January 18, 2010

The Many Sides of a Trade

Any time that a trade is made in any sport, there are multiple sides to look at. Coaches and general managers have to look at it from the standpoint of improving their team. For players, it’s means friends moving on and losing a teammate and roommate, but gaining a new one. For the traded players, it’s the beginning of a new adventure and in some cases, an opportunity for more playing time. And it can be a bittersweet day for fans. It’s a day when they have to say goodbye to one of their favorite players, but also welcome a player that they know will help the team and become part of the family for the coming season. Friday was such a day.

Chicago traded Lindsay Tarpley to Saint Louis for Jill Loyden. It's a trade that should help both teams. Tarpley has been a member of the USWNT since 2003 and has 119 caps and 30 goals. For Chicago, she scored 4 goals and 4 assists in 2009. She should definitely help Athletica's sometimes anemic offense. Loyden had an 0.33 goals against in 3 games for Athletica in 2009. From there, she starred for Central Coast in the Aussie W-League, where she was voted Goalkeeper of the Year. She was recently called into USWNT camp in preparation for the Algarve Cup.

As I mentioned when I started writing for Women's Soccer Weekly, I am a fan first and sometimes that aspect of my writing will rise to the surface. Living in the Saint Louis area, I have become a big fan of Athletica. So I sometimes take the personnel moves they make personally. It caught me off guard when I learned of the trade just minutes before the start of the WPS draft.

There is a special place in the hearts of Saint Louis fans for Jillian Loyden. Although only playing 3 games, she was a big part of the success that Athletica enjoyed in the 2009 season. Indeed, she was one of the best, if not the best, backup keepers in the league. I had braced myself for the possibility of losing her in the expansion draft, because I didn’t think Saint Louis would protect two keepers. After Atlanta and Philly both obtained keepers through trades, I thought Loyden was safe in Saint Louis for another season. However, Chicago suddenly found themselves in the market for a starter and Loyden became the answer.

Turn back the clock exactly one year. I have to admit that I did not know much about Loyden when Athletica drafted her in the 6th round of the January draft in 2009. I knew that she was a highly regarded young keeper that played her college soccer at Villanova and that she had received some recognition in the various college All-American teams. In addition, she had a couple of years of experience with Jersey Sky Blue of the W-League. Of course, the other thought in the back of my mind, and I’m sure others at the time, was that Hope Solo was Athletica's number one keeper and it wouldn’t probably matter much who number two was. That thought couldn’t have been more wrong.

Over the next few months, I had several opportunities to speak with Jillian, as well as a few chances to see her in action. With Hope Solo being called away for national team duty, Loyden was asked to step in and start on three occasions. And she rose to the occasion in each instance, earning two shutouts, making several saves, and giving up just one goal on a freakish deflection off of her own defender. No one could have asked more from a starter, let alone a backup keeper. By the end of the season, all Athletica fans were confident that if she needed to play in an emergency, that she could handle those duties and even excel.

But it wasn’t just her on field abilities that impressed me about Loyden. While all of the players have been wonderful about making themselves accessible, Loyden has more than gone out of her way when it comes to fans. She would be the first person to walk up to a fan and introduce herself. She was always available to give tips and speak with young fans. And you could bet that she would be the one still signing autographs after many of the players had hit the locker room.

One of my favorite moments of the 2009 season involved Loyden. Saint Louis was in 3rd place at the time with 4th place Sky Blue FC coming to town for a crucial late season contest that would go a long way in deciding Athletica’s playoff hopes. With Solo playing for the US National Team, Loyden got the start. Early in the 2nd half, Eniola Aluko scored to put Athletica up 1-0. Loyden made several great second half saves including an unbelievable game saver on Kacey White in stoppage.

After Athletica matches, several members of Laclede’s Army, the Saint Louis supporters group head for a patio area just outside the player locker rooms. From there, they greet the players as they make their way up from the field. As usual, Loyden spent a long time signing autographs and was one of the last players to reach the area, a good 45 minutes after the game was over. She had two little girls in tow, who she was escorting up to the Athletica locker room area so that they could get more autographs. As she went by, she greeted us and said, “I’ll be back in a minute guys, I just want to take them up first.” She re-emerged a couple of minutes later and was greeted by cheers and congratulations. Her first comment to us was “Thanks guys, but I really didn’t do that much.” The comment is typical of Jillian’s humility. She gave us all hugs and talked with us for about 10 minutes, obviously still excited about the match and full of joy for having the chance to play.

I think it was that evening that it hit me, that in all likelihood, Loyden would not be with Athletica in 2010. She had performed so well, it was almost a certainty that either an expansion team or another team would want her as a starter. She made it through the expansion draft, but the Red Stars needed a goalkeeper for 2010 and the trade for Tarpley became a reality.

So today, I am a little sad that Jillian is no longer a member of Saint Louis Athletica, but happy that she will have the opportunity to become a full-time starter, an opportunity which she has earned and deserves. To Chicago fans, I will tell you that you are not only getting a very good goalkeeper, but a quality person, too. Athletica received a quality person and player in return in Lindsay Tarpley and I’m sure she will quickly become a fan favorite in St. Louis as well. Welcome to St. Louis, Lindsay.

So this coming season, when Jill is protecting the Red Star net instead, Athletica's fans will likely razz, boo, or otherwise give her a hard time. But I can assure you, it will be out of respect, not dislike. She has more than earned that respect.

Best wishes and good luck, Jillian Loyden.


Anonymous said...

gotta say -- though i won't be able to spend as many words on it as you that we all feel the same way here in chicago about losing Tarps. She is one of the most gracious and lovely young women that I have met. Her work ethic is top class she consistently battled every second she was on the pitch. The ladies looked up to her and she was an important locker room force. I think as fans we have come to understand the trade and why our Red Stars needed to do it, but we'll surely miss her and always cheer for her -- even in St. Louis!

someone in the front office...

kc albertina said...

Well said, and definitely more succinct than my story. I'm sure we're going to love Tarp down here.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to miss Jill a lot. I talked to her a bit after the last few games of the season as she would sign autographs. Even after she finished she was still willing to stand there and talk with me. There were a few nights I was the last person on the bleachers because we were talking. I will really miss that this season. I wish her the best of luck in Chicago.