The 3rd season is upon us! With only about 2 days left until the start of the season, its hard to believe that much time has passed. I look back and realize just how much time has elapsed since the 2010 Championship final, and here we are again, about to witness a new season and a fresh slate for all the teams. Time to witness new rivalries, more outstanding goals and players, and more exciting matches! Let's take a look back and a glimpse ahead of what's to come. First, let's take a look at the league's biggest off-season events.
FC Gold Pride collapses and Chicago Red Stars suspend operations- This off-season was rather tumultuous, in that a few teams across the league suffered financial problems, and only one came out alive. FCGP and CRS were not so lucky. Gold Pride completely shut down after the investors could no longer support the team. This in particular led to major upset and shock from the fans, and the harsh reality hit that in a growing league, even the Champions aren't exempt from folding. Chicago also suffered from not being able to find investors. However, instead of ceasing operations completely, they simply suspended them in the hopes of finding an investor in time to rejoin the 2012 season.
The rescue and identity change of the Washington Freedom- The Freedom were also in danger of folding, and had difficulties finding investors as well. Washington did find an investor just in time, however, and that salvation proved pivotal in the future of the WPS, since losing 3 teams would have been more than enough to put the whole league under. Dan Borislow, the inventor of the magicJack, and current owner of the Washington Freedom, likely saved the league the day he decided to rescue the DC based team. However, this change of ownership did not come without consequences. Borislow changed the name of the team to magicJack, and also changed the location/base of the team from DC to Florida.
Now that we've addressed some of the big league-wide events, let's take a look ahead! What are the teams and what can we expect from them? Who are the front-runners? Who experfienced the most change? Let's start in order of the teams we'll see:
Boston Breakers- For the second year in a row, we'll see Boston play in the first match of the season. Over the offseason, Boston acquired Buehler, who will further strengthen the back line, forming a strong tandem with National teammate LePeilbet. Also acquired was the young Kelley O'Hara, who will add more depth and speed to Boston's attack. O'Hara formed a deadly trio when playing alongside Marat and sinclair. She could hang with the big girls and will no doubt bring her capabilities to the Breakers, who in past season have shown a strong defense, and an at times average offense. Boston hasn't changed much, and it seems they followed the philosophy of "if ints not broke, don't fix it." In the past Boston have always been top contenders. In '09, they just missed out on a spot in the play-offs, and in '10, they hosted the Super Semifinal. As in the past, I think Boston will be in the upper half of the table. I see Boston as a contender, but not a champion.
Atlanta Beat- During the off-season, it seems that ATL did nothing but lose key players and generally get worse. As if that was possible! I know I poke fun at the seemingly pathetic Beat squad, but they have something that pretty much no other team in this league does. The fact that the Beat will be virtually unaffected by National team call-ups in light of the WWC, means they will maintain chemistry and be together for the majority of the season. This bond cvould prove vital for ATL to take advantage of other teams who are missing key players and gain some points. Underdogs are a force to be reckoned with in WPS, and its safe to say ATL is likely the biggest. They picked up a few good players, such as Whitehill and Lloyd, but that's about it. Probably thei most devastsating loss was their relinquishing of Solo. Losing the best keeper in the world when your defense isn't exactly reliable means more problems. They don'tuch of a roster to boast of, but despite the fact that the chemistry will be there throughout World Cup, I predict another bottom-feeder position for them.
Sky Bue FC- Sky Blue is a team who balanced a loss of key players with an equal gain of skilled and youthful ones. While sky Blue lost Rampone, Kai, and Averbuch, they acquired Nogeuira, Heath, and Long. It seems they traded experience ofr youth. With a new coach, Jim Gabarra, the team will likely have a new outlook and even a style of play. also, some more solidarity since the team has gone through numerous coaches in the past 2 seasons. The '09 Champions will be looking to land a play-off spot after a disappointing finish last year in comparison to their '09 season. The new players can either help or hurt the squad, since losing some experience could prove to be a wekness. However, these new players are very talented and have excelled with the national team as well, so this change could be what Sky Blue needed. I was able to watch Sky blue play in one of the games in the Tournament of champions held in Turkey through a webcast, and they played excellently. They were on their game, and if they play like that this season, they will be a threat to anyone. Don't expect Sky blue to be chumps. I think they'll be right there with everyone else.
Philadelphia Independence- Just on paper this team looks like a huge contender. With a star-studded squad, these ladies are likely to go far. If they reproduce the form they had in their extremely successful inaugural season, and combine it with some new talent, this team looks good quite good to repeat and maybe even take it all. Joining the cheesesteaks are Tasha Kai, and the stellar flank middie Megan Rapinoe. After losing Seger, one of the most important midfielders of last season, Rapinoe will do well to link up with national teammate Lori Lindsey. Kai's speed and nose for goal will no doubt help Philly's forwards, particularly A-Rod and Sanderson, up front. These additions bring speed, and that's one of Philly's strongest points. The Indy maintained most of the talented squad responsible for last year's great success, and they simply added more stars, while only losing a few key players. All I can say is this: watch out for Philly.
Washington Freedom (magicJack)- Probably the most notable series of events that took place in the past few months was the management snafu that plagied the team for the majority of the off-season. After Dan Borislow took over ownership of the team, he made drastic changes. He changed the team's name to "magicJack", and ripped the club from its DC home base (where its been for about 10 years now) and moved it to Florida. Originally he was going to split the home games, but now the team is situated in Florida. The negligence of the fans and messy aspect of the business end did not permeate the actual squad management however. The Freedom has only lost a few key players, in long, McLeod, and Bompastor, but they've more than made up for it in acquisitions. Solo, Rampone, Masar, Loyden, etc. are just a few examples of the players joining the Freedom in 2011. Also, 2011 marks the return of forward Lisa DeVanna, who was absent most of last season due to a broken leg. In the past, the Freedom have always been top contenders, making it to the play-offs both in '09 and '10. I am a biased Freedom fan, but you'd have to be ignorant to say this doesn't look like a Championship squad. I think the Freedom will be in the top 4 as in the past years. I think they have a good chance to win, however, like a few other squads in the league, WWC call-ups will take a toll. Washington will be hit hard since many of their players are national team players, so they'll have to rely on draft picks Klingenberg and Press. Like almost every other team, they will have to rely on inecxperienced players to get the job done. Despite the rather poor business and organization management going on within the club, the team has still benefitted in the off-season and is looking strong.
Western NY Flash- Last but not least, we have rookie franchise Flash. While the flash may be a new team to the league, their squad can be labeled anything but a rookie roster. They may be newcomers to the WPS, but this squad is packed with experience and talent. Just to name a few of the highlight players, we have Riley, Harris, Seger, sinclair Averbuch, morgan, Marta, and the list goes on. This is a star-studded squad that mirrors the now defunct FC Gold Pride. This team is going to be a huge contender, and despite it being their inaugural season, will be favorites to win.
There you have it folks. Of course, its impossible to tell this early on, especially without seeing any teams play a bit first. What looks like a good team on paper may lack organization and chemistry on the field. However, as we've seen in past years, sometimes the squads don't lie. I'm super excited for a new season, and I can't wait to see all the teams and players back at it again! After a long wait, WPS is once again here.
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