Adriana – F
Flattered to deceive more often than not as a rookie in WPS in 2011 for Sky Blue FC, but more than repaid the faith shown in her by Western New York a season later while helping the Flash towards another league title by blitzing the league in front of goal. Along with another former Flash player, Veronica Boquete, looks like a key figure for the present and the future for a rapidly improving Spanish national side. Blend of power and pace makes her a handful for opposing defenders, as last year’s WPSL Elite defenses can attest to. Perfect in a center forward role, but how exactly she’ll be used with Abby Wambach ahead of her in that position on this squad could make or break the Flash’s season. Logic dictates that the right-footed Spanish international could line up as a right-winger/forward when Wambach’s patrolling up front, but those plans are hardly set in stone, especially with Carli Lloyd out for the early weeks of the season. Don’t rule out a potential two center-forward formation, which could see Adriana and Wambach punishing opposing center-backs in concert. Aaran Lines and co. will be wary of missing Adriana during the EURO’s in the Summer however, a loss the club will hope doesn’t harm the offense too much.
Sarah Huffman – M
One of the unheralded stars of the final WPS season with magicJack, Flash supporters will be hoping Huffman’s surging top-level form carries over into NWSL action. A move out to the wing for the Boca Raton club proved very profitable for Huffman, as she terrorized opposing full-backs while driving in crosses to her prolific teammates. As is the case with most of the club’s top players, Huffman’s a versatile asset, also having the ability to play in the center of midfield if needed. The veteran could be moved around depending on how aggressive Aaran Lines wants to be on the day, though the injury to Carli Lloyd certainly has depleted the ranks of the club’s central midfielders, meaning Huffman might be needed in the middle of the park early on to help stabilize the situation until Lloyd returns. If utilized on the wing, form similar to her magicJack stint could be very profitable for the Flash, with two great targets in Abby Wambach and Adriana to aim for with her crosses.
Samantha Kerr – M/F
Australian teenager has unfathomably been a part of the Matildas setup for nearly half a decade despite not having turned twenty yet. Possessing lightning pace and tenacity as a right winger, Kerr already looks like a big piece of the puzzle in the present and future for the full Australian WNT. Big breakthrough in front of goal for Sydney FC this Westfield W-League season has only raised hopes after Kerr had been a bit muted scoring-wise in her time with Perth Glory before making the switch. Role with Flash could be an interesting one considering the presence of potential right-wing rivals Adriana and Sarah Huffman on the roster. One of many who could conceivably play in the middle attacking role in central midfield while Carli Lloyd recovers from injury. At worst, Kerr figures to be a real joker in the deck to pull out in the second half, with her energy and pace figuring to give tired legs real problems late in games.
Brittany Taylor – D
Likely one of the hottest commodities in free agency given her versatility and sheer talent she brings to the table. Capable of playing just about anywhere on the backline or further forward in an attacking role, usually out wide, Taylor’s presence on the Flash gives Aaran Lines a multitude of formation and tactical options. There are few natural defenders who are as comfortable with the ball at their feet as Taylor is, and wherever she’s posted, you can be sure surging runs forward will be soon to follow. It’s hard to project where she’ll play for the Flash, such is her ability to fill needs, but wherever she’s posted, she’ll likely be one of the very first names on the team sheet. Has struggled to get her chance with the full USWNT and will surely be looking to make an impression on the new regime to win a recall to the national team.
McCall Zerboni – M/D/F
Utility player extraordinaire has made dramatic strides over the past few seasons with the WNY Flash, including last season, where she was decidedly one of WPSL Elite’s top players. Will likely be one of the league’s fittest players and displays limitless energy and workrate on the pitch. Ability to play multiple positions cannot be undervalued in a league with smaller rosters and the probability of many players missing various stretches due to international duty, not to mention potential injuries. Early indications were that Zerboni was going to potentially be used in the center of midfield alongside Carli Lloyd as a bit of a midfield runner, but the UCLA alum may need to pick up more of the direct scoring slack from that zone with Lloyd likely to miss some degree of time with her shoulder injury. Once Lloyd returns, Zerboni could stick in that central midfield role or by moved wider to help the Flash stretch the field in attack.
7. Estelle Johnson – D
One of the more unknown commodities in the 2010 WPS Draft ended up turning into a true diamond in the rough for Paul Riley and Philadelphia after the Sol collapsed, with Johnson getting dispersed to the Independence. The Kansas alum turned into a frequent presence in the lineup for the WPS contenders and became a creditable full-back at the top level. Her high draft status in the supplemental draft should be an indicator that the Flash expect more of the same from Johnson, whose versatility allows her to play on either flank. Johnson’s not much of an attacking threat at this level but does have the power and pace to trouble opposing wingers on a frequent basis. The club looks rife with right-backs already, so Johnson figures to be a prime contender for a starting spot on the left for the Flash in 2013.
15. Angela Salem – M/D
At one time, the longest of longshots having come from tiny Francis Marion at college level, Salem has turned into a constant at this level for multiple clubs. A globetrotting career has seen Salem have stints in Finland and, most recently, Australia with a Newcastle Jets side that unfortunately underachieved in the Westfield W-League this past season. Salem returns to Rochester, where she became a folk heroine last season after netting the winning penalty kick that brought a third straight title to the Flash. Has mostly seen time as a reserve in past seasons at this level but has a great opportunity for significant minutes in the middle of the park this year with depth there not the greatest for the Flash, especially with the club missing Carli Lloyd in the early weeks of the season.
23. Kim Yokers – M
Having a fine second act to her professional career after initially serving as a reserve for FC Gold Pride for a few years. Had seemingly dipped back under the radar until turning out for Paul Riley’s New York Fury last season in WPSL Elite action. Proved to be capable of contributing as well, netting a few goals for the club during her tenure. Yokers will look to continue that type of production this season in Rochester for the Flash, who had enough faith in her to spend a mid-round supplemental draft pick to bring her in. Looks like a prime contender for minutes in the center of midfield, as she was used along with McCall Zerboni and Angela Salem in a preseason friendly against Canisius in that role. May have looked like a potential reserve earlier, but injury to Carli Lloyd has opened up the equation, with Yokers potentially being one of the biggest beneficiaries in terms of minutes.
31. Val Henderson – GK
The fact that it took deep into the supplemental draft for Henderson to find a club might be a pretty big red flag as to her playing status for the 2013 season. Flash head coach Aaran Lines spoke of potential concussion issues as a potential reason for the UCLA alum’s wait for a new club this season. If Henderson does make it to Rochester, she’ll be the league’s best backup by a mile, and a player that could reasonably start for a few of the league’s other franchises. A U23 international for the U.S., Henderson eventually wrested away the starting job in Philadelphia from Karina LeBlanc before Nicole Barnhart eventually took control in 2011. Brave off her line and with a reasonable amount of experience at this level, Henderson would be great cover for Adrianna Franch, with the potential to become more than that if she’s healthy and at the top of her game.
39. Ashley Grove – F
Flash dug deep for Maryland alum, who was an undergraduate coach for her alma mater last season while also turning out for a woeful Rochester W-League side in the Summer. W-League scoring record doesn’t exactly fill you with hope, but Grove was a very good college player with the Terps, including a nine goal, six assist junior season in 2010. She backslid a little as a senior, which may have been a factor in not being chosen in the final WPS Draft. The ability to challenge for a spot on this roster is there though, as the Flash aren’t exactly resplendent in forward depth, meaning the Rochester native could well stick with her hometown club with an impressive training camp.
Melinda Mercado – D
Former two-time All-American center-back with Oklahoma State finally gets a belated shot at the big time after initially being drafted by Boston in the middle rounds of the 2012 WPS Draft. Laid low for the most part after the league’s collapse but could be an extremely astute signing for a Flash club that needed depth defensively. Mercado figures to have the chance to be more than just a squad player though, as she was a dominant figure with a Cowgirls defense that was always among the best in the nation with her patrolling the center of the backline. Has the chance to compete for a starting role right away, and her past experience with fellow former Cowgirl and likely starting goalkeeper Adrianna Franch certainly shouldn’t hurt her cause in the least.
What They Still Need
Some tactical wizardry. From early reports of the match against Canisius, Lines seems to be wedded, not to any of the above formations, but to the 4-3-3 that has served the club so well. That could be a dangerous game this season, as the club doesn’t have the calibre of water carrying midfielders as they did in 2011’s WPS triumph, when Brittany Bock and Becky Edwards helped form an impenetrable spine up the middle for the Flash. You could argue that the club is weakest in the central midfield zone, which is why Lines used McCall Zerboni and Sarah Huffman, who have ravaged opposing times out wide in the past, in the middle in their first exhibition friendly. A Huffman-Zerboni-Lloyd triangle in the middle would have verve and talent going forward, but even with Huffman and Zerboni’s defensive talents, could lack bite.
Where exactly the width is going to come from if Huffman and Zerboni play interior roles is also a question. Australian rookie Samantha Kerr could do a job on the right flank, but it remains to be seen if she’ll be given the keys right off the bat at such a young age at this level. Right-back Bry McCarthy could also be auditioned for such a role if she’s squeezed out by a talented backline given her excellent offensive ability. Adriana would likely be the most preferable candidate for a right wing role, though she seems more adept in a center-forward role. The left is the bigger question if Zerboni isn’t there. Victoria DiMartino impressed in the Canisius friendly but may not be consistent enough to be a full-time option.
Coping without the injured Lloyd could be a challenge, as there doesn’t seem to be a natural replacement for her skill set on the roster. McCall Zerboni and Veronica Perez will likely get the first looks at filling in that role while Lloyd recovers, though neither looks to be a perfect fit. If Lines does go with a 4-3-3, it remains to be seen whether Lloyd can gel in the system, with her talents best suited for a role “between the lines” as a Trequartista type playmaker rather than a pure playmaker.
The club probably won’t be worrying too much defensively. The backline is young, talented, and deep. The same goes for the goalkeeping corps if Val Henderson recovers from concussion problems, potentially giving the Flash the league’s best one-two punch in goal.