January 11, 2010

Atlanta Beat - The Offseason So Far

For the final installment of this series, we'll look at the Atlanta Beat.

Building the Roster

Atlanta drafted 6 players in the WPS expansion draft. Of those, Sara Larsson was never signed to a contract and declared a free agent. She eventually signed with Philadelphia. The other five players were Leigh Ann Robinson, Amanda Cinalli, Katie Larkin, Sharolta Nonen, and Noelle Keselica.

Offensively, Amanda Cinalli had the best 2009 WPS season among the draftees. After missing several matches early in the season, Cinalli started 12 of the final 13. She managed two goals and an assist over that time. She has been a mainstay on the US U-23 team the past couple of years and can play attacking mid or forward. Katie Larkin got only 5 starts for LA, but she saw a lot of action off the bench. The BYU alum is normally a wing or forward, but she did play some outside defender in her rookie WPS season. Keselica saw action in 5 matches for Sky Blue.

Leigh Ann Robinson was somewhat of a surprise as the number one pick in the expansion draft, but she did have a solid season with Gold Pride. She primarily played outside defender, scoring one goal for the season, a game winner against Sky Blue. She can be very dangerous on forward runs. Nonen, who played for the original WUSA version of the Beat, played briefly with Los Angeles late in the 2009 season. The Canadian defender has 63 caps with her national team.

The international draft saw the Beat tap into Umeå IK's talent for their top 3 selections. They have now signed all of those players and they should form the core of Atlanta's offense. Ramona Bachmann, who just turned 19 on Christmas day, might be the most exciting of these players. The young Swiss forward scored 14 goals for Umeå in 2009. At the age of 15, she played for the Swiss in the U-20 World Cup in 2006.

Of the other two Umeå imports, one is very familiar to US college soccer fans. Mami Yamaguchi, winner of the 2007 Hermann Award, starred at Florida State. She scored 24 goals in her final season with FSU. She can play forward, but I'm guessing she will fill the role of a creative midfielder for Atlanta. The third signing was Johanna Rasmussen. The veteran Danish striker has scored 17 goals over the past two seasons with Umeå.

Atlanta added Monica Ocampo to their list of signings last week. Ocampo was claimed as an international discovery player by Atlanta last fall. She has played several seasons with FC Indiana and she led the W-League in assists last season with 11 in just 9 games played. Ocampo was also a teammate of Nonen at FC Indiana.

Atlanta has been equally aggressive in signing domestic free agents, with 4 already on the roster, three of which have WPS experience. Stacy Bishop and Sophia Mundy both saw action with the Boston Breakers in 2009. Bishop started 6 games for the Breakers at midfield and earned two assists. Mundy also started two games for the Breakers. The Beat also recently signed McCall Zerboni, another midfielder. Zerboni played in 10 matches for Los Angeles and had one assist. A fourth free agent signing was that of Tracy Hamm. Hamm had been a 4th round selection of Gold Pride in the WPS General Draft in 2008. The former Cal defender has spent several seasons with the WPSL California Storm.

The Beat also made a major trade, sending two draft picks to FC Gold Pride for goalkeeper Allison Whitworth and a 3rd round choice. Whitworth got 4 starts with FCGP and had a 1.25 goals against average. The Alabama native returns to SEC territory where she played her college soccer at Auburn.

Current Roster

Goalkeepers (1)- Allison Whitworth.
Defenders (3)- Tracy Hamm, Sharolta Nonen, Leigh Ann Robinson.
Midfielders (6)- Stacy Bishop, Amanda Cinalli, Katie Larkin, Sophia Mundy, Mami Yamaguchi, McCall Zerboni.
Forwards (4)- Ramona Bachmann, Noelle Keselica, Monica Ocampo, Johanna Rasmussen.

Internationals- Bachman, Ocampo, Rasmussen, and Yamaguchi with one slot open.
Draft Choices (in first 3 rounds)- Nos. 1, 21, and 23.

Needs to Address

What do they do with the first overall selection in the draft? Their obvious glaring need is defenders and lots of them. After their trade for Whitworth, this selection is the only pick they have in the first two rounds. Whitney Engen is probably the consensus best defender in this year's draft, but I doubt that Atlanta will pass on Tobin Heath. She has too much talent and the Beat should be able build their team around her. That would mean that Atlanta must concentrate on defense with their remaining selections.

The other outside possibility is that they would trade the number one pick for a package of selections and the team they would most likely make that trade with would be Los Angeles. The Sol have 6 of the top 25 selections in this draft and may be willing to part with some of those picks to move up to number one. However, Atlanta has not given any indication that they were interested in trading the top spot. Still, nothing is definite until the selection is made on Friday morning.

Obviously, the Beat also needs a backup keeper and I would think there would still be a couple of solid choices left in the 3rd or 4th round of this draft.

I would expect that Atlanta would use 4 or 5 of their selections on defenders come Friday. They have some great offensive weapons on this team and some great international talent. Bachmann, Yamaguchi, and Ocampo are all still very young and all dangerous offensive players. They also have a lot of talented young American players in the midfield which the addition of Heath would only improve. If this team can build a solid defensive unit, they could be very good.