January 9, 2010

Philadelphia Independence - The Offseason So Far

Okay, in this case offseason is a bit of a misnomer. The 2010 season will be the inaugural season for Philadelphia. If you look closely, however, you could almost swear that this team resembles a team that could have been put together at the beginning of 2009.

Building the Roster

First, let's look at how the original seven teams were built. There was the USWNT allocation. Then there were three drafts...the international draft and discovery process, the general draft, and the January draft. Finally, teams supplemented their rosters by signing free agents. So who is on Philly's roster right now? One player from the original USWNT allocation, two international players (one of which played in WPS in 2009), three players from last year's general draft, and 7 players from last year's January draft. Add a free agent or two for good measure.

The Independence got the USWNT allocation in signing Heather Mitts in October. Mitts is a 10-year veteran of the US National Team and was one of the original USWNT allocations to Boston. She has logged 104 caps for the US and has been a mainstay at outside defender.

Philadelphia has signed two international players so far, Caroline Seger and Sara Larsson, both from Sweden. Seger is a talented midfielder that has played for the Swedish National Team since 2005. She has scored 9 goals over the past two seasons with Linköpings of the Damallsvenskan. Larsson is a veteran defender, also on the Swedish National Team, who spent last season with Saint Louis. She played in 15 matches for Athletica, starting 12. Philadelphia still has three international openings. Those will presumably be filled by 3 of their 4 choices from the international draft, which includes Fara Williams, Lianne Sanderson, Charlotte Rohlin, and Holmfridur Magnusdottir.

In the expansion draft, Philadelphia chose Danesha Adams, Lori Lindsey, and Sue Weber. They were the 6th, 17th, and 18th selections from the WPS General Draft conducted in October, 2008. Adams was bothered by injuries in 2009, but still appeared in 12 games for the Chicago Red Stars. Lindsey had an excellent season with the Washington Freedom, starting 18 games and scoring 2 goals from her midfield position. She has even garnered consideration for the US National Team. Weber was also hampered by injuries, but started 8 games for Boston and will be reunited with Mitts, her back line mate from the Breakers.

As mentioned, Philadelphia has acquired 7 players that were selected in the 2009 January draft, either by draft or trade. They are Amy Rodriguez (#1 choice overall), Allison Falk (#10), Nikki Krzysik (#13), Val Henderson (#33), Jen Buczkowski (#39), Kelly Schmedes (#41), and Sarah Senty (#49). It's almost as though Philadelphia had actually participated in the 2009 draft.

Out of those players, the Independence has built a solid defensive group to go along with Mitts and Weber. Perhaps the most notable is Allison Falk, who had an excellent rookie season with Los Angeles and is considered to be one of the best young defenders in the league. Krzysik (Chicago) and Senty (Washington) also started several games for their teams in 2009. After being a part-time starter in the regular season, Buczkowski filled in for Anita Asante in the playoffs and was an important part of Sky Blue's championship run. Henderson looked very good in her one appearance in goal for Los Angeles, earning a shutout.

On the offensive side, Schmedes is a hard working forward who started 10 games for Boston and scored one goal. However, the most intriguing of all may be Rodriguez. The much heralded forward out of USC entered the league with an Olympic gold medal and high expectations, but struggled in 2009. She scored only one goal for Boston, but the potential is there for a much better season in 2010 for Philadelphia. Rodriguez has 6 goals and 38 US National Team caps to her credit. Philly also added free agent forward Lyndsey Patterson to their offensive arsenal.

Current Roster

Goalkeepers (1)- Val Henderson.
Defenders (6)- Allison Falk, Nikki Krzysik, Sara Larsson, Heather Mitts, Sarah Senty, Sue Weber.
Midfielders (3)- Jen Buczkowski, Lori Lindsey, Caroline Seger.
Forwards (4)- Danesha Adams, Lyndsey Patterson, Amy Rodriguez, Kelly Schmedes.

Internationals- Larsson and Seger with 3 slots open.
Draft Choices (in first 3 rounds)- No. 13.

Needs to Address

Philadelphia has a lot of talented young players with WPS experience and has sprinkled in some seasoned veterans. The price they paid for that talent was surrendering most of their choices in next week's draft. They have only one remaining selection in the first 3 rounds and need to make the most of it. Their three remaining international players could well hold the key to a successful inaugural season.

Determining what Philly's biggest needs are will depend on which of the international stars they are able to sign. If they can sign Williams and/or Magnusdottir, they should probably go after a forward in the draft. If they sign Sanderson, they need to concentrate on getting a couple of midfielders. The area in which they appear strongest is on defense and if they could add Rohlin, I would put their defensive group as one of the top units in the league.

The Independence will need to pick up another goalkeeper. While Henderson has proven herself with UCLA, Pali Blues, and with US Junior National teams, she has yet to face the constant pressure she will see from the great international forwards in WPS. She played an excellent match in her only WPS start against Gold Pride, but that was with LA's defense in front of her and against the lowest scoring team in the league. I believe Henderson will be a very good WPS goalkeeper, but drafting another to push her for the number one spot will only make her better.

There are a lot of ways to build an expansion team. Philadelphia has chosen to build through already proven players rather than through the draft. In spite of that, they have a pretty young roster. Nine of their 14 players will be 25 or under on opening day 2010. They have a nice mixture of youth and veterans. The question is how soon will they be able to develop team chemistry. If this happens quickly and they are able to make a few international signings, they may well challenge for a playoff spot in their opening campaign.