The third WPS season kicks off Saturday in Atlanta and the only thing we know going into it is that we don’t know anything at all. The carnage of 2010 has left six teams with vastly different philosophies in terms of building their teams.
There are innumerable angles upon which the third-year league can be analyzed, scrutinized, and patronized. This space however, will be devoted to matters on the field, with some superfluous opinion sprinkled in here and there.
Two matches this week, and everyone starts with a clean slate.
Saturday: Boston Breakers (0-0-0) at Atlanta Beat (0-0-0)
The top and bottom of the prediction spectrum square off on opening day the league’s showcase stadium in Atlanta. The Breakers are the top returning team from last season and added Rachel Buehler and Kelley O’Hara. The Beat meanwhile pulled up the rear in 2010 and dealt away what would have been the second overall draft pick and another acquired pick that turned out to be No. 3 overall. In exchange they got well, nothing until next year when they will have three first rounders.
In the short term the Beat must prove they can score goals. And the task will be all the more difficult against a Breakers team that, if fully present and fit, will be the best in the league.
KEYS TO THE MATCH: Beat midfielders Lori Chalupny and Carli Lloyd will be charged with keeping the flow of the match headed up field and away from what should be a steady back four. On the flip side the Breakers are hoping for a full year of health from Leslie Osborne, one of the game’s best holding mids.
Sunday: Philadelphia Independence (0-0-0) at Sky Blue FC (0-0-0) (Fox Soccer Channel, 6pm EDT)
The battle for supremacy in the Tri-State Area resumes at Rutgers where Sky Blue FC will usher in yet another new era. This one is headed by Jim Gabarra, the longtime Freedom coach who should deliver Sky Blue with an air of stability and patience. The Independence meanwhile took an aggressive approach to building their team for last year’s maiden voyage and wound up in the final where they lost to FC Gold Pride.
A few pieces of the Independence’s 2010 team are gone—notably Caroline Seger—but the fabric of Paul Riley’s system appears to be intact. Furthermore the addition of Sinead Farrelly in midfield and Tasha Kai (from Sky Blue) and Laura Del Rio should give them scoring depth. They also had their way with Sky Blue last year, winning three of four and generally outplaying them.
KEYS TO THE MATCH: The Sky Blue backline was torn apart over the winter. Christie Rampone, Meghan Schnur, and Keeley Dowling all left in free agency leaving Brittany Taylor and occasional starter Kendall Fletcher as holdovers. Carrie Dew and one-time Sky Blue starter Anita Asante have been brought in to fill the gaps. If they’re not solid look for Lori Lindsey and her midfield friends to tear it up much the same as they did in 2010.
Three points of interest
1) With internationals dealing with country commitments opportunities are ripe for some unheralded young players to break though this season. The search for the next breakthrough player begins this weekend.
2) Western New York Flash and magicJack are both idle and will open next weekend in Boston and Philadelphia, respectively. That means the uncertainty surrounding magicJack will continue for another week.
3) The most notable names not on opening day rosters are Karina LeBlanc and Erin McLeod. The close friends and current rivals in the battle to be the first team Canadian goalkeeper at the World Cup have elected to forego the season to train with Canada.
Dan Lauletta is a freelance writer based in the northeast. He has covered professional women’s soccer since the dawn of WUSA in 2001 and has attended all five pro league finals. He has also covered MLS, the U.S. Women’s National Team and several other sports in the area. Dan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.