Six years after the WUSA folded, the new league Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) is ready to kick off. Goal.com’s Kathryn Knapp breaks down the seven teams competing for the inaugural championship.By Kathryn L. Knapp
Stadium: Harvard Stadium in Cambridge, Mass.
Coach: Tony DiCicco
DiCicco is the all-time winningest coach in U.S. women’s history, amassing a record of 103-8-8 and the 1999 Women’s World Cup title. He has an eye for talent and it shows from front to back. Veteran Kristine Lilly will lead the team both on and off the field. The American midfielder leads the U.S. women in all-time appearances with 342 and 129 goals. England international Kelly Smith and U.S. regular Angela Hucles will add stability and an attacking flavor to the midfield. Amy Rodriguez will freshen the attack, joined by Brazil’s Fabiana and a handful of other options.
Defensively, U.S. international Amy LePeilbet and English international Alex Scott have 64 national team caps between them, while bringing a youth factor to the back-line.
Boston will undoubtedly put a quality product on the field. If anyone knows how to succeed in women’s soccer, it’s DiCicco. Expect them to have a competitive campaign and be a tough team to get past.
Player to Watch: Amy Rodriguez. The No. 1 draft pick has a world of expectations at her feet. But it shouldn’t be hard for the rising U.S. star to dazzle after already winning an NCAA championship and Olympic gold.
Opening Game: Sunday, April 5, at FC Gold Pride
Chicago Red Stars
Stadium: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.
Coach: Emma Hayes
Hayes joins Chicago from Arsenal Ladies Football Club, where she served as assistant coach and academy director since 2006. She leads a strong attacking group into their inaugural season. Brazilian striker Cristiane will lead the attack, joined by University of Illinois grad Ella Massar, Danesha Adams and English international Karen Carney. U.S. midfielders Lindsay Tarpley and Carli Lloyd and internationals Heather Garriock (Australia) and Frida Östberg (Sweden) add stability and strength to the midfield.
Defensively, the Red Stars have a mix of players, including Scotland native Ifeoma Dieke and Virginia grad Nikki Krzysik, which should provide a solid founation. Caroline Jönsson (Sweden) and Lydia Willams (Australia) add an international flavor to the goalkeeping position. Defenders Mary Therese McDonnell, Sarah Wagenfuhr and Michelle Wenino and goalkeeper Jamiel Johnson are Chicago’s developmental players and could all see playing time early.
On paper, the Red Stars have a strong offensive squad and a good mix of players. With six countries represented and a lot of top-level internationals, Chicago should be a tough contender in the 2009 campaign.
Player to Watch: Megan Rapinoe. Chicago’s first draft pick and no. 2 pick overall embodies many qualities, which will aid the Red Stars’ attack – versatility, creativity, perseverance and personality.
Opening Game: Saturday, April 4, at Saint Louis Athletica
FC Gold Pride (Bay area)
Stadium: Buck Shaw Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.
Coach: Albertin Montoya
Montoya may have found himself in the perfect city for leading a women’s team. He gets more than a few gems. U.S. international Brandi Chastain won hearts all over the world in 1999, and she’s back to lead the Gold Pride in its inaugural campaign. Brazilians Adriane and Formiga, Americans Tiffeny Milbrett and Leslie Osborne, Canadian captain and all-time leading scorer Christine Sinclair, and Japanese forward Eriko Arakawa add almost too many options to the attack. Almost.
The backline will include Brazilian Erika and Notre Dame alum Carrie Dew, Stanford alum Rachel Buehler, backed up ably by expected number-one goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart.
The Gold Pride will be a fan-favorite team from the get-go. But can they combine their mix of players into a successful squad? The odds are good, but it’s unsure whether they’ll be around in late August.
Player to watch: Christine Sinclair. The 25-year-old Canadian has played in 125 matches for her home country with 95 goals. She adds size and speed to the front line.
Opening Game: Sunday, April 5, vs. Boston Breakers
Los Angeles Sol
Stadium: Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.
Coach: Abner Rogers
London native Rogers has served as president and director of coaching at the Laguna Hills Soccer Club Eclipse since 2001, and now he has the reins of the league’s strongest offensive squad.
The Sol may have the WPS’s must-see player, World Player of the Year Marta, but she’s not the only one who will add an international flair. Japanese international Aya Miyama should have no problem forwarding the ball to Marta. Miyama is known for her perfect distribution of the ball and speedy play in the midfield. Forward Han Duan (China) and midfielder Camille Abily (France) will also contribute. Shannon Boxx and Aly Wagner bring valuable experience to the midfield, with a combined 244 appearances for the U.S. Women. The first player allocated to the Sol, Boxx brings veteran leadership as well.
Defensively, Los Angeles has four options, including Swedish international Johanna Frisk, and 6-foot back Allison Falk.
Expect some offensive explosions out of Los Angeles and large crowds. Marta, who is known as Zeferina (Pele in a skirt), warrants crowds on her own. Add an fiery offense, and they should fill the stands. Los Angeles should have no problem standing on its own in late August, and must be considered a trophy frontrunner.
Player to Watch: Marta. The 23-year-old Brazilian forward has tallied 47 goals in 45 international appearances. The three-time FIFA World Player of the Year recipient will showcase her feisty flair in Los Angeles.
Opening Game: Sunday, March 29, vs. Washington Freedom
St. Louis Athletica
Stadium: Korte Stadium, Edwardsville, Ill.
Coach: Jorge Barcellos
Barcellos, who is fresh off a silver medal win with Brazil at the 2008 Olympic games, has put together a talented squad. The marquee player is U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo. The 27-year-old netminder had an impressive showing as the U.S. won gold at the 2008 Olympics. Overall, she has 82 caps for the U.S. women and will be the backbone of the squad.
St. Louis native and U.S. international Lori Chalupny leads the midfield, with 89 caps and eight goals to her credit. She’ll have reinforcements from Amanda Cinalli, and Brazilians Daniela Alves Lima and Francielle. English international Eniola Aluko and Ashlee Pistorius lead the attack for Athletica, along with U.S. international Kerri Hanks.
Tina Ellertson brings experience to the back line, with 34 caps for the Americans. She’ll be joined in back by Sweden’s Sara Larsson and Notre Dame alum Elise Weber. Solo will have competition for goalie with Jillian Loyden and Erin Kane.
St. Louis has always been known as a strong soccer city. With the roster picked out, the odds are they’ll stand strong. They have one of the top keepers in the league and could prove that a strong back-line is the ticket to the postseason. But expect a few fireworks here and there as well.
Player to watch: Kerri Hanks. The Notre Dame graduate dominated in her four-years with the Irish with 84 goals and 73 assists. She’s a feisty forward, who can provide plenty of fireworks.
Opening Game: Saturday, April 4, vs. Chicago Red Stars
Sky Blue FC (New Jersey/New York)
Stadium: Yurcak Field, Piscataway, NJ (The first two home matches will be played at TD Bank Park, Bridgewater, NJ.)
Coach: Ian Sawyers
Sawyers’s extensive coaching resume includes stints with the San Jose Cyber Rays (WUSA) and Stanford University. He knows what it takes to have a championship-caliber team, having led the Cyber Rays to the 2001 WUSA title.
Natasha Kai, Sarah Walsh and Mele French lead the attacking third of the field. They’ll be helped by a deep attacking midfield featuring Heather O’Reilly, who will be a key player in Sky Blue’s attack. O’Reilly has 112 caps with the U.S. women with 25 goals. Yael Averbuch, Jen Buczkowski, Brazilian Rosana and Australia’s Collette McCallum will all provide options in the midfield.
Christie Rampone is one of the top defenders in the league with 215 caps for the U.S. women and four goals. She will lead a relatively strong defense featuring England’s Anita Asante, Christie Shaner and Julianne Sitch.
Player to watch: Yael Averbuch. The North Carolina star led her team to two NCAA championships in 2006 and 2008. Standing at 5’11”, she adds height and versatility to the attack.
Opening Game: Sunday, April 5, vs. Los Angeles Sol
Stadium: Maryland SoccerPlex, Germantown, Md.
Coach: Jim Gabarra
Gabarra has coached the Washington Freedom WUSA and W-League teams. Having previously played for the U.S. Men’s National Team from 1986-89, he’s played against the best on an international stage, giving him a unique view. Veteran U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry leads the Freedom. Scurry has played in 173 matches for the U.S. and is the most-capped goalkeeper in USWNT history. Kati Jo Spisak will challenge for the goalkeeper spot. U.S. defender Cat Whitehill and French international Sonia Bompastor will lead the backline.
U.S. international Abby Wambach sparks the offense. The powerful 28-year-old striker has appeared in 127 games for the USA with 99 goals.
Japanese international Homare Sawa will add some international flair to the midfield. Sawa has appeared in 130 matches for Japan with 65 goals. Parrissa Eyorokon, Lori Lindsey, Allie Long, Lisa De Vanna and a handful of others will help out in the midfield.
Player to watch: Allie Long. The North Carolina product helped the side to a College Cup title last fall. Long ended her senior campaign with her best stats to date: six goals and eight assists.
Opening Game: Sunday, March 29, at Los Angeles Sol
Kathryn L. Knapp is Women’s Soccer Editor at Goal.com.