June 18, 2009

WPS Draft Revisited-Sky Blue FC

This is the fourth installment on the 2009 WPS Draft, looking at Sky Blue FC.

Who They Drafted
1st round (#4)-Yael Averbuch, North Carolina; 2nd round (#11)-Meghan Schnur, Connecticut; 3rd round (#18)-Karen Bardsley, Cal State-Fullerton; 4th round (#25)-Christie Shaner, Notre Dame; 5th round (#32)-Julianne Sitch, DePaul; 6th round (#39)-Jen Buczkowski, Notre Dame; 7th round (#46)-Zhang Ouying, China; 8th round (#53)-Mary Therese McDonnell, Illinois; 9th round (#60)-Mele French, Oregon; 10th round (#67)-Fanta Cooper, UW-Milwaukee.

With talented attacking players like Natasha Kai, Sarah Walsh, Rosana, Heather O'Reilly, Kelly Parker, and Kacey White already on their roster, Sky Blue concentrated on defenders and midfielders. They apparently weren't impressed much by younger players, as they took only one college senior, Yael Averbuch. They were the only WPS team to pick less than three college seniors. Sky Blue went heavily with players with American club experience, especially W-League veterans. Most of the players chosen played college and club soccer in the east and midwest, most notably the Chicago area. Maybe this is not so surprising, given that then assistant coach, now interim head coach, Kelly Lindsey went to Notre Dame.

Current WPS Status
For Sky Blue FC, 7 of their 10 draft picks are still on the roster, 3 were released.

Full time starters (3)-Averbuch, Schnur, Sitch
Part time starters and other full roster players (2)-Bardsley, Buczkowski
Developmental (2)-Shaner, French
Released (3)-Zhang, McDonnell, Cooper

Note McDonnell was later picked up by Chicago as a developmental player.

What They've Done (thru 10 games)
Averbuch-9 G, 5 GS, 504 Min, 9 shots, 3 SOG
Schnur-10 G, 10 GS, 900 Min, 2 assists, 2 points, 3 shots
Shaner-2 G, 40 Min
Sitch-9 G, 8 GS, 714 Min, 9 shots, 4 SOG
Buczkowski-6 G, 4 GS, 342 Min, 1 shot
French-1 G, 11 Min

Bardsley-3 G, 3 GS, 225 Min, 6 saves, 0.5 shutouts, 0.80 GA

Total Offensive Output-37 G, 27 GS, 2511 Min, 0 goals, 2 assists, 2 points, 22 shots, 7 SOG.
Total Goalkeeper Output-3 G, 3 GS, 225 Min, 6 saves, 0.5 shutouts, 0.80 GA.

G=Games; GS=Games Started; Min=Minutes; SOG=Shots on Goal; GA=Goals Against Average.

The Players

Yael Averbuch-It was no surprise that Sky Blue would take the New Jersey native with the 4th pick in the draft. But it had to be a little odd for the former UNC star to be spending most of the early season on the bench, given she started 105 consecutive games for the Tar Heels. The change in coaches seems to have made a lot of difference. Under Ian Sawyers, she was averaging just 33 minutes/game. Since Kelly Lindsey has taken over, Averbuch has played every minute of the last 4 games. Averbuch's height gives her a distinct advantage in the air. She distributes the ball well from her midfield position. She has a strong shot and is dangerous anywhere in the attacking third. Averbuch has extensive experience with the US Junior National teams, so she is used to international caliber play.

Meghan Schnur-Out of the 70 players taken in the January draft, she is the only one to have played every minute of every game for her team. Schnur is a poised defender, who holds her ground and is rarely out of position. From her outside left back position, she guards the flank well and has helped Sky Blue's defense become 2nd best in the league. She doesn't go forward as much as many outside backs in the league, but she can contribute offensively as she demonstrated with her two assists against Chicago. Schnur is one of the best defensive players to come out of the draft and should help Sky Blue for many years.

Karen Bardsley-The CS-Fullerton keeper has started three games for Sky Blue. She's given up just 2 goals in the two and a half games she has played. Bardsley played very well under intense pressure in the 1st half of Chicago game in April. She also made a great save against Athletica, keeping her team in the game late in that contest. When in traffic, Bardsley plays safety first, preferring to punch the ball out rather than risk grabbing it out of the air. She has nice height and anticipates well. For the moment, it appears she is backup to Jen Branam, but Sky Blue doesn't lose anything having her in goal.

Christie Shaner-Shaner has seen brief action in two games. The former Notre Dame and W-League star played center back against the Red Stars and also saw action against the Freedom. Shaner adds depth to the defense.

Julianne Sitch-This W-League veteran is a tough competitor. She started and played the full 90 minutes in Sky Blue's first 7 games, but has seen less playing time lately. She can play either outside defender or holding midfielder. She is an agressive tackler as her three yellow cards would attest. Sitch is not afraid to go forward from either the back or from midfield and chooses her opportunities well. From her midfield position, she does a nice job of supporting the back line. As a defender, she can be occasionally beaten by speed to the outside, but marks well for the most part and is steady on the back line. Sitch was a very solid pick in the 5th round.

Jen Buczkowski-The Notre Dame grad has seen action at midfield for Sky Blue, starting 4 games for the Jersey side. Like Sitch, Buczkowski is a W-League veteran, spending four seasons with the Chicago Gaels before being drafted by SBFC. She is a solid midfielder, who defends well. She drops back well to help the back line. She does not go forward very often in the offense. Buczkowski is not going to blow you way, but she quietly and effectively gets the job done.

Mele French-French is a story in perseverance. Her promising college career at Oregon was cuts short by a series of concussions. However, last year she re-emerged playing for W-League champions, Pali Blues. French has seen brief action in one game so far.

Later Additions-In addition to the players above, Sky Blue also signed Jen Branam and Lauren Sesselmann, both of whom were drafted by Chicago. Branam has been the starting keeper for much of the season for Sky Blue. She is the shortest starting keeper in the league, but is extremely quick and aggressive. Branam has an extremely powerful right leg and can easily kick the ball two thirds of the field. However, she will also occasionally mishit a punt into danger. She has made a lot of great saves, but made a glaring mistake against Boston, letting a low cross get through her for an easy goal. Other than that, her play has been sound.

Purdue grad Lauren Sesselmann was drafted by Chicago, then released, but was recently added to Sky Blue's roster as a developmental player. She has not seen any action yet.

Like Chicago, Sky Blue did well at the top of the draft, but not very good at the bottom. It was a bit puzzling that their 1st round pick, Averbuch, saw very little action early in the season, but lately she has been a key player in Sky Blue's resurgence over the last 4 or 5 games. Schnur is a solid defender and underrated as far as I'm concerned. Bardsley has done a fine job when in goal, although she hasn't played a lot. Sitch was a great pick in the 5th round. Buczkowski has contributed well for a 6th round pick. Veterans Shaner and French haven't played much to this point.

With the exception of Los Angeles, who is loaded with talent, Sky Blue has gotten less starts out of their draft than any other team. They also haven't gotten any scoring, save for Schnur's two assists, but that's largely because they drafted heavily on the defensive side. One problem I see is that because they didn't draft a lot of young players, I don't know how much improvement you are going to see out of most of their draft. There are certainly a lot of solid contributors in this group, but outside of possibly Averbuch and Schnur, I don't think any of the other players could develop into stars.