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Flash aim for fourth straight title in fourth league

McCall Zerboni (center) and the Western New York Flash look for another championship in 2013. (Photo Copyright: Meg Linehan for EqualizerSoccer.com)

A fresh start in a brand new women’s professional soccer league means a clean slate for every team. No expectations.

Well, not exactly.

Half of the National Women’s Soccer League, which kicks off its first season this weekend, consists of franchises which participated in at least one past professional league. And while the Boston Breakers are the only club to have lasted through WUSA, WPS and now NWSL, no team has more of a winning history to live up to than the Western New York Flash.

Three championships, three leagues, three-straight years.

That’s the burden and the blessing the Flash carry into the NWSL. Western New York is home to the 2010 USL W-League championship trophy, the 2011 Women’s Professional Soccer trophy and the 2012 WPSL Elite League trophy.

Now it’s on to the next one for the Flash, who aim for a fourth consecutive title in a fourth different league, starting Sunday at Sky Blue FC.

“I have people remind me from time to time of what we’ve accomplished,” said Flash head coach Aaran Lines, who has guided all three championship teams. “Honestly, the more I accomplish with the Flash, the more I want to accomplish. Winning makes me hungrier to win. That’s certainly every conversation I have with players; it’s one of the things I look for.”

Gone is the terrifying front line of Marta, Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair that ran through WPS opponents, but reigning FIFA World Player of the Year Abby Wambach makes her long-awaited full-time homecoming this season.

She is likely to be paired alongside Spanish striker Adriana up top, with a second layer of attack coming from US midfielder Carli Lloyd (who will miss the first few weeks of the season with a shoulder injury) and Mexican international Veronica Perez.

“Carli is very motivated to come in and do well at the club level,” Lines said. “Those are two players (Lloyd and Wambach) that have won pretty much everything there is to win internationally and they are at the peak of their career. I know both of them are very motivated to win something at the club level and we want to ride off that motivation.”

And unlike yesteryears, Western New York will have the motivation of being a slight underdog. Portland Thorns FC, a team playing the role of the 2011 Flash, with Morgan, Sinclair and Becky Edwards anchoring the spine of the team, are the odds-on preseason favorites.

Defensively, Western New York has a lot to prove and it will all be anchored around rookie goalkeeper Adrianna Franch, who is currently training with US women’s national team due to injuries to Hope Solo and Jill Loyden. Mexican goalkeeper Pamela Tajonar is Lines’ other option in net.

Star Watch: All eyes are on Abby Wambach on this team and in this city. If you haven’t physically been in Rochester, N.Y. when Wambach has been there, you don’t know just how ga-ga that city is over its First Lady of Soccer. The walk-up to Sahlen’s Stadium’s main gate is now Wambach Way, I remind you. Of course, the big question is what Wambach will do on the field. Can she provide 10-plus goals this season? Staying healthy will be part of that equation, but if she does, the Flash should be an offensive force like the 2011 WPS days with the supporting cast of attackers around Wambach.

Potential breakout players: There’s a host of them in Western New York, but several are names fans should know. Veronica Perez was a stud for Sounders Women in the W-League last season — Can she do the same at the professional level? Sarah Huffman was one of the best players in WPS not on the US national team (Lori Chalupny holds the crown) and McCall Zerboni hopes that another stellar season like 2011 might finally get her a phone call for the United States. The most untested but primed for success of the Flash could be Katherine Reynolds, who had a good WPSL Elite League season with the Flash last season after being one of very few bright spots on a historically bad Atlanta Beat team in 2011. How Adriana pairs up with Wambach is key as well.

Coaching factor: Aaran Lines has the biggest trophy case of any coach in the league, though Jim Gabarra (Sky Blue FC) can take claim to being the league’s most experienced coach. This time around, Lines will likely have to figure out how to be the pursuer in the table if Portland lives up to expectations, which will be a new challenge. As he said of the last three, “every championship was different.”

Off the field: The Flash have already more than double their season ticket total from WPS (about 400 in 2011) and will see a sustained boost in attendance from the presence of Wambach, who is to Rochester as Derek Jeter is to New York City or Kobe Bryant is to Los Angeles. But the bottom line is, the Flash need to win. If they can’t do that and if they can’t figure out how to keep the ‘Wambach comes home’ angle fresh (there will be a minimum of 11 home games), then the impact at the gate could be less than expected. The big thing is that Wambach brings with her a new element of sponsorship opportunities.

Roster:

No. Player Pos. Ht. Birthdate Hometown College
22 Amy Barczuk DEF 5-10 10/28/1990 Centennial. CO Univ. of Colorado
15 Vicki DiMartino FWD 5-7 9/04/1991 Long Island, NY Boston College
24 Adrianna Franch GK 5-8 11/12/1990 Salina, KS Oklahoma State
14 Sarah Huffman MID 5-4 3/05/1984 Danbury, CT Univ. of Virginia
12 Estelle Johnson DEF 5-6 7/21/1988 Fort Collins, CO Univ. of Kansas
4 Samantha Kerr FWD 5-8 9/10/1993 Perth, Australia
10 Carli Lloyd MID 5-7 7/16/1982 Delran Township, NJ Rutgers University
3 Bryana McCarthy DEF 5-1 10/13/1991 Scarborough, ONT West Virginia University
19 Melinda Mercado DEF 5-10 3/19/1990 Sapulpa, OK Oklahoma State
17 Veronica Perez MID 5-2 5/18/1988 Hayward, CA Univ. of Washington
16 Katherine Reynolds DEF 5-8 9/14/1988 San Clemente, CA Santa Clara University
23 Jodi-Ann Robinson MID 5-9 4/17/1989 Saint Ann Bay, JAM Univ. of West Florida
2 Alex Sahlen DEF 5-5 9/25/1982 Williamsville, NY Niagara University
6 Angela Salem MID 5-5 7/24/1988 Copely, OH Francis Marion University
8 Adriana Martin FWD 5-9 11/7/1986 Aragon, Spain
1 Pamela Tajonar GK 5-7 12/2/1984 Cuernavaca, MEX
13 Brittany Taylor DEF 5-8 9/18/1987 Campbell Hall, NY UConn
20 Abby Wambach FWD 5-11 6/2/1980 Rochester, NY Univ. of Florida
5 Kim Yokers MID 5-6 5/24/1982 Seattle, WA Univ. of California
7 McCall Zerboni MID 5-4 12/13/1986 Camarillo, CA UCLA

Head Coach: Aaran Lines
Assistant Coach/ Goalkeeper Coach: Scott Vallow
Assistant Coach: Pedro Losa
Strength and Conditioning Coach: Demeris Johnson
Head Athletic Trainer: Ryan Lail
Equipment Manager: Bill Hare
Assistant General Manager: Mike Cipolla

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