off Marta, from a gameday program cover for the last team to have a women's professional soccer match at the 'Plex, the 2009 Washington Freedom.

Lori Lindsey holds off Marta, from a gameday program cover for the last team to have a women’s professional soccer playoff match at the ‘Plex, the 2009 Washington Freedom.

Based on what I’ve read on Twitter and elsewhere, Spirit fans have a definite glass-half-empty feeling about losing the first-place spot the last weekend of the season after having held it for several weeks previously. But look on the bright side: this is the best regular-season finish in the history of Washington women’s professional soccer.

Yes, Abby Wambach never managed it in four years here. Heck, Wambach and Mia Hamm combined never managed it. But this bunch of no-names – certainly with no one of the marquee value of the aforementioned – did the job.

However, though this Friday’s home playoff match is a first for the Spirit, it’s not a first for Washington (or the Soccerplex). Back in 2009, the Freedom finished third in Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) on the strength of a 4-1-1 finish to the season, which included a barnburner, 4-4 match against Sky Blue at Yurcak Field that the Freedom tied up in the final minutes off a goal from Cat Whitehill. (I got held up at halftime behind the stands chatting with someone at that match and got back late only to find that I’d missed not one but two goals.) It’s a team with a few players familiar to Spirit fans: Joanna Lohman, Lori Lindsey, and Ali Krieger were all on the roster.
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Lori Lindsey retires 12 years after turning professional

Someday there should be a DC Women's Soccer Hall of Fame, and Lori Lindsey should be in it

Someday there should be a DC Women’s Soccer Hall of Fame, and Lori Lindsey should be in it.


The Washington Freedom had a laudable tradition that I hope the Spirit eventually decide to emulate: they created a “Hall of Freedom”, an honor bestowed on former players and personnel “in recognition of exceptional achievements, dedication and service.” The first year’s honorees were the obvious ones: forward Mia Hamm, goalkeeper Siri Mullinix, midfielder (and later World Cup organizer) Steffi Jones, and the late David Vanole, goalkeeper coach during the WUSA era. Those were chosen by the staff. In 2010, they set up a voting process that involved fans, media, and staff, and defender Jennifer Grubb – who both captained or co-captained the team and played every single minute during the WUSA era – was elected the next inductee.

There was no 2011, of course, but the next thought is who should have been honored but wasn’t. First on the list would definitely be John and Maureen Hendricks, who helped establish both the WUSA and WPS and supported the Washington Freedom from 2001 through 2010. Next, in my opinion, would be coaches Jim Gabarra and Clyde Watson, who were part of the team through the entire WUSA era and most of the WPS era, and as well kept the team going during the lean years from 2004-2008 when there was no professional league to participate in.

Finally, there are people who have earned the honor but are still too active to be awarded it yet. (Gabarra might arguably fall into this category as well.) Abby Wambach is clearly in this category, having led or co-led the Freedom in scoring in every year they’ve played professionally. Louise Waxler – the operations manager for the Freedom for most of its existence – would also get my vote. The only other person who’s definitely earned the honor – again, in my opinion – is Lori Lindsey.
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SoloMemoir

Solo: A Memoir of Hope, by Hope Solo with Ann Killion.


(I actually read this last fall, but right before the news about the NWSL started getting hot and heavy. So I decided to hold off publishing it. Now that we’re in a bit of a preseason lull, I figured I’d go ahead and share it.)

First off, if you’re interested in this autobiography, make sure you don’t do what I did at first and end up requesting Hope Solo: My Story, which is the “young reader’s edition”, i.e., it has all the really juicy parts taken out. The prologue to that one is only two paragraphs long (ending in “Hope.” rather than going on to spend a couple of pages on the 2007 incident.) And the story of her mother getting back at the neighbors by putting up the fence they insisted on but putting a big yellow smiley face on it ends with “The smiley face wasn’t about happiness but a big protest against our neighbors.” instead of the original’s “The smiley face wasn’t a reflection of internal happiness. It was a big ‘f*** you’ to our neighbors.” [Asterisks mine.]

Second, let me be clear that I’m no fan of Hope Solo’s: she’s gone out of her way to insult and impugn friends of mine. I was actually mostly on her side back in 2007 (my personal opinion is that everything she said was absolutely true; the only problem was that she was the last person who should have been saying them), but since then she’s made several offensive statements.

That being said, this very frank autobiography went a long way toward increasing my sympathy for her. She had a tough life early: her father was a petty crook and con man who drifted in and out of her life – her mother got pregnant when she visited him in prison – and she had a feisty, conflicted relationship with the remaining relatives close to her like her mother and brother. Soccer was an escape and one she was very good at – though as a goal-scoring forward, not as the goalkeeper she eventually became.
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The Sermanni Dilemma: Where Does The USWNT Go From Here?

Tom Sermanni Courtesy U.S. Soccer

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – For those who have been around long enough to remember the reference, the U.S. women’s soccer team trip through Connecticut had the feel of the old-school Ice Capades last week. You know, when the Olympic figure skating stars came back and tried to make some money (because they were still amateurs previously) by touring the country showing off their routines and signing autographs for screaming fans?

No one really cared how well they did, no one kept score, the people just wanted to see the Olympic stars in action.

There were obviously no triple axels from Alex Morgan – at least not that I saw – and cool costume choices were limited to both teams’ kits (the Where’s Waldos? against a minor league hockey team someone in the press box commented), but although some of the best players in the world were on the field, you had the distinct feel that competition was secondary as the game ended in a 2-2 draw.

As you can probably surmise already, I was torn. For someone who loves tactics and competition, both of which made the World Cup and Olympics an instant hit, I wasn’t going to get much of it here, which was frustrating when the top two teams in the world (at least according to the FIFA rankings) were below me.

But it’s not like I was a victim of false advertising or something, I was attending the “Nike Fan Tribute Tour, presented by Panasonic” for crying out loud. Abby Wambach had a goal (her 148th) and was all smiles afterward, even though the U.S. was generally outplayed (and outshot) and was forced to settle for a 2-2 tie, the first time since 2004 the USWNT failed to win in consecutive home games.

Wambach, like me, seemed a bit torn, mentioning that “this wasn’t our best soccer”, but quick to praise the nearly 20,000 people who braved a fairly hideous weather evening to see her and the U.S. play.  Morgan voiced similar sentiments, and you got the feeling she was a bit tired – mostly mentally – although she did have two assists. She sounded like an entertainer nearing the end of a long tour, but knowing that the people here deserved the same show that the people who came a month ago did.

And the fans that dodged the raindrops in Hartford cannot be discounted when discussing the overall dynamic here. Having lived here most of my life, I can tell you that Connecticut is not a great sports market, and the fact that 18,000+ showed up on a rainy, chilly Tuesday night is a testament to the popularity and success of Morgan, Wambach, and the U.S. machine.

Also, let’s be honest, most of them could care less about tactics, or whether interim coach Jill Ellis is integrating new players into the fold, or even the final score. As a youth coach, the talk at our practice the following day didn’t involve rising German star Dzenifer Marozsan, how the U.S. can stop her, or even why the U.S. doesn’t seem to have any players like her ready to join the USWNT in the near future, but how nice Abby Wambach was after the game, and who got whose autograph.

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WPSL Elite: The Show Must Go On; At Least It Should

The Chicago Red Stars enjoyed a big crowd against Western New York on July 14, but had to forfeit a game just five days later when they couldn't make it to New England.

“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – My first year coaching high school soccer, we were matched up with a clearly inferior team that was, unfortunately for them, inferior to just about everyone they played that season. They would soon be moved to a league where they could be more competitive, but on this day, the rookie coach (a.k.a. me) spent most of the second half figuring out how to manage the final scoreline.

I emptied the bench, switched positions, but still the score made it to nine, a total that is embarrassing to look back on, honestly. A few minutes before the end, a girl who had never scored before found herself alone on goal, and almost sheepishly poked the ball in. There was no applause, just silence. 10-0 was the final.

I met with the Athletic Director the next day and tried to plead my case: it was an accident, I was unprepared, I didn’t expect it to get that bad. He – being one of the finest people I’ve worked for and a former coach at many levels – cut me off. “It doesn’t really matter how it happened, it happened, and it makes us look bad. When they look in the newspaper, people are going to see the score. That’s it. Don’t let it happen again, please.”

Which brings us to the Chicago Red Stars and last Thursday’s game with New England.

Most of you reading this know by now that Chicago was forced to forfeit that game when they couldn’t make it to Massachusetts in time due to delayed and cancelled flights.

The intent here is not to kill the Red Stars (New England’s Ciara McCormack took a few shots at them in her blog already), who agreed to play in WPSL Elite this season despite the geographic trouble of playing in an east coast league. I met Arnim Whisler (whose responses you see in McCormack’s blog) two weeks ago in Chicago, and I can say with complete confidence that women’s soccer in this country needs people like Whisler and the market of Chicago. The Red Stars have been great for WPSL Elite, and should be great in whatever the league morphs into next season.

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WPSL Elite: Ghosts Of WPS Past Still Haunt Paul Riley

Paul Riley runs his New York Fury team through warm-ups on Long Island last Thursday. The transition to WPSL Elite hasn't been as smooth as he would have liked this season.

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. – The ASA in the name ASA Chesapeake Charge stands for Arundel Soccer Association, as in Arundel County, Maryland, home of Annapolis and site of The Battle of the Severn in 1655, an English Civil War battle fought here in America.

Sorry, I’m still a history teacher at heart.

The ASA is an extremely well run youth soccer organization in Maryland that in 2010 decided that – in order to give some of their older players a place to go while in college – they should join the WPSL. In just their second year, Albert Oni led them to the Eastern Conference finals (and in the process was named Coach of the Year).

With WPS disintegrating last winter, the WPSL was fairly desperate to fill its newly formed Elite league, which had former WPS squads Boston, Chicago, and Western New York, a Paul Riley team, and not much else. To their credit, knowing full well that they were giving up the chance at winning any kind of title, Arundel Soccer Association threw its hat into the ring, and the Chesapeake Charge were in the same league as the aforementioned Mr. Riley.

Which leads us to last Thursday night at Hofstra when the Charge hopped in their bus and drove the six hours to Hofstra to take on Riley and the New York Fury.  For the second time this season, a travel snafu meant a Fury home game was starting late, although this was only 20 minutes compared to the 90 against Philadelphia.

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WPSL Elite Review: Strikers Wanted, But League Shows It Strengths, Too

The rain before the New York-WNY match left quite the scenery in pregame warm-ups last Sunday night.

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. – In the end, it was just a scoreless standoff between two of the best teams the 2012 version of WPSL Elite has to offer, but if there was a game that summed up the fluid scene that is women’s soccer at the highest level in America, it might have been Sunday’s draw between New York and Western New York.

You had some great technical soccer, a world-class Flash midfield of Angela Salem, Lori Lindsey, and McCall Zerboni controlling the game (and driving opposing coach Paul Riley nuts in the process). You had big, strong central defenders, like Riley’s pairing of Kia McNeill and Nikki Krzysik, who let very little through them. The teams played very hard, were able to knock the ball around, and it wasn’t hard to tell that it was a high-level match.

But it lacked a cutting edge, a goal scorer, someone that could make things happen in the final third.

“We need a striker badly,” Riley said. “I told you guys before we started the season, we don’t have enough up front to win this league, so unless we get a striker between now and July 1 -Amy Rodriguez-esque or Tasha Kai-esque – I don’t think we’ve got a chance to win the championship, to be honest with you. We’re just not cut-throat enough up front.

“I’ve got nine (strikers) on the hook right now from everywhere in the world. And I’m talking on loan, trying to work out something. Anything.”

And, of course, that last crack led to a perhaps unfair Marta reference.

“I can offer her a couple hundred bucks. She can have free apple pie at my house any time,” Riley said.

Aaran Lines – who had Marta, Christine Sinclair, and Alex Morgan at his disposal last season – was more diplomatic, and was probably the happier coach with the draw, as his team outshot New York 7-1 in the second half and nearly won the game twice in the dying minutes.

“Not quite the same (as last year), but this is a group that I’ve put together,” Lines said. “It’s a very, very talented group, as you can see tonight we had some good experience with Lori (Lindsey) in there and (Klingenberg), it was nice to get them on the field and give them a game, but obviously a little bit different than last year, a little bit inexperienced.”

And there’s another rub, Klingenberg and Lindsey showed their quality in this match, but as alternates for the U.S. Olympic team, they left for Sweden on Tuesday, and who knows when or if they’ll return to play again for the Flash?

“Honestly, it’s been a weird year,” Klingenberg said. “The WPS folded, and that was unfortunate. We really want a women’s league to be around. But then when we heard the WPSL Elite was going to be kind of picking that up, it was great because they were going to work with us with the national team duties. Getting out here with the girls and playing with them is incredible, a great environment to come back to after national team training.

Klingenberg worked extremely hard  as she always does – for 90 minutes, and you could tell she was more interested in talking about her Flash teammates then her U.S. teammates, at least on this night.

“We’re glad to be here,” Klingenberg said. “I want to be a part of the team, and we got a good week of training in. I thought that we played well, had some good attacks, hit the crossbar. We were solid in the back, but unfortunately it just wasn’t our day to put the ball in the goal. We have to be a bit better at finishing our chances.”

I guess it’s at this point that we should bring up the line of the great Norman Dale from Hoosiers, “I would hope that you would cheer for who we are, not for who we are not.”

There are things the league has to work out: getting teams to games on time, getting the right uniforms for games (both teams had red on which led to a delay in this game), promoting itself a little better, figuring out what balls to use (Molten is apparently the official ball of WPSL, but New York and Boston were both using Puma in games I went to).

But these are minor things that will hopefully be taken care of. As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, it’s certainly better than nothing at all, and I’m really not trying to be overly negative about what the situation is. Everyone is upset we don’t have the best players in the world here this year, and this is certainly a transition year, but there’s some good things happening. By next year with no major international tournaments to worry about, who knows?

It seems nearly official that the playoff format will be the top four making the postseason, and the semifinals and finals being the weekend of July 27-29 in Rochester. That should mean a really good weekend of Boston, Chicago, New York, and Western New York, although it might take some of the luster out of the rest of the regular season.

“We have a good defense,” Riley said. “I’m pretty comfortable that the defense will get us into the playoffs, but getting into the playoffs is not where we want to be, we want to win the championship.”

Of course, as the standings sit now, New England is in fourth, the Flash are only in fifth, both teams having played four games. Although WNY’s schedule has been much, much tougher, the Mutiny could throw the door wide open if they can get a result in Rochester this weekend.

“We’re hosting, we’d better be there (in the playoffs). Otherwise, there might be someone else coaching the Flash next year,” Lines said.

ELSEWHERE:

THURSDAY

NEW YORK 3:0 PHILADELPHIA

This will be known as the “bus game”, which saw the Fever end up somehow going through Times Square to get to Hofstra from the greater Philly area. The game started 90 minutes late, which is obviously embarrassing for all involved. But as I talked to about before, not much you can do about it now, is there? Live and learn. It actually took the Fury a long time to break the Fever down, which was a bad omen for Sunday.

“Thursday is a day I’d like to forget,” Fever coach Stuart Gore said. “When you’re sitting there and it takes us four hours to get to New England, how does it take us six and a half hours to get to New York? Those are the wrinkles that need to be ironed out. We were never told we couldn’t take a commercial vehicle on the Belt Parkway, things like that. But I don’t mind being the guinea pig if it will help someone else out. Hopefully, the league will get stronger and stronger and get more and more professional over time.”

FRIDAY

INDIANA 0:4 BOSTON

It was funny to watch the battling Tweets from the two clubs in this game, as Indiana tried desperately to find positive things out of this one. To be fair, all of Indiana’s first five games have come against one of the “big”clubs, and no “big” club has even dropped a point yet against a “small” club, so there are some games ahead where Shek Borkowski’s group can think they should be competitive.

SATURDAY

NEW ENGLAND 2:1 PHILADELPHIA

The Mutiny escaped with three points in this one, but safe to say they didn’t look great doing it under new coach Chris LeGates, who took over for Tony Horta after Horta took a leave of absence. But three points is three points, and as I said, the Mutiny is three points clear of Western New York heading into this weekend’s showdown in Rochester, one in which they should have Kristie Mewis to go along with the impressive Morgan Andrews (more on her later in the week) in the midfield. And we’ve already mentioned that the Flash has had trouble scoring, so who knows?

SUNDAY

CHICAGO 1:0 BOSTON

Must admit, I was quite surprised by this result, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been. I was most surprised that the Breakers were blanked, but the Red Stars certainly have the players to compete for a title and used a Michele Weissenhofer first-half goal to take over the top of the table. The game was very even throughout, which means that all four of the top teams are very close to each other, it would appear.

 

 

The teams line up before the opening WPSL Elite contest.

WPSL Elite Opens: It’s Not WPS, But It’s Something

The teams line up before the opening WPSL Elite contest.

EAST LONGMEADOW, Mass. – Even for someone who was but a passive WPS observer for most of its history, I couldn’t help but be a bit nostalgic as I pulled into East Longmeadow High Saturday afternoon for the opener of the new WPSL Elite between the host New England Mutiny and the New York Fury.

ELHS is a fine high school facility, and much easier for me to get to than Harvard Stadium – former home of the Boston Breakers and an hour or so to the northeast – but my mind flashed back to the buzz surrounding WPS last summer, when Alex Morgan sent kids scurrying for her autograph just by walking out to tape a Fox Soccer Channel promo. When 15,000 people showed up in Rochester and nearly 10,000 in Atlanta to watch professional women’s soccer.

Of course, you know the rest. If you don’t, it’s all here on this site for you somewhere, complete with the sordid details.

But as the hard-working Mutiny staff got things together for the opener, it was quite obvious that 10,000 people were not walking through that gate. And with only three portable toilets available, that was probably a good thing on that front.

Surely as Paul Riley walked out onto the field and took a look around, somewhere in his mind, those thoughts must have been there. As two-time defending WPS Coach of the Year with Philadelphia, Riley has to be considered one of the top women’s coaches in the nation. The league was coming off a World Cup bump last summer, Riley’s star was rising, it looked for a fleeting moment like WPS would thrive, and surely Riley’s reputation would right along with it.

Even when WPS collapsed, Riley still held out hope for some kind of return in 2013, which was surely part of the reason why when he returned to Long Island with the Fury he initially stayed out of WPSL Elite. But as it became (becomes?) increasingly obvious that WPS might be gone for good (and an opening left by Aztec MA made it convenient), Riley and the New York Fury were in the WPSL Elite for its inaugural run in 2012.

It can be a dangerous hobby to focus on the past. What’s done is done, and a few (or a good deal more than a few) mistakes shouldn’t deter us from looking toward the present and the future.

“I said to the players in the locker room, ‘After seven months of what has happened, you’ve got to want to play.’ To put the uniform with your name on the back means a lot,” Riley said. “I’ve been a social director and a psychological director the past several months trying to give them the best advice I could, whether it be abroad, whether it be here, for another team in their neck of the woods. That includes not just our players, layers from Sky Blue, players from Atlanta, just because we’ve got connections. I’ve been trying to help everyone as best we can. We’ve obviously got quite a few players from WPS.

“It’s nice to be back on the field, it’s nice to be coaching again, to put a suit back on and feel like you’re back at church again on a Sunday night. I enjoy the games , that’s what we all live for is the games. Hopefully, this will be the start of getting back into a WPS-like league, making it full-time for the players. We’re doing our best to make it full-time.”

(You can see my complete postgame interview with Riley here.)

Full-time or not, Riley has put together a squad (not even including his Supergroup that will play in some exhibition games this summer) that looks like a favorite in WPSL Elite. After a brief bright start from the host Mutiny, the Fury had four goals by halftime, three by Merritt Mathias. But a look around the Fury lineup saw basically what would be a WPS team, perhaps minus the stars.

Yes, there were no national team players and Vero Boquete is in Sweden, but Brittany Taylor at right back was too strong for anyone the Mutiny had to offer. Riley gave full credit to veteran Kim Yokers for dominating as a holding midfielder in a 4-4-2, and rightfully so. Tina and Gina DiMartino ran the wings, while Meghan Lenczyk played an attacking role in support of what would be two WPS rookies in Jasmyne Spencer out of Maryland and Mathias.

(Tobin Heath is on on the New York roster, but it’s not clear if she’ll be able to play at all with the national team schedule. Heath was on the roster as No. 19, and late in the game, Riley put a No. 19 in the game, who was announced by the PA announcer as “Tobin Hearth”. But it obviously wasn’t her.)

The Mutiny, while pretty clearly outclassed in this game, did show signs that they could be competitive in the new-look WPSL Elite, mostly because of who they didn’t have. Kristen Mewis, Toni Pressley, Vicki DiMartino (who missed the chance to play against her sisters), and Morgan Andrews are all with various age level national teams. The team also looked much more comfortable when defender Kate McCarthy was inserted late in the first half. Coach Tony Horta decided not to start McCarthy because she had arrived to the team after finishing finals at Boston College just a couple of days before kickoff. A game against Chesapeake this Saturday (with Andrews) should give us a better gauge of where they’re headed.

Mathias is an interesting story in her own right. She was as highly touted as they come as a youngster out of Alabama, playing in the youth national teams, and committing to North Carolina very early (sophomore year). But after two inconsistent years under the microscope in Chapel Hill, Mathias decided she would rather be at Texas A&M, where she was a two-time All-Big 12 selection and was one of the best college strikers in the nation. However, since U-17, she hasn’t made an appearance in the national team, and went undrafted in WPS.

Riley, though, saw potential, and when WPS collapsed, and with the national team players (as well as stars like Boquette and Marta) basically out of commission in the States for 2012, it was an opening for players like Mathias. And Saturday was certainly a good start to making a big impact.

“With the league (WPS) folding, the dreams and ambitions of all these players were kind of crushed,” Mathias said. “It was hard to rebound from that, but everyone has come full circle. It’s heartbreaking that the league’s not around, but we’re doing the best we can. It’s still awesome to be able to play at good facilities and against these kind of players.

“Right now, it’s about playing and enjoying it.  I think it’s sad that the girls from college don’t have what they had two years ago. It’s a huge bummer, but this is a great opportunity. So long goal ahead, get to the World Cup and Olympics, that would be awesome. But for right now, enjoying playing and playing as long as I can. It’s what I love to do.”

There was a delay, a pregnant pause even, before that last sentence, almost like she had to apologize for it.

I thought of the curious – or really not so curious – case of Boston College goalkeeper Jillian Mastroianni, who grew up near me and rose to be one of the best in the nation at her position. She was drafted by Sky Blue in January, and with a couple of WPSL Elite teams in Massachusetts needing help in goal, it was assumed she would play for the team of her choosing.

Instead, with a degree from Boston College in her pocket, Mastroianni chose to “retire” and go out into the real world. For 99 percent of America, they nodded their heads at Mastroianni’s choice and said to themselves, “Good for her.” But those invested in women’s soccer probably just sighed and shook their heads, not in a judging manner, but in a sad one.

Surely, Ciara McCormack is one of those headshakers. ­Since graduating from college in 2001, McCormack has gone from Boston to Vancouver to Denmark back to Vancouver to Ottawa to Norway back to Vancouver again all while representing Ireland (qualifying through her father) internationally in the last decade. She started at center back for the Mutiny in the opener last Saturday.

Along with Tiffany Weimer and Manya Makoski (two former WPS players who are playing in Denmark and Finland, respectively), she runs GirlsCANFootball, also just a few miles from my abode in Connecticut (Weimer and Makoski are both local products from our sometimes great state), which has helped her keep playing.

“It’s been a cool way of marriaging the opportunity to continue playing and then also mentoring younger players through coaching them, that’s sort of allows us to continue our dream and ability to play at this level,” McCormack said.

McCormack has also written for various publications and on her blog (check out this moving tribute to her “Mum” on her 60th birthday recently), sometimes controversially, as she has called out the Canadian soccer federation, WPS stars, and anyone else that draws her ire.

If I have sympathy for people like McCormack, it’s because there is a kind of kinship there. God knows how many times along my life’s journey, people (including family) have wondered why I do what I do, why I spend so much time coaching and writing about soccer (and other sports) when I almost certainly could have a more lucrative profession. But when I asked Ciara – who went to Yale (with one graduate season at UConn) – about it, she summed it up much me eloquently than I ever could.

“I’ve had border guards at the airport ask me what’s my connection with the U.S., and I say, ‘coach and play soccer’, and then they start laughing when I tell them where I went to school,” she said. “I get it from my parents. I mean, again for me, I think the most important thing is knowing what your passion is, and obviously going to a school like Yale was a great opportunity educationally, and exposed me to a lot of fantastic things, but soccer has always been where my passion is. Whether or not that fits the mold of what an Ivy League graduate is supposed to be doing at 32, I’m not sure, but I have no regrets. I obviously still love the game enough to be out here, so here I am.”

And here we are. The WPSL Elite will not be the caliber of WPS this season, there likely won’t be any games that 10,000 paid customers show up for. But in the next couple of months, we’ll try to bring you as many stories as we can from the league as best we can while holding down real jobs and other commitments just as many of the players and coaches we’ll be reporting on do.

It’s what we love to do.

The uniforms of Kate McCarthy (#21) and Rebecca Mays (#10) await their owners prior to the New England Mutiny's opening game.

WPS Draft Retrospectives – Before Season II – Growing Pains

(As a part of AWK’s WPS Draft coverage, we’ll be taking a look back at the drafts of the past three seasons, including some of the more forgotten ones like expansion drafts and international drafts. Today, we’re featuring the drafts before WPS’ second season in 2010.)

2009 WPS Expansion Draft

Atlanta Beat

1 – Leigh Ann Robinson – D – FC Gold Pride
4 – Amanda Cinalli – F – Saint Louis Athletica
6 – Katie Larkin – F – Los Angeles
8 – Sharolta Nonen – D – Los Angeles
10 – Sara Larsson – D – Saint Louis Athletica
12 – Noelle Keselica – F – Sky Blue FC

Beat fans may want to get the smelling salts out after reading this bit and the next on the league’s first expansion draft. Robinson would end up being a solid player…in Philadelphia, her next stop after one season in Atlanta. The Beat’s top pick in this draft ended up being the very definition of middling in her season with the club. Cinalli played a whopping three hundred thirty-six minutes in 2010 and put just two shots on goal for the club. Larkin would start eight games for the club before retiring in the middle of the 2010 season. Nonen was a tip of the cap towards nostalgia that was rather ill-advised, as she failed to make the team out of camp. Larsson would end up in Philly for 2010 and started a fair number of games for the Independence before not being retained for another season. Keselica never featured for the Beat. The fact that none of these players were on the Beat’s 2011 roster and that just one is still in WPS today probably speaks volumes about how horribly the Beat drafted.

Philadelphia Independence

2 – Lori Lindsey – M – Washington Freedom
3 – Jen Buczkowski – M – Sky Blue FC
5 – Nikki Krzysik – D – Chicago Red Stars
7 – Sue Weber – D – Boston
9 – Sarah Senty – D – Washington Freedom
11 – Danesha Adams – F – Chicago Red Stars
13 – Kelly Schmedes – F – Boston Breakers

And thus, a contender was born. Philadelphia’s top three picks formed the core of the side that reached the WPS final in their first year of existence. Before Lindsey fell out of favor last year, she was one of the 2010 season’s revelations, with two goals and seven assists to her name in an outstanding season for the Independence. Buczkowski blossomed quickly into one of the league’s top defensive midfielders and an invaluable member of the Philadelphia squad. Krzysik would soon be on her way to her status as one of the league’s most promising center-backs. Adams continues to hang around on the roster despite her rather inconsistent nature, while Senty proved a capable squad player for a season. Weber and Schmedes wouldn’t make the cut, but it’s hard to argue that the Independence didn’t knock it out of the park with this draft. Especially considering what Atlanta did beside them.
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Chris’ 2012 WPS Draft Big Board – Post-NCAA Tournament Edition

Alright, here’s my provisional ranking of the graduating senior class for this year’s WPS Draft. Some things to note:

-This is not meant to be a mock draft, but how I would rate the players at the moment.

-Size matters (at some positions more than others) and so does injury history.

-This is a “perfect world” list. It takes into account everyone eligible for the WPS Draft declaring for it and includes players who’ve signed overseas contracts.

-There will likely be one final revision next week before the draft.

1. Bianca Henninger – GK – Santa Clara

(Will Henninger be the first pick in the 2012 Draft? Maybe, maybe not, with both Atlanta and Sky Blue FC casting their eyes towards attacking options. Henninger could be a once in a generation talent in goal who may be the U.S.’ #1 for the next decade if she continues to develop. There are a lot of keepers who can stop shots, but Henninger’s leadership and command of her area sets her apart from her peers.)

2. Melissa Henderson – F – Notre Dame

(The cries for Melissa Henderson to get a shot at the full USWNT level finally were heeded after the 2011 college season with the Irish forward being called into camp with the senior team. Henderson has the capability to dribble around entire defenses with stunning ease on her way to the goal and made opponents look silly for four years in South Bend. The whippett quick Texan has the size, speed, and clinical finishing skill to be a major force at the professional and international level. She’s probably the safest pick of the top three and is the very definition of a complete forward.)

3. Sydney Leroux – F – UCLA

(Leroux is a big time boom or bust pick with an unparalleled ability to take over a game. The Canadian-American (or is it American-Canadian?) has enormous upside but doesn’t come without risk. The Bruin spearhead is notoriously inconsistent and has at times been effectively marked out of the match by middling defenders at the college level. But her physical talent and capability of dropping your jaw with a stunning piece of skill will undoubtedly coax some team to try and tame her mercurial ways. A player who really needs to fall into the right situation, Leroux could well develop into something special at this level with the right guidance and realistic expectations.)

4. Sarah Hagen – F – Wisconsin-Milwaukee

(“Apple” might be a tick below the top three in this draft, but she has the potential to force her way into the U.S. National Team with her power and deft touch in front of goal. Quite possibly the greatest player in Horizon League history, Hagen finished her college career with ninety-three goals after a twenty-six goal season in 2011. Hagen has certainly not looked out of place with the US U-23 team in recent months, scoring in each of the team’s last six matches. The next Abby Wambach? If Hagen is to reach those heights, she’ll likely be doing it from Germany, having signed with Bayern Munich to play professionally.

Hagen could still be drafted by a WPS team and move stateside after the end of the Bundesliga season however.)

5. Ingrid Wells – M – Georgetown

(Let’s get this out of the way first, Wells isn’t called “The Little General” for nothing. She’s well undersized and will probably have to be protected in the center of midfield by a bigger enforcer. But she’s also a dynamic, intelligent playmaker who managed to put a whopping two-thirds of her shots in Big East play on goal as a junior. Wells can both create and finish, making her a versatile asset for someone’s team. Best of all, there might be no better player in this class at making those around her better as she helped raise the Hoyas to new heights in her career. She would’ve likely been the first midfielder off the board after another fine season that culminated in a call-up to train with the full USWNT but instead signed a contract with Sweden’s Goteborg for the 2012 season.)
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