As we barrel toward the conclusion of the first NWSL season it bears reminding that when the calendar first turned over to 2013, none of the eight teams had a single player on its roster. That didn’t happen until January 11 when the league announced where the 55 subsidized players (later reduced to 51, three of whom never played) would be allocated. And it is where we start our look at how the two finalists—the Western New York Flash and Portland Thorns FC—were built.
January 11 – Allocation
Carli Lloyd (USA): Lloyd broke her shoulder and missed the start of the season but her return completed the Flash’s midfield. She had a hat trick in June and scored in four straight matches between July 21 and August 7. And as always, she continued her habit of finding herself in the middle of big games when she bagged both goals in the semifinal win over Sky Blue FC.
Abby Wambach (USA): When Wambach went down with a concussion in Week 2 and had to miss her highly anticipated home opener in her hometown, it looked like the Flash season might be headed for disaster. But Wambach missed just one match (plus two more for national team duty), led the team in goals and assists, and set the tone for the Flash to ascend to the top of the table.
Bryanna McCarthy (CAN): The 21-year old saw only 15 minutes of action this season in relief of an injured Katherine Reynolds on May 11.
Jodi-Ann Robinson (CAN): The elder Canadian at 24, Robinson’s 13 appearances and 197 minutes were the most of any NWSL player who did not make a start. She may have only scored one goal, but it was a 94th minute result-changer to earn a 2-2 draw in Boston in June 5.
Veronica Perez (MEX): This veteran appeared in every regular season match (though not in the semifinal match) but appeared to be the odd midfielder out once Carli Lloyd arrived. Had just one goal and one assist over 958 minutes.
Pamela Tajonar (MEX): Relegated to backup after the team drafted Adrianna Franch; she saw just 2 minutes of action at the end of a blowout win over Sky Blue.
OVERVIEW: Lloyd and Wambach were sensational but the Flash were the only club not to be allocated a third American, and they received very little contribution from the rest of the group. GRADE: B
Rachel Buehler (USA): The Buehldozer never missed a minute except when she was playing for the U.S. She was the physical half (with Kat Williamson) of a center back tandem that was very good at times and closer to average at others. One of the least appreciated U.S. allocations, but nevertheless a solid part of the Thorns’ success.
Tobin Heath (USA): Heath did not play her best for the Thorns but her arrival provided a much-needed boost to a midfield that struggled badly for long stretches of the season. A foot injury suffered Saturday has jeopardized Heath’s availability for the final, but she could play.
Alex Morgan (USA): Outside noise has begun to cloud opinions about Morgan, who had a very good season despite occasionally disappearing while her midfield struggled to find its way. Injured August 7, she was an unused sub in the semifinal and will be available in some form on Saturday.
Karina LeBlanc (CAN): Like Buehler, she only missed time to play for her national team and she frequently came up big as the Thorns’ last line of defense. Saturday will be her second championship match as a starter, having played goal for the Los Angeles Sol when the lost the 2009 WPS title match 1-0 to Sky Blue.
Christine Sinclair (CAN): The local favorite from her college days at Portland began like a house-a-fire but tailed off midseason as Cindy Parlow Cone dropped her into more of a midfield role. Sinclair did pick it up down the stretch and was sensational in the win over FC Kansas City.
Marlene Sandoval (MEX): Did not play for the Thorns.
Luz Saucedo (MEX): Did not play for the Thorns.
OVERVIEW: Overall an excellent group, especially the Canadians who were probably the best pair in the league. LeBlanc and Sinclair were the only duo besides Kansas City’s Desiree Scott and Lauren Sesselmann to both be regular starters on the team. The Mexicans never came, which gave the club more roster flexibility. GRADE: A-
January 18 – College Draft
Flash (Adrianna Franch, Amy Barczuk, Vicki DiMartino, Jackie Logue)
Franch was a revelation: starting every game, leading the league in goals against average, and more than likely setting her course to a legitimate chance to be Hope Solo’s heir apparent for the U.S. The others were sporadic contributors at best. Barczuk and DiMartino figure to improve and contribute down the road, and notably Barczuk played the semifinal in place of injured McCall Zerboni. Logue did not make the team. That the Flash landed Franch on draft day makes it a complete success. GRADE: A
Thorns (Kat Williamson, Nicolette Radovcic, Amber Brooks, Roxanne Barker)
Williamson was a gem in central defense playing a splendid compliment to Rachel Buehler and probably concluding the season as the stronger of the two. Only when Tina Ellertson arrived did Williamson get replaced in a match. The other three never played, making the Thorns the only team to use only one of their four drafted players. Brooks, of course, was a reach after she elected to play at Bayern Munich and could be wind up being a significant contributor if she decides to come back to the States. GRADE: C+
January 25-31 – Free Agents (many of these were announced after January 31)
Flash (Adriana, Sarah Huffman, Samantha Kerr, Brittany Taylor, McCall Zerboni)
This is where the Flash put themselves over the top as title contenders. Brittany Taylor was marvelous as the team’s organizer in central defense while Kerr and Zerboni were outstanding in midfield. Kerr was a particular revelation after nearly not coming to the U.S. for fear her teammates would not like her. Adriana got lost in the shuffle a bit after returning from the Euros and Huffman was plagued by injury through a large portion of the season. That said, recently Huffman has been a strong fill-in for injured Alex Sahlen. On the flip side, Zerboni missed the last two regular season matches and was limited to bench duty in the semifinals. GRADE: A+
Thorns (Becky Edwards, Allie Long, Nikki Marshall, Nikki Washington)
An interesting group: Marshall has been the most consistent, Long the most maligned. Edwards started slow and was rounding into form when she tore her ACL. Washington also wound up on the extended injury list. Say what you will about Long, but there is no way the Thorns beat FC Kansas City last weekend without her playing her best game of the season. GRADE: B-
February 7 – Supplemental Draft
Flash (Estelle Johnson, Angela Salem, Kim Yokers, Val Henderson, Ashley Grove)
Another home run for Aaran Lines. There wasn’t much left for options after the first two rounds, but the importance of Estelle Johnson and Angela Salem cannot be overstated. Only Sky Blue with Katy Freels and Brittany Cameron (both members of the 2012 Flash) can even remotely claim to have gotten more out of their first two supplemental picks as the Flash. Johnson teamed with Taylor to emerge as one of the best center back tandems around and Salem was a fierce ball-winner and solid distributor in defensive midfield. GRADE: A
Thorns (Tina Ellertson, Angie Kerr, Michele Weissenhofer, Marian Dougherty, Jessica Shufelt)
Thorns deserve a downgrade here—not for drafting Tina Ellertson—but for leaving so many good players on the board and taking her in the first round just days before her announcement that she would not play soccer in 2013. She eventually came on board with minor contributions over the last few weeks. Kerr was a consistent contributor but her playing time dropped off as spring turned to summer. Dougherty, taken 32nd overall, was a steal with the last pick of the 4th round. GRADE: C
Discovery Players, etc.
Flash (Laura Heyboer, Katherine Reynolds, Alex Sahlen, Ingrid Wells)
In Reynolds and Sahlen, the Flash managed to snag both of their outside backs during the discovery process. Sahlen was equal parts goldmine and silver spoon. On one hand, she was one of the best players acquired during this timeframe. On the other, as team president, the Flash risked nothing by allowing free agency and the Supplemental Draft to pass by without taking her. Reynolds was under contract in Germany, but the Flash were dogged and ultimately successful in their efforts to get her out of Freiberg in time for preseason. Well was a waiver pickup after being waived by the Spirit. GRADE: A+
Thorns (Jasmyne Avant, Danielle Foxhoven, Adelaide Gay, Libby Guess, Cris Lewis, Emilee O’Neill, Casey Ramirez, Meleana Shim, Tiffany Weimer, Courtney Wetzel)
A wide variety of players here. Avant was waived and went to Boston; Gay never played as backup keeper. The jewel is Shim. She was among the best to enter the league after the Supplemental Draft—and unlike Reynolds and Alyssa Naeher, who were known commodities playing overseas—Shim was a total unknown. She wound up appearing in the final 19 matches and had a stretch of four straight games with a goal. The first was an equalizer against the Flash that snapped Portland’s 331-minute scoreless streak and the second was an 86th minute game-winner in Boston to snap a four-match winless streak. Does anyone doubt her place in the starting lineup Saturday night? Foxhoven, Wetzel, and Weimer have all made contributions as well. GRADE: A+
Where are the goals coming from?
The league’s first two playoff games produced seven goals. Once again the U.S. allocations jumped out in front with Carli Lloyd and Tobin Heath accounting for three of the seven goals. I’ve kept the regular season totals here and just added the playoff totals in parentheses:
Allocated players – 112 (3 playoff)*
United States – 63 (3 playoff)*; Canada – 31* ; Mexico – 18
College Draft – 22 (1 playoff)
Free Agent – 52 * (2 playoff)
Supplemental Draft – 24
Discovery et al. 23 (1 playoff)
Own Goals – 5
*-Includes goals scored by players who have joined other teams since originally joining the league
Note: Free Agent refers to any player signed during the free agent window immediately following the college draft; Discovery includes any player acquired through means not included in any other category
— The Washington Spirit replaced their head coach at the midway mark of 2013 and now they are in the market for a general manager. Chris Hummer stepped down Tuesday, saying he was stretched too thin between the Spirit and his other business endeavors.
— Veronica Perez played in all 22 matches for the Flash but was not used in Saturday’s semifinal win over Sky Blue.
— The Flash were the only team not to lose two games in a row this season. Only one other team avoided a losing streak after May – the Chicago Red Stars.
— Rory Dames said he spoke to Mexican national team coach Leo Cuellar three times during the season. “We spoke at length about (Maribel) Dominguez and about (Dinora) Garza. I was very up front with him. He was very up front with me. We did not have as much contact with him as we did with the Canadian coach(es), but I did talk to him on three separate occasions.”
– A glaring absence from the season was a strong web presence from Seattle Reign FC. That will change in the short term as the club tries to strengthen ties in and around the Emerald City.
— Vlatko Andonovski acknowledged that part of the reason Leigh Ann Robinson did not get forward as often as usual Saturday was due to lingering effects from the knee injury she suffered six days earlier. At one point just before the Thorns’ first goal it looked as if Robinson took an awkward touch and moved slowly for a bit immediately afterwards.
— In case you missed it, U.S. national team coach Tom Sermanni named 18 women to play against Mexico on September 3 in Washington, D.C. The first-time call ups are Robinson and FC Kansas City teammate/NWSL Rookie of the Year Erika Tymrak.
— The Lowdown reported recently that momentum to expand in 2014 was waning and it was confirmed via SoccerWire. US Soccer Federation Sunil Gulati was quoted as saying, “Let’s get this stabilized. Let’s get all the wrinkles out of this system and then we can talk about growth.”
— FC Kansas City may have been knocked off their perch in the final minutes of the season, and they may have tossed aside a 2-0 lead against the Thorns in the playoffs, but 2013 will go down as the year the Blues swept the NWSL awards. Lauren Holiday was named MVP Tuesday, joining Nicole Barnhart (Goalkeeper of the Year), Becky Sauerbrunn (Defender of the Year), Erika Tymrak (Rookie of the Year), and coach Vlatko Andonovski (Coach of the Year). The Blues figured to have solid representation when the Best XI is announced Wednesday.
— Pulled up the story I first wrote about the NWSL allocations and found this nugget on Christie Rampone. “Rampone is the last woman standing from the ’99 World Cup squad yet she still stands tall as a very good – even if no longer great – central defender.” Oops. I’d say Rampone was certainly great in 2013. Expect her to be on the Best XI. Here is the entire post on the allocations.