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The Lowdown: Questions to answer in training camps

Plenty of questions remain for each team as NWSL preseason gets into full swing. (Photo copyright Meg Linehan for www.womens.soccerly.com)

Training camp. Fans long for it. Players dread it. Coaches need it. Whoever you are, if you’re a fan it has to excite you. It means the season is not far away.

The eight National Women’s Soccer League teams open their respective camps this week, all filled with excitement and question marks.

Here is a look at some of the biggest questions needing some answers over the next five weeks.

Boston Breakers – Who is the goalkeeper?

The Breakers have rolled the dice at the goalkeeper position after they were allocated 18-year-old Mexican international Cecelia Santiago. The club did not acquire a keeper during the free agent period and did not select one in either draft. Santiago remains the only known goalkeeper under contract to the Breakers, who are expected to have a large number of competitors in camp.

On the bright side the Breakers have been nearly untouched by injuries or absences to their core group. An exception is 1st round college draft choice Casey Short, who hurt her knee playing for the U-23 US national team last month.

Chicago Red Stars – Questions of defense and Tarpley.

The Red Stars were allocated Amy LePeilbet, who was supposed to anchor the team’s back line. Instead the former WPS Defender of the Year will miss the season after having knee surgery, leaving the Red Stars in search of some stability in back. Jackie Santacaterina, Michelle Wenino, and Lydia Vandenbergh have all worn Red Stars jerseys before but never have they been called on to be regulars on back lines at this level. Taryn Hemmings is also being looked at as a defender.

At the other end of the field, how often the Red Stars score could be dependent on how well Lindsay Tarpley recovers from a knee injury that is nearly two years old. The 29-year-old may not start the season being included in the team, but the Red Stars anticipate having a fully healthy and impactful Tarpley at some point this season.

FC Kansas City – Is Mewis ready for prime time?

FC Kansas City were delighted when Kristie Mewis was available at No. 3 during the college draft in January. Since then she has been in two national team camps, earning her first cap in a friendly against Scotland and her first start at the Algarve Cup.

The Blues built their roster very methodically and did not leave many weaknesses ahead of their inaugural season. If Mewis is ready to deliver consistent performances on the flank she could become the X-factor that pushes FCKC over the top.

If there is an area of development it is with depth on the back line—a common issue among WPS clubs in previous years. In her maiden national team start, Mewis was deployed at left back and went the distance in a 5-0 win over China. That opens up the possibility of Vlatko Andonovski doing the same in NWSL.

Portland Thorns FC – Can they deal with favoritism?

It is clear already that Thorns FC are the model NWSL franchise when it comes to matters off the field. On their website—a neat little subsidiary of portlandtimbers.com—a three-minute video went up shortly after the club completed its first day of training.

As for the roster, the Thorns have put together a nice group of players and will be the league favorites when play begins April 13. After receiving a dream allocation that included Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair, the Thorns were able to nab Allie Long and Becky Edwards in free agency. Those four alone give the team a dynamic attack with prior experience playing together and a strong midfield that figures to get a mid-season jolt when Tobin Heath returns from Europe.

The Thorns biggest area of development will be in back. Rachel Buehler and Nikki Marshall figure to form a solid center back tandem but it’s anyone’s guess who will wind up playing the wide spots. There is no sign of Tina Ellertson, who the club drafted a few days after she announced on Twitter she would not play in 2013.

Otherwise the Thorns will be looking to meld the rest of the roster together quickly and get to work on proving they are really the best team in NWSL, not just the best on paper.

Seattle Reign FC – Where are all the players?

The Reign must be thrilled to get on the field and see the players they have in camp after several weeks of losing players to injuries or European sojourns. In fact the club finally received some positive news when Teresa Noyola was let out of her contract at ADO Den Haag in the Netherlands and will be joining the Reign immediately.

Still scheduled to be missing for the start of the season are Amy Rodriguez (pregnancy), Megan Rapinoe (Europe), Hope Solo (wrist surgery), and Nikki Krzysik (contemplating her soccer future). Solo underwent wrist surgery last week, after which US Soccer announced her recovery time has been upped to 3-4 months. The original timetable was 6-8 weeks. That means Solo could miss most of the NWSL regular season.

Sans Solo the top two keepers on the Reign’s depth chart are Haley Kopmeyer and Michelle Betos. Kopmeyer was the penultimate player taken in the college draft and Betos went in the supplemental draft. Kopmeyer is straight out of the University of Michigan while Betos earned plaudits for her play with New York Fury last season.

The Reign did add Keelin Winters in a trade with the Red Stars. She joins a young midfield that will be looking to gel this month.

Sky Blue FC – Yup, more goalkeeper issues.

Things had been going quite swimmingly for Sky Blue FC in terms of roster building. That is until last week when allocated goalkeeper Jillian Loyden broke her hand training with the US national team. Early estimates have placed Loyden’s recovery time at up to three months.

It now looks as if Sky Blue may have gotten a steal when they selected Brittany Cameron in the 2nd round of the Supplemental Draft. Cameron has WPS experience, albeit mostly as a backup, and was the starting goalkeeper for Western New York Flash when they won WPSL Elite League last summer. Sky Blue also has Ashley Baker, who they took the college draft out of Georgia.

Another question surrounding Sky Blue is where Kelley O’Hara will wind up playing. The national team converted her to left back, but Jim Gabarra envisions her in the attacking role that she parlayed into the Hermann Trophy her senior year at Stanford. The club is one of the few with depth in back so it probably makes the most sense to have O’Hara running with the attackers.

Washington Spirit – Who will score the goals?

The Spirit received an excellent cache of allocated players in January, but nowhere in the group was one who could be counted on to score goals. So they went to work on fixing the problem.

In the first two rounds of the college draft the Spirit nabbed Tiffany McCarty and then Caroline Miller. Handed the first pick in the Supplemental Draft the Spirit grabbed Stephanie Ochs with the top pick. They later drafted former national team super-sub Tasha Kai. Jordan Angeli is officially listed as a midfielder but is more than capable of scoring goals when healthy.

It is an interesting group of young strikers but many of them must prove they can score against top-level competition and Mike Jorden will have to figure out who works well with whom.

Western New York Flash – Four-for-four?

The Western New York Flash have an opportunity to achieve something truly unique. They will be bidding to win their league for the fourth year in a row—something special in and of itself—with the caveat that they have changed leagues every year. After winning the W-League in 2010 they jumped to WPS in 2011. When that league folded the Flash landed in WPSL Elite and are now a charter member of the NWSL.

If they win another title it could well be on the back of a rookie goalkeeper and overcoming a dearth of allocation talent. Adrianna Franch appears to have an inside track to start in goal over Mexican international Pamela Tajonar. And the Flash were put behind the 8-ball when they were the only team allocated only two US players. One of the two, Carli Lloyd, broke her shoulder at the Algarve Cup and will miss the first few weeks of the Flash season.

Like most other teams the Flash will be looking to build a back line, a crucial element that becomes even more important with a young player keeping goal.

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