WPS rosters shaping up on the eve of the season
Women's Professional Soccer will hold its inaugural game on March 29 as the Los Angeles Sol host the Washington Freedom. The rest of the league will begin its 20-game season the following week.
The Breakers look pretty good heading into the league's first season. The headliner of the talent is English forward Kelly Smith, whom Boston drafted with the No. 2 pick in the international draft. Injuries plagued her in the early part of her career, but she's been healthy the past few years and has finished in the top five for FIFA World Player of the Year honors the past two years. Although she has yet to sign with the team, Boston coach Tony DiCicco said in a recent phone interview, "Kelly is one of the best players in the world, and I think she is going to love the challenge here of Marta playing in the league and lot of other great players in the league."
The Breakers also recently traded for defender Alex Scott, Smith's teammate on the English national team and the ladies' club team Arsenal.
As for the allocation of American players, Boston received national team players Kristine Lilly, Heather Mitts and Angela Hucles. Mitts is a strong defender and Hucles found her form this year in the Olympics. The 38-year-old Lilly missed 2008 because of pregnancy, and how much she has left in the tank is a question mark. DiCicco says fans can expect to see "vintage" Lilly, adding, "Kristine Lilly is the type of player who makes other players around her better."
With the No. 1 pick in the WPS draft held this past Friday, Boston selected USC's Amy Rodriguez, an explosive striker who also plays for the U.S. national team. "Most everybody agreed that she was the pick of the draft," DiCicco said. "She is an exciting player."
Rodriguez will join Smith and Canadian striker and former WUSA Rookie of the Year Christine Latham up top.
In the goalkeeping spot is Kristin Luckenbill, who starred in goal for the Carolina Courage of the WUSA, and Tennessee's Jaimel Johnson, whom Boston took with the last pick in the WPS draft.
The Breakers also had acquired the rights to another member of the English club team Arsenal, Irish goalkeeper Emma Byrne, but DiCicco said Friday he didn't think the team would be able to sign her, and the team released her rights shortly afterward.
Chicago Red Stars
Chicago was dealt a blow this month when the news came out that Kate Markgraf will miss the entire 2009 season because she is pregnant with her second child. Markgraf was one of the three allocated American players the Red Stars received, and replacing her on defense will be tough.
From an offensive standpoint, Chicago looks good. In the American allocation, Chicago received midfielders Carli Lloyd and Lindsay Tarpley, who hope to pass the ball to the strong international field Chicago has acquired the rights to sign. That list is led by FIFA World Player of the Year nominee Cristiane, Marta's forward partner on the Brazilian national team. Although Cristiane has not yet signed with the Red Stars, she indicated recently she hopes to join the team, and it seems likely she will join Marta in the WPS very soon.
Joining her up top is English forward Karen Carney, who reportedly already told her Arsenal team that she will not return this season and instead will play in the WPS.
Chicago also recently drafted Portland midfielder/forward Megan Rapinoe to join an already solid offensive attack.
They will be coached by Emma Hayes, a former assistant coach for the Arsenal club team in England.
FC Gold Pride (Bay Area)
FC Gold Pride made the most of the recent WPS draft by using its first two picks on Christina DiMartino, an attacking midfielder from UCLA, and Carrie Dew, a central defender from Notre Dame and a potential anchor for the defense.
The Bay Area squad also made a splash in the seventh round when it selected 40-year-old Brandi Chastain, one of the game's most recognizable players and a local draw who played for the San Jose CyberRays of the WUSA. Chastain hasn't been seen on the women's national team since winning the gold medal at the 2004 Olympics, but in an interview Saturday, she said has been keeping fit and even ran the New York City Marathon in November 2008.
"I look forward to this season with great anticipation," Chastain said. "I miss being on the field."
Although Chastain said she has no expectations about her role, she said she will be ready to do whatever is asked of her by head coach Albertin Montoya. "Any player worth anything that's not starting and not playing 90 minutes should be on the bench wanting to be in the game to help impact the outcome," Chastain said. "He'll definitely get that from me."
In the American allocation, the Bay Area received backup national team goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart, midfielder Leslie Osborne (who is working her way back from a torn ACL) and Rachel Buehler, a standout defender in college who received her shot with the national team in 2008 and made the Beijing Olympics roster.
In the international draft, FC Gold Pride took Brazilian midfielder Formiga with the No. 1 pick. Formiga is a very good ball distributor and the engine that makes the Brazilian attack go. If Formiga is signed, she could pass the ball to Canada's all-time leading goal scorer, Christine Sinclair (95 goals in 125 games), who also has yet to sign with the league.
Los Angeles Sol
Los Angeles has the best player in the world locked up and will look to three-time FIFA World Player of the Year Marta to lead its offensive attack and draw in fans with her exciting play. The Sol also will look to a hopefully healthy Aly Wagner, who has been hampered by injuries for the past few years, to feed Marta the ball as much as possible. When Wagner is on form, she is the United States' best ball distributor, and the Sol need Wagner and Marta to get in sync quickly.
Wagner's fellow Americans Shannon Boxx and Stephanie Cox will lead the defense.
If Los Angeles is able to sign the rest of its internationals, Marta will be joined by strikers Han Duan (China) and Aya Miyama (Japan) and Canadian goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc.
The Sol will be coached by Abner Rogers, who will have the tough task of managing expectations.
St. Louis Athletica
In the WPS draft, St. Louis picked up two-time Hermann Award winner Kerri Hanks (forward, Notre Dame). After selecting Hanks, St. Louis used its next four draft picks to address its needs on defense.
St. Louis traded up in the third round of the international draft and wasted a pick on Sweden's star striker Lotta Schelin, who had just signed a big contract to play in France. It's impossible to have Schelin transferred to the WPS to play alongside her good friend Solo, so the team has since relinquished its rights to Schelin. The rest of the Athletica's international draft was spent obtaining the rights to three Brazilian players: defender Renata Costa, midfielder Francielle and midfielder Daniela, who joins Marta and Cristiane as part of the league's Brazilian attack. All three have yet to sign with their team, but drafting them made sense because St. Louis will be coached by Brazil's women's national team head coach, Jorge Barcellos.
Sky Blue FC (New Jersey/New York)
This is a stacked team with offensive firepower -- having already signed its top international draft picks in Australians Sara Walsh (forward) and Collette McCallum (midfield) to join American allocations Heather O'Reilly, Natasha Kai and Christie Rampone.
With Walsh, O'Reilly and Kai running the offense, every match easily could turn into a track meet. McCallum will become the central midfielder on this squad and possesses excellent dead-ball striking ability. As captain and central defender of the U.S. Olympic team, Rampone was one of the keys to the Americans' winning the gold medal in Beijing.
Sky Blue FC will be coached by Ian Sawyers, who coached the Bay Area CyberRays to the first WUSA title in 2001.
The Washington Freedom will take part in the inaugural game in Los Angeles against the Sol on March 29, and they hope their two best players will be healthy by then. Forward Abby Wambach broke her leg in the final game before the Olympics, and defender Cat Whitehill tore her ACL in June. If both return healthy, Washington will have received two of the best players available in the American allocation.
They hope to be joined by internationals Lisa De Vanna (forward, Australia) and Erin McLeod (goalkeeper, Canada), who both stood out at the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup. De Vanna was known as the super sub of the tournament and is a dangerous attacking threat. The Freedom face stiff competition for her services, however, as Umea IK is hoping to sign her to replace Marta.
In the WPS draft, the Freedom selected legendary U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry, setting up the potential for Scurry to be in goal when the Freedom visit Marta and the Sol in the league's first game. One of Scurry's last high-profile games was the controversial 4-0 loss to Brazil in the Women's World Cup semifinals, when Marta beat her twice.
The Freedom will be coached by Jim Gabarra, who has been the head coach of the Freedom since 2000, won a WUSA title in 2003 and has coached the Freedom as members of the W-League since the WUSA folded.
Jacqueline Purdy is an editor for ESPNRadio.com. She also hosts the ESPN Women's Soccernet podcast on ESPN PodCenter. She can be reached at email@example.com.