The Western New York Flash was formally unveiled today at Sahlen Sports Park in Elma, New York. It may have taken the expansion franchise more than two months to officially reveal its identity, but the team has clearly been hard at work assembling a quality squad, one that could possibly rival more established WPS teams.
The Flash has made four player signings thus far (that we know of at least) and the team’s ambitions are plain to see. Beverly Goebel and Kaley Fountain were acquired from the Expansion Draft two weeks ago. Perhaps the 22 year-olds can offer as much value to the expansion team as Lori Lindsey and Joanna Lohman provided to the Philadelphia Independence in 2010. Both Lindsey and Lohman were acquired from the Expansion Draft and played sizeable parts in Philadelphia’s run to the 2010 WPS Championship game.
The Flash also announced the signing of former Washington Freedom goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris. Harris proved to be a #1-in-waiting last season as assumed the position of starting goalkeeper after Erin McLeod tore her ACL on July 24th. Harris went on to concede just four goals over the Freedom’s final seven games. The sterling defensive record helped the Freedom make a return trip to the playoffs, a feat that had seemed impossible just three weeks prior. The ex-Tar Heel really made her mark in the WPS First Round match against the Philadelphia Independence. Her extraordinary performance in goal was blighted slightly by Amy Rodriguez’s 120th minute goal but it clearly caught the attention of the right folks, including USWNT coach Pia Sundhage. Harris was invited as an additional player to the 2010 CONCACAF Women’s World Cup Qualifying tournament. She figures to be a key player in the USWNT goalkeeping set-up going forward. With the starting position in Western New York, she’ll now have the chance to impress every week.
Harris won’t be the only person with Washington Freedom connections headed up to Rochester (or Buffalo). Former Freedom Technical Director Emma Hayes was quietly revealed to be assuming the same role with the Flash. The ex-Chicago Red Stars coach was appointed to the position with the Freedom on August 10th. Thereafter, the team finished the 2010 season with three wins, one loss and two draws. Hayes’ experience and knowledge of the league could pay dividends for the expansion club.
The Flash’s most recent move is not very expansion club-like at all. The inspired ambition behind possibly attaining former FC Gold Pride star striker Christine Sinclair should be noted. Rochester’s Democrat and Chronicle Jeff Di Veronica tonight broke the news that the team had come to terms with the Canadian international. (This is also notable because in Di Veronica, Western New York could have something else WPS clubs have lacked thus far: a faithful beat reporter with columns to fill or blogs to post for a local newspaper). The 27 year-old had an absolutely banner 2010, leading the league in assists with 9 while en route to a WPS Championship. If that isn’t enough to seal her status as one of the world’s best female players, her FIFA World Player of the Year nomination and 2010 CONCACAF Women’s World Cup Qualifying tournament winner’s medal should. Signing Sinclair signals two things: the team wants on-the-field success now and it may want to capitalize on its close proximity to Canada, both in terms of luring in Canadian fans and perhaps players.
In addition to Sinclair, the Flash also has the #1 overall pick in the 2011 WPS Draft. Cal Bear Alex Morgan is expected to go first, what with her goal-every-other-USWNT-game ratio and all. A front line composed of Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan? That’s promising.
Team owner Joe Sahlen, team President Alex Sahlen and head coach Aaran Lines are clearly trying to repeat the instant success they experienced in the W-League. After just two seasons of being in existence, the only professional club in the league went on to lift the 2010 W-League Championship trophy. As the Bleacher Report suggests, the team is expected to fill out its roster with a handful of players from that Championship winning side as well as with blue chip free agents who are still on the market, including the lion’s share of players who were involved with a team some dubbed The Best Women’s Club Team Ever.
While the team’s locale is still being situated (the club might play the bulk of its home games in Rochester), its identity is less mysterious. Suddenly the Western New York Flash is the real deal.