NWSL 2016 – Chris’ Portland Thorns Preview

Portland Thorns

Projected full strength lineup. Questionable starters in parentheses.

Chris’ 2016 NWSL Previews

1st –
2nd –
3rd – Washington Spirit
4th –

5th –
6th – Houston Dash
7th –
8th – Boston Breakers
9th –
10th –

It was two and out for ex-Portland manager Paul Riley, who was sacked unceremoniously after a brutally disappointing 2015 season. After edging their way into the playoffs a year before and being turfed out early, the Thorns suffered the ignominy of a sixth place finish after a team heavy on players who played a part at the Women’s World Cup crashed and burned when the club’s depth was exposed as little more than a thinly veiled sham. The offense was middling, the defense stunk, and most of Riley’s signings flopped pitifully.

By the end of the 2015 campaign, Riley was dealing with an injury ravaged squad that had somehow managed to go through twenty-eight players on the season. He managed just four games out of a chronically crocked Alex Morgan and three out of key defender Stephanie Catley, while reserves like Taylor Comeau and Sarah Jackson ended up playing nearly half the season. Unsurprisingly, Riley’s exit has brought a clearout from last year’s underachievers and a new influx of big name talent from many corners of the globe. The edict from up high is the same as always: win now and win big, though, on paper, this year’s squad shares some unsettling similarities to last year’s.

Coach

Loyal but very demanding, the Thorns’ fanbase never particularly warmed to Paul Riley as coach, and as the team lurched towards mid-table anonymity last season, there were few tears shed when it was confirmed that the club would be looking in another direction for a manager. But rather than some of the tortured job searches this offseason from other clubs, Portland struck quickly, tabbing rival coach Mark Parsons as their next boss and plucking him away from the Spirit with little difficulty.

Parsons wasn’t particularly loved by some sections of the Spirit support, but it’s hard to argue that he didn’t steer the ship in a more positive direction after the club’s feeble first season in the league. A pair of playoff berths after that calamitous 2013 season was a job well done, though you also got the sense that something drastic would have to happen for the Spirit to break into the upper echelon of the league, even if Parsons had stayed with the club.

Some Portland supporters may be skittish with Parsons’ team building acumen he showed with the Spirit. The club burned through their international slots with players far too green to make an impact in the league like Ngozi Okobi and Hayley Raso while also using slots on some in the vein of Laura Del Rio, who added little in the end. The new Thorns boss has argued though that it will be much easier to attract international talent to the Rose City, though time will tell if the new boss can get the right fit with his signings from abroad. Parsons was also hit and miss with his drafting, though he fared well in 2015, with Whitney Church and Megan Oyster making an immediate impact on the backline.

Indeed, it’s making a club more than the sum of its parts that Parsons succeeded most with during his two plus years with the Spirit. Though the team had a cobbled together look at times, they also outperformed opponents with far greater resources and star power over the past two seasons en route to playoff berths. The most pressing concern may be Parsons’ ability to mold together an elite defense. His 2014 Spirit nearly gave up two goals a game, and while they improved markedly last season, the rearguard was nowhere near the calibre of the top teams in the league. Parsons will need to show better in this regard if he’s to be a success with the 2013 champions.

Goalkeepers

So much for the goalkeeping situation in Portland being settled. Michelle Betos looked to have finally earned the undisputed #1 slot in between the pipes last year after winning NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year honors for a season of heroics that included a last ditch headed equalizer and a year full of keeping scorelines respectable playing behind a backline that was pried open far too often. A well-past-it Nadine Angerer did start six matches for the Thorns in her final season, but few believed at the end of the day that she was anything more than second choice here behind Betos. Angerer’s retirement (albeit from only a playing role, as she’s the new goalkeeper coach here) seemingly opened up Betos to holding the starting spot full-time heading into 2016.

And then Mark Parsons made a shocking trade in wheeling and dealing to bring AD Franch to the Rose City. Franch was last seen on these shores turning in a sensational rookie season in Rochester for the Flash and looking like the heir apparent to Hope Solo with the USWNT. But Franch tore her ACL in 2014’s preseason and was at loggerheads a year later over her contract with WNY, with the result being a lost year in Norway with Avaldsnes, where she didn’t exactly find herself as an undisputed first choice, spending a considerable amount of time on the bench with the Scandinavian club.

Which naturally started the murmurs that French simply wasn’t the same goalkeeper as she was pre-injury. Some would argue that it takes a while to recover from such a serious knee injury, but there are worries that a keeper who was such an explosive athlete between the pipes before could be permanently affected by said injury. The Oklahoma State alum didn’t exactly cover herself in glory in the friendly against Houston this preseason, and that display probably scuppered any short-term plans for French to ascend to the top of the depth chart. But you don’t trade away what Portland did for just a backup keeper, so French may well see major minutes at some point this season for the Thorns creating an intriguing battle between the pipes.

The battle isn’t likely to be early in the season on Franch’s preseason form though, and Betos should enter the season as the #1 here. Betos tends to play on the razor’s edge in goal, and it proved costly at times last season. However, she’s also a streaky keeper, and when she’s on form, Betos has the ability to compensate for the shaky defenses she’s often played in front of in her NWSL career. The reigning Goalkeeper of the Year in the league has never really played behind a top notch backline as a pro at this level, something that may not necessarily change this season. It means that Betos may have to again be at her best for the Thorns to ensure themselves of a playoff spot, especially when the likes of Emily Sonnett and Meghan Klingenberg are away on international duty.

Many may envy the depth Parsons has in goal with both Betos and Franch capable of being strong #1s when on form. Whereas some NWSL clubs don’t have a single keeper who has started many games in this league, Portland has a pair of said keepers. But few will envy Parsons’ task at keeping both of those netminders’ egos satiated over the course of an entire season with both likely to be here all season long. Franch didn’t come back to these shores to ride the pine, but she may have to work her way into major minutes given Betos’ incumbency and her own shaky preseason form. Still, it’d hardly be a surprise if Parsons tries to ride the hot hand all season long, for better or for worse.
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NWSL 2016 – Chris’ Houston Dash Preview

Houston Dash

Projected full strength lineup. Questionable starters in parentheses.

Chris’ 2016 NWSL Previews

1st –
2nd –
3rd – Washington Spirit
4th –

5th –
6th –
7th –
8th – Boston Breakers
9th –
10th –

After learning some very hard lessons in a chastening 2014 campaign, the Dash hauled themselves off the bottom of the league last year and finished up best of the rest, landing in fifth place. While few could doubt that the club had improved, bolstered by the additions of Carli Lloyd and Morgan Brian among others, the reality was that the club wasn’t that close to the playoffs, finishing six points off of Washington. Houston was arguably still in the race heading into August, but the club simply ran out of gas in the stretch run, winning just one of their final six matches. The defense was much improved over the debut season for the Dash, but the attack was still unproductive, despite the talent here.

It’s largely been a season of change again, as manager Randy Waldrum has chopped and changed his squad once more heading into a third, pivotal season under his leadership. Leading scorer Jessica McDonald and #1 goalkeeper Erin McLeod are among the many players not returning for the new season. Waldrum has inarguably pushed all of the Dash’s chips to the center of the table before this season, trading away almost all of the club’s draft picks in 2017 to load up on players in the early part of the 2016 draft and to fill out his roster with experience. It’s a high risk, high reward strategy, but with the upheaval at many other teams, there’s never been a better time to make a big move towards the playoffs.

Coach

The pairing of the expansion Dash and Randy Waldrum looked to be a match made in heaven upon the club’s entry into the NWSL into the league before the 2014 season, but it’s been anything but heading into a make-or-break season for the manager. Most probably expected the club to struggle in their opening season, but few probably expected bottom of the table and a deadly dull side on the pitch that finished last in goals scored by some distance. To his credit, Waldrum fixed the defense in large part last season and got the club up to fifth in the table, but they were six points off the playoffs and closer to eighth than the postseason when all was said and done.

The main culprit was the offense, again completely anemic despite having the likes of an in-form Carli Lloyd and proven scorer at this level Jessica McDonald at the club’s disposal. It’s a far cry from Waldrum’s teams at Notre Dame, where he engineered some free scoring sides that passed the ball with aplomb and terrorized opposing defenses on the way to College Cups and national titles. To call Waldrum’s teams in Houston tedious in attack would perhaps be a bit generous, in all honesty.

There’s little question that Waldrum’s position as manager might become untenable if the club misses the playoffs for a third straight season. It’s highly unlikely that a Houston hierarchy who has invested heavily into a sister club for the MLS Dynamo will be accepting of another campaign out of the postseason, so the pressure is on Waldrum to produce in his third year at the helm. He’s certainly seemed to have eschewed conventional wisdom in the offseason, trading away the club’s leading scorer and dumping assets to load up on players he feels will help the club win now. The result looks like a young and potentially exciting team on paper that still may ultimately be deficient in enough crucial areas to keep the club from making a needed breakthrough.

Indeed, the frantic wheeling and dealing may be approached with something approaching weariness from Dash supporters who may be beginning to question Waldrum’s eye for talent. The draft disasters and international busts are beginning to pile up, with the uninspiring likes of Nina Burger and Osinache Ohale from the inaugural season being joined by last year’s motley crew of Rachael Axon, Stephanie Roche, and Camila. The Dash have a whopping two draft picks from the past two seasons still on their roster, and those were the can’t miss prospects of Kealia Ohai and Morgan Brian, who it has to be said, have developed well under Waldrum. The club has already used a staggering forty players in two seasons and could be adding to that total by at least ten more this season based on new acquisitions.

With little in the way of remaining assets to make further deals though, Waldrum will have to hope that he’s finally gotten the mix right. If he doesn’t, his seat promises to be as hot as the Texas sun come the Summer months.

Goalkeepers

For the first time in the club’s history, the Dash aren’t going to have the safety of Erin McLeod between the pipes. McLeod played behind a dodgy defense in the club’s first season but was a big factor in helping the club’s goals against average dip noticeably to the point that the Dash finished fourth in the league in goals allowed last year. McLeod wasn’t here the whole season, of course, playing just eleven games after international commitments with Canada kept her busy. The Canadian chose to jump on the chance to play Champions League football but tore her ACL and will miss the Olympics as a consequence of having some horrendous luck shortly after her move.

It means that for the first time in her career, Bianca Henninger will have a realistic chance at a much coveted #1 role for a professional club in the U.S. Henninger has waited patiently for this opportunity both in Kansas City for a season and in Houston for two and will be looking to make the most of the chance as she tries to make good on some of the potential she’s shown in her time as the understudy in those spots. Henninger wasn’t bad last season as the club’s backup behind McLeod, but there’s an entirely different pressure on a netminder as the #1 on a team that’s expecting to make the playoffs. She committed an absolute clanger against Portland in the preseason, and the hope has to be that the Santa Clara alum can fill McLeod’s boots capably behind a backline that’s been shuffled a bit.

The Dash would’ve been foolish to not invest in cover, and they’ve brought in a player that could more than just make up the numbers as a reserve. Lydia Williams has history in the league, having played in fourteen matches for the WNY Flash in 2014 before tearing her ACL and disappearing from sight in the NWSL after being waived and having her rights claimed by the Spirit. But now healthy, Williams was an astute signing by Waldrum for a club looking for experienced cover. The Australian-American will likely miss some time this season in the run-up to Rio, but when she’s here, she could well push Henninger for the starting spot in goal. Williams is what she is, a plus-level backup slash acceptable starter at this level, but she’s a better option as a backup than many of the Dash’s contemporaries have going into 2016.

Houston will probably use Haley Carter as their emergency keeper when Williams is away on international duty. She’s trained with the club for the past few seasons but is only now ascending to the #3 role and won’t likely see the field unless there’s an injury later in the season.

The Dash have a pair of solid #2s, but it remains to be seen if they truly have a #1 to take them into the playoffs. The club’s defensive shuffle means whoever’s in between the pipes is going to need to organize the troops in front of her effectively while also covering for the inevitable mistake from the back four as they coalesce as a unit. Given what he’s got, it’d hardly be a surprise to see Waldrum shuffle starters more than once in goal in 2016.
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NWSL 2016 – Chris’ Boston Breakers Preview

Boston Breakers

Projected full strength lineup. Questionable starters in parentheses.

Chris’ 2016 NWSL Previews

1st –
2nd –
3rd – Washington Spirit
4th –

5th –
6th –
7th –
8th –
9th –
10th –

Few expected much of the Breakers in 2015, and Boston didn’t even meet low expectations, winning just four games all season and finishing a whopping seven points off eighth placed Sky Blue FC and fifteen points out of the playoff places. Chicago making the playoffs last season means that the Breakers are now the only founding NWSL club to have yet to make the playoffs, an embarrassing blight on a franchise that has meant so much to the history of professional women’s soccer in the United States.

Despite the agony, there were still a few glimmers of hope for the long suffering Boston faithful. Kristie Mewis had a breakout season from her attacking midfield role, scoring six goals and adding a pair of assists, though she also had to shoulder too much of the burden offensively, leading to a whopping eighty-one shots. The decision to bet big to acquire Stephanie McCaffrey also paid off, with the Boston College alum showing some real bright spots as a rookie, enough to get her some looks with the USWNT in the offseason. But again, the defense was a massive problem, shipping forty-three goals and ensuring that the club would be rooted to the foot of the table. Such a finish has prompted some pretty sweeping changes as Boston enters 2016.

Coach

The end of 2015 brought a merciful end to the Tom Durkin era for the Breakers, as the manager resigned following two painful seasons that culminated with the team finishing dead last last season, seven points adrift of eighth place Sky Blue FC. Durkin and the Breakers drafted terribly, operated even worse in the international market, and built a side that was utterly inept defensively in his two years in charge. With the club being the only founding member of the league to have yet to test the playoffs, it was clear after last season’s humiliation that a major change needed to occur for the club to move forward.

That change comes in the form of new manager Matt Beard, who is the latest member of the NWSL’s British Invasion to take charge of a club. Beard joins from Liverpool Ladies, where he had a three season run of varying success. You certainly can’t argue with the beginning of his career with Liverpool, winning WSL titles in both 2013 and 2014. The back-to-back title wins likely put Beard on the radar of many clubs worldwide in search of a big name manager, and, in retrospect, the move to a league like the NWSL was inevitable for someone whose coaching star had risen so suddenly.

But Boston fans will likely be wary of the fact that the bloom was very much off the rose by the time Beard left Liverpool. The club were humbled in the UEFA Women’s Champions League twice under Beard’s stewardship, losing to Swedish side Linkoping (understandable) and Italian side Brescia (much less understandable) in the Round of Thirty-Two on both occasions. The nadir of Beard’s tenure was in the league last year, where the club finished seventh of eight teams, avoiding relegation by just five points. The team finished doing second worst in goals allowed, not the best omen for a Breakers side with a poor defensive record historically.

The end of Beard’s run at Liverpool sparked some fierce debate. Some argued that the club were desperately unlucky with injuries and that his first two seasons were a more proper reflection of his management ability. A pessimist might argue that the once big spending Liverpool side were found out once other clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City began to splash the cash to reduce the gap in talent. Long suffering Boston supporters will be praying it’s more a case of the former than the latter. Beard’s decision to bring in some players that he worked with while at Liverpool has raised some eyebrows, but they’ve looked the part of solid acquisitions in the preseason for the most part. The NWSL is a ruthless venture though, and Beard will need to hit the ground running if he’s to bring a big turnaround to the Breakers at the first time of asking.

Goalkeepers

It truly is a new era in Boston, and nowhere is that more apparent than in goal, where the Breakers took a calculated gamble in the offseason and traded away Alyssa Naeher, who kept them in many a game the past few seasons, to help bolster the backline. Considering the importance of the veteran keeper in keeping scorelines respectable for the club the past two seasons, some of the angst being directed towards the club after the trade is quite understandable. If Beard’s reshuffling doesn’t work out, this will likely be the move pointed to as the fatal error that could have been avoided.

The big move to replace Naeher in goal came when the Breakers signed Libby Stout from Liverpool in the offseason. After a solid career with Western Kentucky collegiately, Stout turned into a journeyman keeper in Europe, first in France with FF Yzeure before a short stint with German side Cloppenburg, followed by a move to Liverpool. It was there that Stout played under Beard, making this a rather natural fit with manager familiar with his new starting netminder in Boston. Stout also had a cup of coffee with the U.S. U23 team, but she may be under as much pressure as any newcomer in the league with big gloves to fill after Naeher’s departure.

She’ll also face pressure from draftee Abby Smith. Smith slipped on draft day after concerns over her decision making hung heavily over her in evaluations from teams. Still, the Texas alum has the tools to play at this level if she gets good coaching to refine those skills into a finished product. But this perhaps may not be the best situation to have landed in. While Smith has a better chance to play than in many other destinations, she also could have used with a more experienced mentor in front of her while she was eased into duty. There’s a very real possibility that Smith could get tossed into the deep end if Stout doesn’t command the starting job early, and that could be perilous.

Beard is betting heavily on his old charge Stout being able to get the job done at this level after having coached her at Liverpool. But she won’t be playing behind the most stable backline and will be under pressure from Smith to perform right away. It adds up to an uncertain situation between the pipes that isn’t enviable.
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NWSL 2016 – Chris’ Washington Spirit Preview

Washington Spirit

Projected full strength lineup. Questionable starters in parentheses.

It seems a long, long time ago that the Spirit were a league laughingstock. A team that was losing to college teams in exhibitions and boasting a woefully unfit roster for this level. Nobody was laughing last season when Mark Parsons’ side proved that 2014 wasn’t a mere fluke and that they were set on being perennial playoff contenders. Having the league’s MVP certainly helps with that, and Crystal Dunn’s scoring spree helped the Spirit make it two straight playoff berths. And they did it with relative ease, finishing six points above fifth place Houston. The playoffs weren’t kind again though, and Washington bowed out once more to regular season champions Seattle. Consolidation may have stung for ambitious fans hoping for something more after 2014’s fourth place finish, but it still represented great work for Parsons considering what the club had been in 2013.

Unfortunately for the Spirit, that work didn’t go unnoticed, and Parsons was poached by Portland in the offseason to start the coaching carousel. He had his detractors in some circles in Washington, but he was also able to bring together a squad that ended up as much more than the sum of its parts, leaving big money teams like Portland trailing in their wake in 2015. But Parsons also leaves behind a squad with a bit of a chaotic balance, with bloated numbers coming into the new season and some very hard questions for the new boss to answer in terms of finding the correct lineup combination. Even if those questions are answered, Parsons has provided a very hard act to follow considering the turnaround of the past two seasons.

Coach

The Spirit chose to go with a blast from Washington D.C. WoSo’s past, former Washington Freedom manager Jim Gabarra, as their third manager in their history after Parsons left to take the Portland Thorns job in the offseason. In two and a half seasons, Parsons did an excellent job in turning the club from basement dwellers to a two-time playoff team, but there were still some doubts from some sections of the fanbase as to whether he was the man to get the club to the top of the summit in the NWSL.

Gabarra doesn’t come back to the nation’s capital without some serious questions hanging over his head as well though. The former Sky Blue FC boss shocked many by leading the club to the playoffs in the NWSL’s inaugural season but was unable to repeat the feat in the two subsequent seasons. Having loaded up on talent that ended up missing major time on international duty last season around the Women’s World Cup, SBFC suffered greatly when their stand-ins were not up to the task in keeping the club afloat. The lack of development from some of the club’s younger players was particularly galling, as many of Gabarra’s draft picks, highly thought of out of college, fizzled when actually on the pitch in the NWSL.

And that’s a problem considering his new team. The Spirit may have made the playoffs two years in a row, but they’re brimming with young talent that Parsons did well in nurturing for his few years in charge. Gabarra will need to pick up where the last boss left off and hope that those youngsters continue to blossom after having shown so much potential the past few years. The new boss will also be hoping to keep the club on sound defensive footing after last season’s vast improvement from the backline. That, again, isn’t a sure thing considering how SBFC’s defense wobbled at times last year. But Spirit fans will be hoping that the change of scenery will do the coaching veteran some good as their team tries to rise to the level of title challengers in 2016.

Goalkeepers

New season means new era for the Spirit in goal, as they bid Ashlyn Harris farewell for the 2016 campaign. Harris leaves as one of the most valuable players in the Washington club’s brief history, having had to stand up to a whole lot of shots considering the rickety defense in front of her for much of the past three seasons. The veteran was key in organizing a perilously young back four last season, and it remains to be seen how the young backline deals with a new netminder to play in front of them full-time.

Then again, it’s not going to be a total new face between the pipes for the Spirit. Kelsey Wys has been thrown in the deep end her first two seasons in the league, being forced into a lot of duty as a rookie in Rochester for the WNY Flash before seeing action in ten matches for Washington while Harris was with the USWNT. The Florida State alum has acquitted herself fine in her two seasons as a pro thus far, but she also hasn’t really stepped up into a position of being one of the best netminders in the league. With the #1 job likely to herself for the season, it’s time for Wys to make a statement that she’s the keeper for the club to build around, lest they start looking for a long-term solution in next year’s draft. With a young backline in front of her, Wys is going to need to prove her leadership chops for the Spirit to get back to the playoffs one more time.

The club’s presumed backup is Canadian Stephanie Labbe, a new allocation by the Canadian FA for the 2016 season. With the retirement of Karina LeBlanc and a serious injury to Erin McLeod, Labbe will want to show that she’s a reliable option as a starter heading into the Rio Olympics with WNY Flash keeper Sabrina D’Angelo and Clemson youngster Kailen Sheridan breathing down her neck for the role. Labbe has plenty of experience from her time in Europe as a professional, but her appearances at international level thus far have been underwhelming. She’ll likely miss a good chunk of the season with Canada WNT duties, and I wouldn’t think it’d be likely that she’d beat out Wys for the #1 job here, so you wonder if she’ll see the field with the Spirit in 2016.

The Spirit will need an emergency fill-in if/when Labbe is away on international duty. Youngsters Lyndse Hokanson and Emily Lillard filled the role last season, as did goalkeeping coach Katie Jo Spisak. The team drafted Madalyn Schiffel in January, but the San Francisco GK has opted to play in Europe for 2016, meaning it’ll probably be DiDi Haracic, who’s been in this role before, who gets the nod when Labbe is away.

Wys has a lot of pressure on her shoulders coming into this season, and her fate will likely have a big role in the Spirit’s come season’s end.
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NWSL 2016 – Crunching The Numbers Before Final Roster Cuts

So here’s the rosters current as of today’s twenty-five player deadline. I’ve divided each team up into “signed” and “unsigned” sections to give a glimpse of how many spots are “open” for each team, though most of those spots figure to be taken by draft picks who haven’t signed yet. The only draftees I have as being signed at this point are Katie Bowen for FCKC and Christen Westphal for Boston, though feel free to correct me if you see something wrong.

Finally, positional listings are what I have on my books and not what teams have listed right now, so YMMV.

Boston Breakers

Signed (20)

GK – Kranich, Stout
DEF – Elby, Engen, Kallman, King, Lazo, Pathman, Westphal, Wood
MF – Farrelly, Mewis, Salem, Schillgard, Schoepfer, Verdoia, Zerboni
FW – Marlborough, McCaffrey, Simon

Unsigned (4)

GK – Smith
DEF – Strom
MF – Ratcliffe
FW – Krieghoff

Chicago Red Stars

Signed (15)

GK – Dalton, Naeher
DEF – Gilliland, Johnson, Johnston, Short
MF – Colaprico, DaCosta, DiBernardo, Luba, Mautz
FW – Hoy, Huerta, Press, Walls

Unsigned (13)

GK – Smallidge
DEF – Brown, Gorden, Jordan, Krauser, Naughton
MF – Comeau, Malone-Povolny, Pappalardo, Raetzman, Roller
FW – Flaws, Lopez

FC Kansas City

Signed (16)

GK – Barnhart, Rowland
DEF – Averbuch, Bowen, Sauerbrunn, Taylor
MF – Buczkowski, Frisbie, Laddish, O’Reilly, Scott, Tymrak
FW – Groom, Kastor, Silva, McCarty

Unsigned (9)

DEF – Andujar, Arlitt, Karas, Menchel, Reed, Sesselmann, Silver
MF – Labonta
FW – Newfield
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NWSL 2016 – Hi, My Name Is – Preseason Invitee Dossier – WNY Flash

(Welcome to part ten of a ten-part series taking a look at the non-roster invitees to each NWSL club’s preseason camp. I’ve got a good bead on most of these players, but there are gaps that need to be filled, so comments are appreciated.)

Carolina Arias – MF – None

Colombian enters camp on a wave of momentum having featured prominently at right-back for her nation during a breakout Women’s World Cup last Summer. A little undersized at 5’4”, and positional listing on the preseason roster would seem to indicate a move up the pitch may be in order if she’s to make it. Hard to take a flier on someone with so little top level experience at club level, but the Flash do have an international slot still available, so she does have a small chance of hanging around.

Dana Costello – F – Monmouth

Another youngster who has been away from the pro WoSo scene for a few years hoping to catch on now. Costello was a four-year starter and star for Monmouth who raked in the MAAC Offensive Player of the Year award in 2013 as a senior and left with twenty-eight career assists, second at the school only to someone you may have heard of, Christie Rampone. Never topped more than eight goals a season for the Hawks though and was a pretty inefficient shooter in front of goal to boot. Flash have a glut of forwards on the main roster though, so her odds of sticking aren’t great.

Taylor Leach – F – South Carolina

Was one of 2015’s top undrafted players and tried to catch on here as an amateur and will look to do so again this season. Why she’s listed as a forward is anybody’s guess, as Leach played three seasons at center-back in college for South Carolina after beginning her career as a reserve attacker. Was a very good central defender for a traditionally stingy Gamecock defense but may not have that extra gear to make the transition to the next level. Club definitely will need some reserve center-backs given the Olympics, so Leach may well see the field at some point this season for WNY.

Courtney Niemiec – D – La Salle (Portland Thorns)

Not exactly a surprise that Niemiec, as a Riley favorite, is at least being given a chance to win a roster spot as an invitee. Caught on as an undrafted free agent with the Thorns in 2014 and started ten matches for the club but ended up being marginalized last season and eventually waived midseason despite starting three matches early for the club. Played right-back often for the Thorns but has the size to play centrally. Versatility could help her win a roster spot again but hasn’t shown much more than being a replacement level player in the league so far.
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NWSL 2016 – Hi, My Name Is – Preseason Invitee Dossier – Washington Spirit

(Welcome to part nine of a ten-part series taking a look at the non-roster invitees to each NWSL club’s preseason camp. I’ve got a good bead on most of these players, but there are gaps that need to be filled, so comments are appreciated.)

Sarah Adams – MF – Georgetown (Chris’ 2016 NWSL Draft Prospect #76)

Versatile Hoya alum is listed as a midfielder but played right-back and up front for Georgetown when asked, and ability to play multiple positions may be key to getting a look here as well. Four-year starter didn’t do much on the stat sheet in terms of goals, so finding a role on defense may ultimately be her ticket to sticking. Spirit are pretty much stacked on defense but may need some right-back cover down the road, so Adams may have a long-term future here if she impresses.

Yanara Aedo – MF – None

Chilean was probably seen as something of a long-term project upon signing with the Spirit and played with the reserve team last season. Certainly did well for herself, including scoring both goals in the team’s W-League final triumph in late July. Spirit still have an international slot open on the main roster and could use with a little bit more offensive thrust from the midfield, so she could stick if really impressive in camp. However, the numbers game overall likely means another year on the reserve squad.

Melissa Downey – F – Georgetown (Chris’ 2016 NWSL Draft Prospect, Unranked)

The very rare graduate transfer from an Ivy League school, Downey began her collegiate career at Princeton and was pretty nondescript for the Tigers, seemingly seeing her tenure end with a whimper after a serious injury early into her senior year. Surprisingly popped up with the Hoyas as a fifth-year senior but was used mostly as a super sub, scoring five goals on the year to finish fifth on the team in scoring. Local product certainly has the brains to succeed at this level, but with the forward field already crowded, Downey’s unlikely to survive the first cut.

Mary Kathryn Fiebernitz – D – Michigan State (Chris’ 2016 NWSL Draft Prospect #37)

One of the best players not to have been drafted in January. Fiebernitz is a little bit older than most top level prospects being a fifth-year senior at Michigan State this past season but has played like a pro for four seasons with the Spartans, including having another great year as a senior. Not the tallest center-back but very good in the air. Also has a decent range of passing and ability to step up and intercept passes from the backline. Hard to stick on this roster, but good enough to get paid somewhere.

Didi Haracic – GK – Loyola (MD) (WNY Flash)

Veteran keeper has now bounced around the league as everyone’s favorite emergency option for a few years. Most notably started a match for the WNY Flash in 2014 and did well for herself considering the circumstances. Probably could have followed the path of some other third-string keepers and grabbed a paycheck in Europe but has chosen to hang around the NWSL hoping for a break. Will likely begin the new season as the #3 here again but will almost assuredly be the reserve option when Stephanie Labbe is on international duty.
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NWSL 2016 – Hi, My Name Is – Preseason Invitee Dossier – Sky Blue FC

(Welcome to part eight of a ten-part series taking a look at the non-roster invitees to each NWSL club’s preseason camp. I’ve got a good bead on most of these players, but there are gaps that need to be filled, so comments are appreciated.)

Brittany Anghel – GK – Syracuse (AIK)

Former Syracuse keeper made the rounds in Sweden a few years ago with minnows AIK and Brommapojkarna before coming back stateside for a few unsuccessful stints in preseason camps with Portland and FC Kansas City. Decent athlete despite not being overly tall but makes bad decisions off her line and doesn’t have a consistently great leg. Certainly found the right situation though, as she’s probably no worse than what the club have for other keepers right now.

Nicole Baxter – MF – William & Mary (Chris’ 2016 NWSL Draft Prospect #62)

Doesn’t have great size but is a sparkplug in midfield who can do a little bit of everything. Excelled with a W&M side that has been a perennial contender for honors for decades. Had a breakout season as a senior, nabbing ten assists this past year after nine combined the previous three seasons. Not going to do a lot of scoring herself at this level. A little bit simplistic with her game but still effective. Team needs midfield depth, so she’s got a shot.

Rachel Breton – MF – Rutgers (Amazon Grimstad)

A frequent name around SBFC preseason camp, Breton’s back again in 2016 trying to win a full-time spot here. Broke camp early last season to sign with Norwegian strugglers Amazon Grimstad, a move which didn’t really work out considering they were relegated, with Breton featuring in six matches for the team. Breton never really stood out at college level but has persevered and could work her way into a full-time contract considering her versatility and the team’s need in certain positions.

Kelly Conheeney – MF – Virginia Tech

A rather shocking name and potentially an unbelievable story if Conheeney is able to step foot on an NWSL field in 2016. For three seasons, from 2009-2011, Conheeney was the best player in the history of Virginia Tech soccer, scoring twenty-six goals and adding twenty-three assists as a midfielder while also netting fourteen game winning goals. That was enough to put her on top of many categories despite having played just three full seasons. Concussions ended her career after four games in 2012 though, and if she can make it back four years later, it’d be a wonderful story. Had mid-round NWSL talent when healthy, but can she shake off the rust and find that form at the pro level?

Theresa Diederich – MF – Alabama

Back again with SBFC after seeing some time in mop-up duty in three matches last year with the club. Decent scorer with the Crimson Tide as a collegian but toiled in obscurity for a mediocre program for most of her four seasons. Not that efficient with her offense, with her numbers dipping noticeably as an upperclassman. Probably a spot open in midfield for someone to take, so she’s got a shot considering her experience with the club.
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NWSL 2016 – Hi, My Name Is – Preseason Invitee Dossier – Seattle Reign FC

(Welcome to part seven of a ten-part series taking a look at the non-roster invitees to each NWSL club’s preseason camp. I’ve got a good bead on most of these players, but there are gaps that need to be filled, so comments are appreciated.)

Morgan Batcheller – D – Cal State Fullerton (Chris’ 2016 NWSL Draft Prospect #46)

An astute undrafted pickup from the Reign, taking in one of the keys of powerhouse Cal State Fullerton’s success this past season. Not an overnight star with the Titans but came good as an upperclassman to establish herself as one of the West Coast’s best center-backs as of late. Brave diving into tackles and played against some top attackers despite Fullerton being a mid-major. Reign have a few spots open at the end of the bench, so she’s got a shot of sticking here.

Kelly Beck – D – Seattle University (Chris’ 2016 NWSL Draft Prospect #89)

Local product from mid-major contender Seattle U was a three-year starter for the Redhawks and was one of the WAC’s best defenders for much of her tenure. Has good size and competes well aerially off of set pieces. Question is if Beck can hit the ground running against top level competition, as she didn’t see much of it in the WAC. Has potential but definitely needs time to develop at the professional level.

Kate Bennett – MF – University of Washington (Valerenga)

It’s the second go-round in a Pacific Northwest team’s camp for Bennett, who hung around with the Thorns last season and saw action in one game as a reserve. Did her best work as a scoring option from an attacking midfield role in college and has a cannon of a long-range shot. Played in Norway for half a season with strugglers Valerenga after her NWSL stint. Reign needs midfield depth, so she could win a job here.

Rebecca Candler – F – Indiana

Graduated from IU in 2013 and did so with momentum, having scored nine goals and adding nineteen assists in those two seasons combined. Not particularly efficient, as five goals as a senior came on a whopping fifty-six shots. With the long layoff since her college career and seemingly no pro experience since, the question is if she can shake the rust off to be a factor here. Reign could do with another forward option early in the season, so if she can, she may win a roster spot.
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NWSL 2016 – Hi, My Name Is – Preseason Invitee Dossier – Portland Thorns

(Welcome to part six of a ten-part series taking a look at the non-roster invitees to each NWSL club’s preseason camp. I’ve got a good bead on most of these players, but there are gaps that need to be filled, so comments are appreciated.)

Celeste Boureille – MF – Cal

Rookie midfielder wasn’t ranked on my final big board, but that’s solely due to her not being on the initial draft list. Had never been a big star at collegiate level but had her best season as a senior, earning All-Pac 12 Second Team honors, no small feat in that league. Versatile, with the ability to play as a central midfield or as a left-winger. Doesn’t possess gamebreaking speed but has technical skill and flair. Uses size well in the air. Could be a valuable reserve considering amount of international absences to come on this roster.

Anna Maria Gilbertson – F – Notre Dame

Another player who would have been on the final big board had she been on the initial league released list. Had struggled to establish herself as a starter with the Irish until his season and scored thirteen goals in 2015, exactly as many as she had in three previous seasons combined. Great scoring record against top teams playing in the nation’s best WoSo conference. Not particularly efficient and a high volume shooter. Definitely worth a flyer and good developmental prospect that could fit on the end of the bench as an undrafted rookie.
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