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2015 NWSL Preview: Western New York Flash

Brittany Taylor (left) is one of only four players left on the Flash from last season. (Copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

Brittany Taylor (left) is one of only four players left on the Flash from last season. (Copyright EriMac Photo for The Equalizer)

Suffice it to say that the Western New York Flash reacted strongly to missing the playoffs for the first time in club history.

After four straight years in championship matches in four different leagues — including three titles — the Western New York Flash finished seventh of nine teams in the NWSL last year. Head coach Aaran Lines warned that major changes loomed in the offseason and that is exactly what followed.

[MORE: Team-by-team previews of the 2015 NWSL season]

Western New York’s current roster features four players who played for the team in 2014. FOUR. It’s been an all-out house cleaning in the Empire State, one from which nobody was safe.

Lines and new technical director Charlie Naimo traded away both of the team’s U.S. national team players — Carli Lloyd and Abby Wambach — amongst many others who were traded or not brought back. Lines and Naimo built the roster to be World Cup-proof in a year that will feature fluid rosters across the league due to the Women’s World Cup in Canada from June 6-July 5, as well as the surrounding international obligations.

Additions/Subtractions

This list is lengthy. Lloyd was traded to Houston in exchange for Becky Edwards and Whitney Engen, who return to the club they guided to a WPS title in 2011. Wambach’s rights were traded last week to Seattle Reign FC in exchange for fellow U.S. forward Sydney Leroux, who Lines views as a “franchise player.” That deal also sent Amber Brooks — who was acquired by the Flash in a separate offseason trade with Portland — to Seattle and brought defender Amanda Frisbie to the Flash. The initial Brooks trade sent defender Kat Williamson — who as a Thorn beat the Flash in the 2013 title game — back to Portland, where former Flash captain McCall Zerboni was also sent. The rights to Australian forward Sam Kerr were also traded to Sky Blue FC in exchange for the No. 4 overall draft pick, which the Flash used to draft attacking midfielder Sam Mewis out of UCLA. Of the team’s 42 goals scored last season, 37 were scored by players no longer on the team. Keeping up?

What all of this means is that the Flash are starting from scratch, a move that indicates just how wrong Lines feels things went last season. Lines says he could have four rookies in his starting XI come opening day. Mewis will be expected to play-make alongside two-way midfielder Edwards. No. 3 overall draft pick Abby Dahlkemper — also out of UCLA — could play at center back or as a holding midfielder following the departure of Brooks, who would have held that role. “She’s just technically really, really good,” Lines says of Dahlkemper. “She’s coachable and she’s eager to learn.”

Sure things

Brittany Taylor will again be the anchor of the back line, one that thrived in 2013 but was sub-par in 2014. She’ll need to do most of the leading as well, since Engen will be gone with the U.S. national team for a large stretch. Taylor will also likely need to help groom Dahlkemeper at the professional level as well as fellow rookie Jaelene Hinkle, the No. 7 overall pick out of Texas Tech. Hinkle has been playing at left back in preseason.

Offensively, the Flash will need Jasmyne Spencer to build off her flashes of solid play last season. Spencer scored eight goals in 12 matches for Sydney FC in Australia this offseason, showing signs that she is ready to be the main scoring producer for Western New York. Danish forward Camilla Kur-Larsen will also need to find net early in the absence of Leroux.

World Cup worries

Western New York is not greatly impacted by the World Cup, which should benefit the Flash in the heart of the season and allow for improved chemistry in the homestretch. “It’s been a good preseason,” Lines said. “The character in the group is really good.”

Engen will be the biggest loss, but between Taylor, Dahlkemper and new addition Toni Pressley, the Flash should have cover defensively. Losing Wambach would have been an obvious major absence, but in a couple weeks’ time the Flash went from not having her at all in 2015 to no longer even keeping her rights. The Flash do now have Leroux, who won’t be able to get fully acclimated to her new team until July, slowing the process. Cameroon international Ajara Nchout Njoya will miss time for the World Cup, but she is yet to play in the NWSL and is still an unknown.

Outlook

The Flash don’t have a roster that jumps off the page and the list of rookies who historically make immediate impacts as professionals is not extensive, which could bring some growing pains for the young team. One area to watch is in net, where Western New York has had a revolving door since Adrianna Franch’s preseason knee injury last year. Chantel Jones was acquired via trade in the offseason, but she got hurt on the third day of preseason, Lines said. Jones is back in action but as of the end of March, there was no clear No. 1. Rookie goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo has done well in net in preseason. An immediate return to the top doesn’t look likely for the Flash, but a foundation for more sustained success could be the story of 2015 for the club.

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