No expansion team in the history of modern day American soccer has had as high of expectations placed on it as the Western New York Flash. Expectations of fans might even exceed those within the team. Sure, the Chicago Fire won MLS Cup 1998 as an expansion team, but were people talking about the team being the class of the league in preseason?
Western New York faces that very challenge: One of living up to the hype. On paper, the squad as a whole is arguably the most talented in Women’s Professional Soccer. The dissenting argument is pretty weak, too, with seven players from the 2010 FC Gold Pride team that bulldozed the rest of WPS finding their way to the Flash in 2011. Marta, the two-time WPS MVP and five-time FIFA World Player of the Year, is the most high-profile of the group that has transplanted from California. Joining her is forward Christine Sinclair, defenders Candace Chapman, Kandace Wilson and Ali Riley; midfielder Becky Edwards and goalkeeper Brittany Cameron.
Add that group to goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, defender Whitney Engen, midfielder Caroline Seger and No. 1 draft pick Alex Morgan, a top rookie, and suddenly the Flash looks to be the best WPS team on paper. In any other year Western New York might be set to make a similar run to the one made by FC Gold Pride in 2010. But with Women’s World Cup conflicting with the WPS schedule, 2011 looks to be unpredictable.
The Flash could have up to nine players headed to Germany this summer (although Engen is currently on the outside looking in for a spot with the U.S.), meaning the team’s biggest stars could be in and out of the squad throughout the season. Head Coach Aaran Lines said he has had good communication with U.S., Sweden and New Zealand camps. Left back Ali Riley only stands to miss one game prior to the Women’s World Cup break WPS will take from June 23-July 6. But a lack of communication with the Canadian camp still leaves the status of Sinclair and Chapman in question. More critically, exactly how much time Marta will miss with Brazil is still unknown.
Given their star-power, one might expect the likes of Marta or Sinclair to step right into a starting role even without much training with the Flash. Not so fast, Lines said.
“I wouldn’t say that. They have got to come in like everyone else,” he said. “I see it as more of an advantage for players that have been here all preseason…[national team] players are going to have to earn their spots.”
Even without the likes of Morgan, Marta or other internationals, the Flash boasts a formidable squad. Western New York is defensively sound with Riley, Engen, Wilson, Chapman and newcomer Gina Lewandowski.
The midfield should be a strong point with Brittany Bock, McCall Zerboni, Julianne Sitch, Kelly Parker and the speed Gemma Davison. Maurine should also soon join the club soon, although that could not be confirmed by Lines. The biggest problem for the Flash could be finding a go-to forward in the event that Marta, Sinclair and Morgan are all absent from the team at the same time. Lines said he has looked at different systems in preseason, including the 1-4-3-3 and the 1-4-4-2 formations.
“It’s a matter of getting everyone here and on the same page,” Lines said.
With such a deep midfield, a 1-4-5-1 might put the best 11 players on the field, although Marta and Sinclair showed in 2010 how affective they can be in a 4-3-3 (just slot Morgan in for Kelley O’Hara). For the Flash, expectations are high. With four of six teams making the playoffs, August will prove to be the critical stretch run for the Flash.
Western New York Flash Opening Day Roster:
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