Monthly Archives: January 2014

NCAA – 2013 AWK College Soccer Award Winners

Apologies with this being about two and a half weeks late, but my car accident obviously threw the timing of everything out of whack. Congratulations to all the winners.

AWK Coach of the Year – AMANDA CROMWELL – UCLA (Fan Vote Winner: Cromwell)

AWK Rookie of the Year – SAVANNAH JORDAN – Florida (Fan Vote Winner: Morgan Andrews – Notre Dame)

AWK Golden Glove – KATELYN ROWLAND – UCLA (Fan Vote Winner: Rowland)

AWK Defender of the Year – ABBY DAHLKEMPER – UCLA (Fan Vote Winner: Amanda Frisbie – Portland)

AWK Midfielder of the Year – MORGAN BRIAN – Virginia (Fan Vote Winner: Brian)

AWK Forward of the Year – MCKENZIE DONIAK – Virginia (Fan Vote Winner: Doniak)

NWSL – 2014 Draft Review – WNY Flash – Versatility & Value

Considering they won the regular season title and got to the final last season, that Western New York has been mostly silent in the offseason has not been a surprise. The Flash’s draft strategy was pretty calculated, with the club opting for versatile prospects with three of their picks, including their first two. They also filled a big need with Kelsey Wys filling the vacant backup goalkeeper role and grabbed a nice value pick in taking Kristen Hamilton with the draft’s final selection. The Flash had a killer first XI last season, but some of their bench depth left a little to be desired, making the club’s solid draft notable in filling out the club with some quality depth.

They opted for a scalpel (Verloo) and a sledgehammer (Colohan) with their first two picks, and the Flash will be happy with both able to play multiple positions considering they’ll likely need to shuffle more than once this season with many USWNT friendlies scheduled throughout the NWSL season. In all honesty though, the best chance for a rookie to break into the starting lineup may be the club’s last pick, Kristen Hamilton. The Flash struggled to find consistent offensive options off the bench last season, and the Denver forward may well get an early chance to make the club look smart for taking a flyer on her late.

9 – Courtney Verloo – F/D – Stanford

Look through Western New York’s draft, and you find a whole lot of interchangeable pieces that can play multiple positions, including the talented Verloo with the club’s first pick. She’s a player that may have slipped from the forefront of many’s minds this season as Stanford struggled by their standards but was one of the few seemingly sure things the Card could rely on this year. She’s not going to be an out and out center forward for the Flash, but they’ve got Abby Wambach for that. Instead, if Verloo stays on offense, she’s probably going to be on the wing, using her skill on the ball to set up some of her teammates or win set piece opportunities. Verloo’s a dead shot from set pieces, including free kicks, and that could be where she makes her mark offensively as a rookie. There’s also the possibility Verloo moves back to the backline, where she played so effectively for Stanford for one season. A center-back pairing with Brittany Taylor might give the club one of the best ball playing central defense combos in recent memory. Durability might be a factor, as she missed an entire season earlier in her college career, though she also has held up well since. It wasn’t the flashiest pick, but it could be one of the most immediately effective ones for the Flash.
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NWSL – 2014 Draft Review – FC Kansas City – Attacking Depth For Days or Too Much of A Good Thing?

FC Kansas City’s been portrayed as one of the unequivocal winners of this year’s draft, though I have some degree of doubt. I think the Midwest club needed to add a full-back to the mix after Kristen Mewis’ departure, but the team instead opted to add almost exclusively to the midfield and frontline. At this point, I’m not sure who lines up opposite Leigh Ann Robinson out wide for FCKC, though Merritt Mathias seems likeliest after playing there briefly last season. She seems like little more than a stopgap measure as a full-back though, and that FCKC didn’t at least take a flyer on a full-back in the draft was a bit odd.

The other question that seems to be pressing is how the club is going to line up in defense now with three quality center-backs after drafting Kassey Kallman in the opening round. It wasn’t exactly a shock from a value standpoint, but it’s hard to argue FCKC needed another center-back with the rock solid Becky Sauerbrunn and Nikki Krzysik. Sauerbrunn looks likeliest to move, either out to full-back or up top defensive midfield to replace Desiree Scott. Regardless, the defense still looks a bit thin in depth, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the team adds another defender before Opening Day.

The club used its final five picks to add midfielders and forwards. That’s great in concept, but we’ll see in terms of execution. I don’t really think this club was lacking in the firepower department when you consider the goals of Lauren Holiday and Erika Tymrak. I’d expect Mandy Laddish and Jenna Richmond to play more defensive roles in the midfield, though both are versatile to play further forward as well. Finding a consistent forward to lead the line after last season will be key, and there certainly isn’t going to be a lack of options.

5 – Kassey Kallman – D – Florida State

From a value standpoint, I completely understand, as there was a drop off from #5 to #6 on my Big Board, with Kallman worth it in that respect. On the other hand, I’d argue that FC Kansas City didn’t exactly need another center-back (despite the bizarre cries of seemingly half the WoSo sphere), with Becky Sauerbrunn and Nikki Krzysik combining to form an exemplary duo in the middle. The question is what the club does now having drafted Kallman. 3-5-2 is the easy but perhaps not necessarily practical solution given the team’s style. In all likelihood, I’d expect Sauerbrunn to move to full-back or into defensive midfield to play the double pivot besides Jen Buczkowski. Kallman’s a center-back through and through, and this class’ best by a mile. She has size and athleticism and made life a nightmare for whichever forward she was tasked to stop while leading the Florida State defense. Her improvement in the past few seasons has been remarkable. It’s now just a matter of finding a way to compose the best XI with her in it.
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NWSL – 2014 Draft Review – Boston Breakers – Just Business

There may have been more than one talking point about this year’s draft, but there probably weren’t too many for Boston. The Breakers came into it needing some scorers and some cover at center-back to bolster their non-existent depth there. They got them both, taking Nkem Ezurike and Jazmine Reeves to hopefully find some scoring solutions, while Natasha Anasi will likely be auditioned at center-back if she isn’t moved to midfield. Anasi’s teammates, Mollie Pathman and Kim DeCesare were decent picks as well, though both have their concerns.

About the only thing to quibble with was the trade that sent veteran goalkeeper Michelle Betos to Portland and the short-term consequences. In the long-term, the Breakers may come out ahead, getting a second round pick in next year’s draft that could be close to the line of demarcation as to where the talent really drops off. But in the short-term, the club gave up a sure thing and replaced her with the eighth best goalkeeper in a weakened goalkeeping class. As I note below, I’m also unsure as to why they didn’t just bring Jami Kranich in as an undrafted free agent considering nobody picking behind them was in desperate need of a goalkeeper. Given the value that still remained on the board, Boston could have taken another flyer on someone in a talent rich draft while still picking Kranich up later.

It’s probably a moot point in the end. Ultimately, this class will probably be judged on Ezurike and Reeves’ performance. If they can knock them in at their college pace, Boston could well surprise. If they struggle to acclimate to this level, the Breakers will likely be in pole position for Morgan Brian next season.

8 – Nkem Ezurike – F – Michigan

Boston needed a forward in the worst way after losing both Sydney Leroux and Kyah Simon in the offseason. But did they need this forward? Granted, everyone beyond Maya Hayes in terms of forwards in this class has some risk attached, and Ezurike is no exception, though some of her flaws were especially noticeable in her usage stats from her senior season. The burly target forward needed over seven shots for one goal and didn’t put forty percent of her shots on goal as a senior, both particularly big red flags despite some good numbers against bigger clubs. Beyond statistics, Ezurike is build like a house, an imposing, powerful target forward who led the line with effectiveness for the Wolverines for four seasons. There’s little nuanced about her game, and if she’s going to be a key part of Boston’s offense from the start, it’s likely the club may be skewing toward more direct tactics, as a club with Ezurike in the first XI isn’t likely to be engaging in too much tiki-taka. If the Breakers’ coaches don’t try to turn Ezurike into something she’s not, she could be a dangerous weapon up top, with true target forwards in short supply in the league. But this isn’t a pick without risk, and Boston’s been home to more than one maddeningly inconsistent young forward in the past.
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NWSL – 2014 Draft Review – Sky Blue FC – How Many Young Defenders Does A Team Need?

Sky Blue FC’s draft seemed pretty normal for about one round, when they made the obvious pick to add Maya Hayes to their frontline, a unit riddled with questions coming into the new season. The frontline still isn’t exactly the most consistent or reliable group of forwards, but the additions of rookies Jonelle Filigno and Hayes should at least provide some more options. Kelley O’Hara’s return to health would also be much appreciated for the sake of the club’s firepower.

After that pick though, things went notedly haywire. Coming into the draft with just four recognized central midfielders (although, I guess you could call it five with Madeleine Thompson able to function as a defensive midfielder), SBFC promptly added two defenders and a player in Elizabeth Eddy who seems like she’ll either be a full-back or a wide forward for the club. Eddy and Haagsma both had undrafted grades on my draft board, and I think the club really reached for both, especially considering defense wasn’t exactly a top priority coming into this draft. The club already had tons of young defensive talent that was acquire last season, including CoCo Goodson, Kendall Johnson, Caitlin Foord, and Lindsi Cutshall. Realistically, SBFC needed to add more veterans to that young backline, not more rookies. Given the club’s shaky draft from last season, with Kendall Johnson the only player finishing the season as a major contribution, this set of draftees may not have set minds at ease.

Worse, the team didn’t seem to really address its lack of depth in central midfield. Unless Gabarra’s going to be juggling some of his personnel to fill the gaps there, the team still looks short-staffed behind a very competent starting unit. For a club that wheezed over the line as fatigue and injuries took their toll late last year, it might be a mistake that comes back to haunt them.

6 – Maya Hayes – F – Penn State

Another pick that was pretty easy to figure out once all the chips fell the way they were expected to. Though there’s been conflicting reports as to the availability of Australian internationals at the beginning of the season before the AFC Cup/World Cup Qualifiers, SBFC needed some more heft in the attack anyway. Jim Gabarra’s side lost Danesha Adams in the expansion draft, and Kelley O’Hara still has it all to prove after an injury hit 2013, meaning the team needed someone to help out Lisa De Vanna and Monica Ocampo in the attack. Hayes probably isn’t the big, burly forward that would balance the frontline out, but she is this class’ best pure scoring option after lighting up the collegiate ranks the past three seasons. Her first step is explosive, and she seldom loses a footrace if she’s got space between herself and a defender. Hayes crushed big schools and small schools alike, but the Penn State star has to get stronger to deal with the bigger center forwards at this level. It remains to be seen how she’ll fit into the puzzle with SBFC’s existing forwards, but she and De Vanna could give the Jersey side the league’s fastest one-two punch.
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NWSL – 2014 Draft Review – Portland Thorns – Riley Doesn’t Change His Stripes

Well, you can’t argue that Paul Riley’s deviating from form as far as his attitude towards the college draft is concerned. In 2010 and 2011, Riley’s drafting wasn’t exactly stellar, with most of the Independence’s picks washing out in preseason. Those that did survive the cull often didn’t get off the bench, with 2011 first rounder Sinead Farrelly the only draftee to make an immediate impact. Ironically, the Independence’s draft for the doomed 2012 WPS season featured six draftees…five of whom played in the NWSL last season, and the other, Sarah Hagen, starred in Germany.

So it’s apparent that Riley does have an eye for rookie talent, it’s just one he doesn’t seem to be eager to use all that often. He was eager to trade for Michelle Betos to shore up the club’s backup goalkeeping situation in a move that looked rather simple considering the netminder having played for Riley previously. There was also the move to trade back for Meleana Shim after the Santa Clara alum had been taken by Houston in the expansion draft. Riley spoke of Shim’s value being more than that of a second round pick, a piece they gave up in the trade, but the rationalizing smacked of someone trying to cover for the front office’s blunder in having let her go unprotected in the first place. The Thorns arguably came into the draft with the league’s most talent rich roster, but the club can’t keep shedding assets as in the Shim and Nikki Marshall trades and hope to not pay a steep price in the long-term.

Neither of Portland’s draftees figure to be major contributors in 2014. Emily Menges won’t arrive until a few months into the season as she finishes school and will likely be no better than a reserve utility defender as a rookie, while Elisabeth Sullivan faces steep odds to crack this roster. In other words, it’s business as usual for a team helmed by Paul Riley.

25 – Emily Menges – D – Georgetown

Paul Riley’s famous antipathy towards the draft process continued unabated this season, with the Thorns, already short on picks, trading out of their early second round slot and only making their first pick late in the third round. All things considered, Portland didn’t come into this draft with very many holes anyway, so it’s perhaps understandable as to their draft strategy. That being said, they got some nice value with their first pick, taking a solid defender in Emily Menges. A lightning fast back out of Georgetown, Menges really rounded into one of the nation’s top defenders her final two years in the nation’s capital. She’d be no better than fourth choice at center-back to open the season though, so perhaps her pace might invite a move out wide, where the club does not have as much depth. Menges will also be finishing school before heading to Portland, meaning she may miss at least the first month of the season. With that in mind, Menges might find it tough to break into this team upon her arrival, though she does have a fair amount of upside for the future.
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NWSL – 2014 Draft Review – Seattle Reign – Defensive Reinforcement At Last

The running joke about the Seattle Reign this offseason has generally centered on boss Laura Harvey’s transformation into wheeler-dealer, remaking a roster which proved deficient for most of last season. While the turnover for the roster has been both dramatic and aggressive, the changes have largely been centered on the offensive side of the ball. Four offensive additions have come in, including Sydney Leroux and Kim Little, while the defense has gotten a fraction of the attention. Mariah Nogueira counts to an extent as a defensive midfielder, but the only other defensively oriented move coming into the draft was swapping out Kaylyn Kyle for Carmelina Moscato, a move that most would argue doesn’t do enough to rectify last season’s woeful defensive issues.

It was hardly a surprise then that the Reign cast their eye towards picking up some defensive help from this year’s stacked draft class. Harvey and co. were likely holding their breath through the first six picks, as Amanda Frisbie looked like the last sure thing at center-back, though given her technical skill and athleticism, she might end up at full-back. Megan Brigman’s far less of a sure thing and was a surprise in the second round but has pace and a little bit of size, so she’ll at least get a chance to stick.

Local player Ellen Parker was another from the Portland Pilots but may face an uphill battle to stick on the final roster given the glut in numbers in the midfield. Parker does offer more of a playmaking perspective from midfield though, as opposed to the directness of many of Seattle’s veteran midfielders. Regardless, Harvey and Reign fans have to be hoping for a better return from this year’s class, with zero of last year’s picks set to begin the season on the club’s roster.

7 – Amanda Frisbie – D – Portland

Frisbie was this season’s big mover in terms of draft stock after a star turn at center-back for Portland as a senior. She had already impressed with the Pilots a year earlier in an attacking role but took to her new role in defense like a glove despite having not specialized as a defender previously. She won WCC Defensive Player of the Year honors and generally looked like one of the nation’s very best defenders. I don’t think her usage stats from her junior season, her best as an attacker, indicate a move back into the attack is necessarily in the cards. She’s still got tons of upside as a defender after having played just a season there, and the Reign need a ton of help defensively. I think the biggest question may be whether Frisbie features as a center-back or makes the shift to full-back. She’s certainly got the attacking instincts for the latter. Either way, I think she becomes this team’s defensive anchor sooner rather than later.
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NWSL – 2014 Draft Review – Washington Spirit – Capital Club Gets Their Woman Before Falling Into Old Habits

The 2013 Spirit’s incompetence led to something of a mixed bag last Friday. On the one hand, it allowed them to walk away with the #1 pick in the draft, which they used to take Crystal Dunn, to the surprise of absolutely nobody. Dunn’s going to have the chance to help turn around the fortunes for the long suffering fans in the nation’s capital, and she’s probably the best player to come out of the college game and into the pros in ages. Obviously, putting Dunn in the role that best helps the team will be paramount, though it’s hard envisioning a zone on the pitch where the former Hermann Trophy winner isn’t going to succeed in. Sticking her at left-back is probably the “safe” option and would stabilize the defense while giving Washington some great options going forward at full-back. Playing Dunn in midfield might take a little more creativity, especially considering the group of attacking midfielders isn’t exactly replete with size with Diana Matheson and Christine Nairn seemingly locks for the lineup. Whatever the solution, it should be fun for Mark Parsons and Spirit fans as they try to settle on the club’s best lineup option.

But the pessimist/realist (depending on your opinion of my opinion of the Spirit) in me views the rest of the draft as an indicator of just how much damage was done by the club’s brass as they flailed in denial at the plight of the team last season. The disastrous Lindsay Taylor trade that cost the club its second round pick is the main source of pain for Spirit fans, but the deal that sent their third round pick away for Renae Cuellar and Jodie Taylor is another move that could be costly in the end, though bringing Taylor in could be a masterstroke if she plays to her potential. Beyond trading picks away though, the Spirit appear to have been a bit too attached to some of last year’s players, tentatively returning fourteen players from last year’s basement club. It probably would’ve been too much to ask for for a total demolition job, but the Spirit’s inability or refusal to swap assets for picks in a loaded draft may ultimately come back to bite them, as they walked away with just one of the draft’s first twenty-five picks.

Then again, it’s pretty easy to be cynical about the Spirit’s draft strategy given their final two picks in this year’s draft. The club was panned last year for their naivety in depending heavily on local players to make up the numbers on the roster, particularly when it became apparent that many of said players couldn’t make the grade at this level. Drafting from a powerhouse Virginia team might look like a great strategy on paper, but few are likely to confuse that UVA side’s back four with conquerer UCLA’s million dollar backline. Molly Menchel was a borderline pick and a slight reach at the end of the third round, while Shasta Fisher was one of the day’s more puzzling selections. The duo join a Spirit side that suddenly looks bloated from additions through trades, allocations, and the draft. Dunn aside, many might question if quantity may be trumping quality at this point.

1 – Crystal Dunn – D/MF – North Carolina

The Spirit made really the only move they could have, taking Dunn to be the new cornerstone of the franchise. Won just about everything there was to win at both individual and club level before being taken first overall in Friday’s draft, including a Hermann Trophy, numerous All-America honors, a U20 World Cup title, and a national title with North Carolina. Played just about everywhere at college level and played well as a defender in UNC’s 3-4-3, as a left-winger in the same formation, and as an attacking midfielder causing havoc in the space between the backline and the midfield for opponents. Dribbling skill and pace with the ball at her feet are exceptional, to the point that the temptation to use her in a more attacking role may be too much to overcome at some point. Cool as ice in front of the goal and a big-time scorer as her record against top opposition this season attests to. She’ll probably be the club’s left-back in the short-term, but it wouldn’t shock me to see them build the team around her in the long-term, which may mean an attacking role at the heart of the midfield. It also might mean blowing up the team around her as well to craft an XI that’s balanced, which would definitely not be the case if Dunn joined the likes of Nairn and Matheson in the attack right now. The early favorite for Rookie of the Year if all goes according to plan.
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NWSL – 2014 Draft Review – Houston Dash – More Attacking Options For League Newcomers

It wasn’t quite nabbing two of the top four players in this draft class, but the Dash might still be doing backflips after grabbing two of the top eight despite that second pick coming in the second round. There’s a certain terror that has to be rolling through the hearts of Houston’s rivals with the thought of Kealia Ohai and Rafaelle Souza occupying opposite flanks in the attack and stretching defenses until they snap in the Houston heat. It seemed a given that Stephanie Ochs would occupy the flank opposite Ohai until Souza, a very real challenger for a spot in the first XI, was taken at the beginning of the first round. It’s a move that could necessitate a move inside for Ochs, where she’d presumably battle Ella Masar and Tiffany McCarty for the leading role in the Houston attack. That is, of course, if Souza is kept as an attacker. She has played at international level as a full-back, though one suspects Meghan Klingenberg will have the position locked down upon her arrival. Before then, Souza’s ability as a left-back might be needed with the club short on reliable full-back options.

The Dash were notedly aggressive in their pursuit of assets, almost seeing their hand being forced by having to start from scratch in direct opposition of their league rivals. Portland boss Paul Riley argued Meleana Shim was worth more than anyone that could have been found early in the second round of the draft. It sounds like rationalization for Riley’s antipathy towards the process more than anything, and I suppose Waldrum would disagree with that assessment, nabbing the talented Marissa Diggs, a center-back who won’t be bossed around and who is undoubtedly used to the heat, having grown up in Texas and played collegiately in Orlando. Final pick Jordan Jackson was fine value for a fourth round pick and may be called upon sooner rather than later given the Dash’s seeming lightness in numbers in central midfield.

2 – Kealia Ohai – F – North Carolina

It seemed like the internet consensus drifted towards this pick being a slam dunk before it drifted a little back towards it being not so much of a slam dunk considering some of the Dash’s other needs. Familial ties aside, the Dash probably came into this draft in need of some more defensive depth considering some of the questions facing the club early in the season, but the pull of Ohai won out in the end. The Utah native is a tremendously athletic winger who was running by professional defenders in exhibition contests early in her UNC career, and many of the plaudits you can attach to Crystal Dunn being a winner fit Ohai as well after a magical 2012 that saw her win a U20 World Cup and a national title. Ohai’s role in Houston appears simple: drive down the wings and stretch defenses. She’s capable of playing on the left or the right, adding to her value, though she’s not going to be the pure goalscorer some might have envisioned after her rookie season at UNC. Ohai’s usage rate statistics weren’t that great as a senior as she was forced to shoulder too much of the scoring burden, but I suspect that won’t be the case at the next level. She’s as good as anyone in the past few years at getting endline and cutting it back, and her tenacious competitiveness should serve Houston well as they try to get up to speed in 2014.
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NWSL – 2014 Draft Review – Chicago Red Stars – A Steady Course

It’s hard to screw up in a draft in which you’ve got two of the first four picks, and Chicago didn’t rock the boat early in that regard. A midfield with Lori Chalupny, Leslie Osborne, and now Julie Johnston and Vanessa DiBernardo looks to be one of the league’s best and should provide plenty of ammunition for a revitalized frontline. In a sense, it creates some selection and tactical dilemmas for Rory Dames, as he’s got to figure out the best way to deploy all that midfield talent, though 4-2-3-1 seems like the best bet with Johnston alongside Osborne and Chalupny splitting left of DiBernardo. How Dames plans to cram Christen Press, Melissa Tancredi, and Adriana Leon into that attack might take some trial and error at the beginning of the season or further into it in the case of the first two options listed above.

Dames deserves the benefit of the doubt after his keen talent evaluation in last year’s draft, but one wonders if he’s showing a bit of overconfidence in his backline. The roster as listed right now was a veritable M*A*S*H unit last season, with Taryn Hemmings, Amy LePeilbet, and Casey Short coming into this year off serious knee injuries, while key reserve Jackie Santacaterina is coming off of hip surgery. With that in mind, taking the very attack minded Hayley Brock with the club’s final pick in this draft may have been an unneeded luxury.

3 – Julie Johnston – MF/D – Santa Clara

I was 50/50 on whether Chicago would spring for Johnston or Kassey Kallman, with the latter helping to ease some of the worries defensively the club may be facing with so many injury concerns regarding the prospective starting backline. But Johnston’s a top-two talent in this draft class, a USWNT international, and the Red Stars will simply find a way to fit her into their plans despite midfield not necessarily looking like the most pressing need right now. If the club goes 4-2-3-1, Johnston might act as a double pivot alongside Leslie Osborne, strengthening the spine of the Red Stars by a great degree. I’m not sure Johnston can play higher up the pitch with Vanessa DiBernardo also being drafted unless the team played 4-3-3 with Lori Chalupny as a left-wing forward. Johnston could shift back to center-back, as she did with the U20 team, but I think such a move would waste her noted ability on the ball. I’ll be surprised if she’s not a success at this level, but I’m going to be very interested in how Rory Dames gets the best out of her.
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