Dan Borislow can be characterized as many things: a self-made gazillionaire on a personal crusade to ensure the viability of women’s soccer for future generations; a renegade who prefers to operate as a lone wolf; a George Steinbrenner figure whose many eccentricities match his wild ambitions; a megalomaniacal, unhinged control freak; a merciless, grammatically challenged bully who incurs wrath on those he lacks respect for; an asshole. Anyone who has visited this blog (or hell, the Gawker network) in the past two months has likely already formed an opinion on him, and it’s needless to rehash the wacky and often ludicrous happenings that occurred throughout Borislow’s time in WPS. His intervention may be viewed as a necessary evil that ensured the league’s survival in the most critical of years. That era is over now, and the league looks ahead to what is likely the best of all words, albeit without the South Florida fan base: a fourth season without Dan Borislow.
Lauren Cheney’s intrinsic value to the USWNT may not be illustrated in stats, but you should get a sense of it from watching the team play. Cheney was the ultimate utility player in 2011; a support striker behind the central forward, a playmaker in central mid, a left winger, a left winger/left back when needed, the attack-minded deep-lying midfielder in a double-six pairing. Aside from perhaps the last one, Cheney succeeded in each of those roles. The 24-year-old is a wrecking ball of an attacker, but is also tactically disciplined enough to carry out any task she’s assigned. Her maturation as an all-around player has been a wonder to watch these past two years. There’s no stopping her.
Robbie Church celebrated his tenth year at the helm of the Duke Blue Devils by guiding his side to the College Cup final. The team began the 2011 campaign outside the top 25, but would finish the season in the top two. It was quite a feat for a squad that lacked the services of experienced seniors. The team’s front three was entirely comprised of underclassmen, but that didn’t prevent the Blue Devils from edging past Wake Forest in the semifinal. Duke eventually fell to Stanford at the last stage, but Church and his side certainly made a memorable account of themselves. They’ll surely be back for more.
Ian Darke – Legendary football commentator Martin Tyler lent a sense of legitimacy and gravitas to ESPN’s lauded coverage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Ian Darke accomplished a similar feat this summer. The veteran broadcaster elevated ESPN’s coverage of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup to a higher plane with his lead commentary. Darke was part of Sky Sports’ ‘Big Four’ football commentators that also included the aforementioned Tyler before arriving to ESPN in 2010. He quickly formed a successful partnership with Julie Foudy, whose trademark humor paired nicely with Darke’s insightful delivery. Darke’s occasional anecdotes were also memorable (‘I used to play with someone nicknamed Jigsaw. He got his name because he fell to pieces each time he went out of the box’). Darke would go on to call two of the most dramatic games in Women’s World Cup history in the quarterfinal between the United States and Brazil and the final. The matches were made even more compelling by Darke’s play-calling which will be remembered as narration, not just commentary.
Camille Levin – As Chris wrote after the conclusion of the 2011 College Cup, Levin was the glue that helped keep the Card together in the mostly long forgotten early weeks of the season where Stanford was forced to juggle their lineup to deal with an unexpected spate of injuries. A full-back bestowed with dual abilities, Levin powered the Cardinal to their first ever national title with the decisive goal. As the WPS Draft draws closer, one thing is certain about Levin: a bright future awaits.
Kate Markgraf made her debut behind the mic in November 2010 during halftime of the USWNT’s home World Cup qualifier against Italy. It was there that she discussed her recent retirement from a career that spanned 15 years. She also offered analysis of the match and, judging by the subsequent praise, made quite the impression. Markgraf would soon return to women’s soccer grandest stage in her new role, and she did not disappoint. The veteran defender’s keen tactical analysis provided viewers with a more thorough understanding on what was taking place on the pitch. Markgraf paid no mind to mincing words either (e.g. placing blame for Germany’s collapse on Silvia Neid’s shoulders, blasting Hope Powell for the “cowardly” comments, and of course, the Eniola Aluko incident). And lest we forget the allusion to Twilight or the use of the term ‘ballsy’. Markgraf’s commentary was not only shrewd and insightful; it was also pretty damn entertaining.
Alex Morgan continues to live up to the hype first afforded to her after a star turn at the 2008 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. The 22-year-old continues to tiptoe on the precipice of full-blown stardom. Morgan was just 21 minutes away from handing the United States its first world championship in 11 years. Fate would see it differently that night, but the WNY Flash striker again showed glimpses of her trademark heroics in the USWNT’s final friendly of the calendar year. She provided a lovely assist to Tobin Heath in the team’s 1-1 draw with Sweden, which made more people wonder why she hasn’t landed a starting job yet. 2010 saw her win over the hearts of the USWNT faithful, while 2011 introduced her to mass audiences. There’s no telling what kind of heights Morgan will scale in 2012.
Megan Rapinoe – The USWNT’s resident (if I may) badass had an unforgettable year. The 26-year-old outside midfielder had a storied career at Portland, but battled injury and form concerns in her first two pro seasons with the Chicago Red Stars in 2009 and 2010. Rapinoe truly left her mark in 2011, however. The California native cemented a starting place with the USWNT and proved to be one of the team’s most dynamic forces in Germany. Her inch perfect cross to Abby Wambach in the legendary quarterfinal against Brazil helped rocket the U.S. to the latter stages of the tournament. Rapinoe then earned a spot in the starting XI in the final versus Japan. Despite the result, Rapinoe became one of the team’s most recognizable names. Born in the USA indeed, and thank goodness for that.
Paul Riley put his name on the women’s soccer map in 2010 after leading his Philadelphia Independence side to a surprising appearance in the WPS final. Amy Rodriguez also enjoyed a career renaissance under his tutelage after she was feared to have left Boston as damaged goods. The Liverpool native repeated both accomplishments in 2011. His Independence side held the well-endowed WNY Flash close all season long. The thinnest of margins (i.e. Ashlyn Harris’ fingertips) denied his team the title in 2011. His man management skills were validated once more, as he got the most out of occasionally temperamental striker Tasha Kai. Riley’s dapper appearance and colorful one-liners help grow his cult of personality. Perhaps the third season will be the charm for his Philly side, because grander opportunities should be forthcoming.
Are the Sahlen’s – father Joe, daughter Alex, and son-in-law Aaran – the first family of women’s soccer in the U.S.? They can make a real claim for the title. Put simply, WPS wouldn’t be gearing up for a fourth season without the intervention of the Sahlen family and their hot dog empire. Dan Borislow may have been hailed as the savior this time last year, but there would be no WPS to save had the WNY Flash not joined the league in September 2010 as what was thought to be its eighth (!) franchise. The Sahlen’s have since lent a level of professionalism, passion, and okay, cash to the league. All three components helped earn the team a WPS Championship in its expansion year. Special mention should be made for Alex Sahlen’s Save WPS petition which garnered nearly 49,000 signatures in just under three weeks. How long before the WPS Championship trophy gets redubbed the Sahlen’s Trophy?
In October the BBC’s World Service named Hope Solo “the most popular women’s soccer player in the world”. After Solo’s turn on Dancing With the Stars and those photos for ESPN’s Body issues, it’s hard to argue with the distinction. Solo underwent extensive shoulder surgery fourteen months ago that saw her miss a large segment of preparation time with the USWNT. It was a calculated risk, but in the end, it paid off. Almost, at least. Solo was immense in the U.S.’s win against Brazil, but ultimately lost out on a world title in penalty kicks to a Japan side high on momentum. Her newfound fame is unquestionable, as is her ability to polarize. Her Twitter tirade that followed WPS’s decision to dock magicJack a point (and subsequent disappearance of all her tweets), as well as her university analogy show a figure known to court controversy – or vice versa. As the cliché goes, love her or hate her, you almost certainly have an opinion of her. And that’s probably just how Hope Solo wants it.
Abby Wambach’s header seen ‘round the world will certainly hold a sacred place in women’s soccer history. That alone guaranteed a banner year for the 31-year-old striker. Wambach fought through a nagging Achilles’ injury and lengthy goalless drought prior to her third appearance in a Women’s World Cup. In it she proved to be a difference marker, as her four goals in the tournament included that extraordinary header and the go-ahead goal in the semifinal against France. Wambach’s year was undeniably triumphant, despite the loss in the World Cup and magicJack’s fadeout in the playoffs. She finished 2011 on a high, scoring in six of the USWNT’s final seven games. And that’s before she was named the Associated Press’ Female Athlete of the Year.
Obviously this list is not exhaustive. More names later – hopefully.