After posting the worst record in WPS last season, FC Gold Pride won the league by 17 points and capped it off with a 4-0 rout of Philadelphia.
What has changed over the past year? For one, the Gold Pride acquired the two top scorers from the 2009 season in Marta and Camille Abily, from the now-folded Los Angeles Sol. Industrious midfielder Shannon Boxx also came in via free agency after St. Louis Athletica folded early in the season.
While there is no denying that the new faces played a part in the Gold Pride's amazing run, if you look at the stat line from Sunday's title winning performance, you will see last year's team all over it. Christine Sinclair grabbed two goals, while Kandace Wilson grabbed perhaps the best goal of the game for her first career WPS goal while also dishing out an assist for Marta's injury-time tally.
"To finish out a whole season and be the WPS champions it's a complete turnaround it feels so good," said Wilson. "I learned a lot from last year, both on the field and off the field, observing when I was hurt and it's all about heart and how much all the players want it."
Of the players on last year's roster, Sinclair, Wilson, Tiffeny Milbrett, two-year captain Rachel Buehler and Nicole Barnhart all started and played important roles, while Kristen Graczyk also saw time off the bench.
"[It feels] absolutely amazing. The foundation of your team is the players that were leftover from the very start of it," said Milbrett. "Believe it or not, even bringing in a ton of new players, the foundation is who you had from the get go."
Although the transfer market certainly played a role in the team’s turnaround, any soccer player will tell you that luck also plays an important part in winning titles.
“Last year we did not have a bad team. I thought we were a little unlucky sometimes last year. We couldn't buy a win last year,” said Sinclair, who put away the first goal of the game after a chaotic sequence in the Philadelphia area. “This year all the breaks went our way and in the final as well. My first goal, it bounces off a defender and comes right to me. Last year it would have gone sailing out of bounds or something.”
Much of the credit for the team’s turnaround can also go in the direction of head coach Albertin Montoya, who stuck with the team after last year’s disappointing season and fostered a competitive environment in which every individual could shine.
“How Albertin has put this team together and how we've flourished within that, it's just been amazing,” Milbrett declared.
Nonetheless, Montoya was quick to divert attention from himself at the post-game press conference. “They [the players] really worked for each other all season long and they have a lot of respect for each and it takes a lot of work,” Montoya pointed out. “You can have all the talent in the world, but you still have to put it together. You have to give credit to the players for believing in themselves.”
It may be too early for the team to start thinking about a repeat, but the pieces are certainly in place for the Gold Pride to continue its success.
“We've got a group of players who are self-driven. That makes them special and as coaches we don't really have to motivate them all that much because they want to be the best they can and they challenge each out here every day at practice.” said Montoya. “If we continue doing that, I think we have a good shot at winning another championship.”
Whatever the results next season, it is clear that Montoya has a foundation that can develop into an even more talented team, and that the foundations are what can win titles.
Nick Rosano is a NorCal-based contributor for Goal.com. Follow him on Twitter @nicholasrosano for more MLS insight and the occasional moment of hilarity.