After months of existing only as team names, the Philadelphia Independence and Atlanta Beat, Women's Professional Soccer's expansion teams for the 2010 season, finally have players on their rosters.
"Hopefully the new teams will be entertaining to watch. We're a bit disadvantaged, obviously. We're starting from scratch," Independence coach Paul Riley said when reached by telephone Thursday. "Hopefully in the preseason we can make up some ground. Once the whistle blows, it's anybody's game."
The Independence had the second pick in the expansion draft but came away with the biggest name, and perhaps the best player available in Tuesday's expansion draft, 29-year-old midfielder Lori Lindsey of the Washington Freedom. Lindsey was recently called into the U.S. women's national training camp this fall as the squad prepares for a friendly in Germany against the two-time defending World Cup champions. Lindsey started 18 games for the Freedom last year, registering two goals and an assist.
"We brought some good leadership in -- people like Lori Lindsey," Riley said. "She's an excellent player, a great leader. She'll galvanize the locker room. Having her as the first pick was a great one for us."
Philadelphia's early focus was on defense, as its next four picks were defenders -- Jen Buczkowski from Sky Blue FC, Nikki Krzysik of the Chicago Red Stars, Sue Weber of the Boston Breakers and Sarah Senty of the Freedom. Philly selected midfielder Danesha Adams from Chicago and forward Kelly Schmedes from Boston with its final two picks.
The Atlanta Beat took 23-year-old FC Gold Pride defender Leigh Ann Robinson with the first overall pick. Robinson played in 18 games for FC Gold Pride and scored one goal.
"I watched Leigh Ann several times this season, and I've liked what I've seen, obviously," Beat coach Gareth O'Sullivan said via telephone. "She's the type of player that I think will do well in the type of style I'm going to play, which will be a very attacking style. In her right fullback role when I watched her she loved to push forward and really helps in on the attack. I think that's nice to see."
With their second pick, the Beat selected Amanda Cinalli, who came back from a preseason injury to make an impact on offense for St. Louis Athletica. She picked up two goals and an assist in her 12 starts last season.
"Amanda loves to get forward," O'Sullivan said. "She's someone who is very tricky, good on the ball, and definitely will give us options going forward."
Robinson and Cinalli will be joined in Atlanta by defender Katie Larkin (Los Angeles Sol), defender Sharolta Nonen (Los Angeles), midfielder Sara Larsson (St. Louis) and forward Noelle Keselica (Sky Blue FC).
Fully evaluating the draft is difficult, as the league's teams elected not to make the lists of protected and unprotected players available to the public and the media. Washington's list was leaked to the local media, but the lists from the six other teams may never be fully known. Major League Soccer, which had an expansion draft last year, made the lists of unprotected players available.
Now that the teams have a few players on the roster, Atlanta and Philadelphia will turn their attention to the international scene for next week's draft of the rights to up to five international players. The Independence have the first pick in that draft, and they already know whom they will select -- 24-year-old midfielder Caroline Seger of Sweden.
"I think [Seger is] the best midfielder in the world. She, to me, is the epitome of hopefully what we'll be. She's good going forward. She's good defensively. She's [a] very, very good all-around player, and she doesn't give the ball away."
Riley says that Seger is ready to come to WPS and that a deal is in place to bring her to Philadelphia. He's said he's looking forward to seeing her play alongside Lindsey.
"[Lindsey's] the type of player that will be a great combination with Seger in that midfield. I'd be surprised if there'd be a better midfield in the league than that."
As for what happens after that, it will depend on the Beat's No. 2 pick. O'Sullivan isn't giving away any clues as to whom he will select, declining even to say which countries he is most interested in.
One thing is certain, though: Both teams are looking to internationals to have a major impact next season, as they did in the inaugural season of WPS. Of last year's top 10 goal scorers, eight were internationals, and seven of the original 11 WPS All-Star starters (before international duty called them away from the game) were from outside the United States.
"We're looking for some internationals to really add to the attack. We're really looking to bring in some international players that can get us some goals," O'Sullivan said.
"They have to be special players," Riley said. "They almost have to have the same impact that Marta had for L.A. They need to come in and need to be weapons up front."
Having the same impact that Marta had for Los Angeles will be a tall order, as the three-time FIFA player of the year was named WPS Player of the Year after tallying 10 goals and three assists in leading her team to the title game, which the Sol lost to Sky Blue FC.