April 8, 2010

FC Gold Pride 2010 - Offseason Changes Make FCGP a Contender

Coach: Albertin Montoya
2009 Record: 4-10-6 (7th place)
Postseason: Out of the playoffs.

Returnees (8): Nicole Barnhart, Rachel Buehler, Carrie Dew, Kristin Graczyk, Tiffeny Milbrett, Christine Sinclair, Kandace Wilson, Kim Yokers.
Draft Choices (6): Kelley O’Hara, Ali Riley, Becky Edwards, Kaley Fountain, Erin Guthrie, Ashley Bowyer.
LA Dispersal Draft (2): Marta, Kiki Bosio.
International Signings ( 1): Solveig Gulbrandsen.
Free Agents (3): Brittany Cameron, Candace Chapman, Rosie Tantillo.
Trades (1): Camille Abily.

After finishing last in 2009, Gold Pride was very aggressive in the offseason. Even before Marta joined the team, they had signed Solveig Gulbrandsen and Candace Chapman and traded for Camille Abily. They appear to have had the best draft of any team in the league, selecting quality players in areas of need. But no matter what else happened, the addition of Marta makes Gold Pride a contender.

Exactly two thirds of LA’s 2009 offense now make their home in the Bay Area. Marta scored 10 goals and Abily scored 8 in '09. Add to that Christine Sinclair’s 6 goals in WPS, Solveig Gulbrandsen 6 goals with Stabæk in the Toppserien, and Kelley O’Hara’s 26 goals on the college level for Stanford and we should see a scoring juggernaut this season from FCGP. But like many teams, there are question marks. Gold Pride gave up a lot of goals last season and it is yet to be seen whether newcomers Chapman, Ali Riley, and Becky Edwards can improve the defense enough to push Gold Pride to the top.

Goalkeeping-Bay Area returns starter and USWNT team goalkeeper, Nicole Barnhart. Barnhart posted a 1.44 GAA and 2 shutouts in 2009. With a better team in front of her, expect that to improve in 2010. Brittany Cameron spent 2009 as LA’s developmental keeper behind Karina LeBlanc and Val Henderson. She should get a better chance for action in 2010. Rutger’s Erin Guthrie, one of the top college prospects at goalkeeper, joins Gold Pride as their developmental keeper.

Defenders-Last year’s Gold Pride gave up 28 goals, the 2nd worst total in WPS. That has to improve. Leigh Ann Robinson is gone, but Bay Area will get a boost with the return of Kandace Wilson, a big part of FCGP’s early success before injury ended her season. Gold Pride also added two more players, Candace Chapman through free agency and Ali Riley through the draft. Chapman is a member of the Canadian National team and played for Boston last season. Riley had a stellar career at Stanford and is perhaps the best two-way outside back coming out of college. If Wilson and Riley start on the outside, opposing teams are going to have to contend with a lot of speed coming out of the back.

In the middle, USWNT defender Rachel Buehler leads the way. Buehler is solid defensively and known for her hard tackling. Kristen Graczyk also returns on defense. She is the only Gold Pride player to play in all 20 matches last season. Except for a couple of tough breaks, Carrie Dew had pretty good season at back last season and should continue to improve. Kaley Fountain, out of Wake Forest, will add depth on defense and can play forward as well. This defense should be improved from a year ago, but the question is how much.

Midfielders-No team revamped their midfield for 2010 more than FC Gold Pride. The two major additions are Camille Abily, obtained in a trade from Los Angeles, and Solveig Gulbrandsen, a longtime veteran of the Norwegian National Team. Abily’s eight goals were second only to LA teammate Marta’s league-leading total of 10 last season. Abily had an uncanny ability to find open space between defenders enabling her unleash her dangerous shot. Gulbrandsen comes over to the states with a distinguished career for Norway, where she ranks among the leaders in caps and goals scored. She has played in 15 World Cup and 9 Olympic matches over her career.

Past those two players, it gets a little more uncertain. Kim Yokers is one returnee in the midfield. She scored one goal in limited playing time in ’09. Gold Pride drafted top defensive midfielder Becky Edwards out of Florida State and later added Ashley Bowyer of Ohio State, who made the team as a developmental player. Ageless Tiffeny Milbrett can play attacking mid or forward. Milbrett proved she could still put it in the back of the net with 4 goals last season. Linking with Gold Pride’s talented forwards could be the key to the season. Expect Gulbrandsen to shoulder a lot of that load.

Forwards-At last year’s All-Star game in St. Louis, we saw the Marta-Sinclair connection for the first time and the two worked well together with Marta assisting on Sinclair’s first goal in that match. Sinclair’s talent was showcased in that game, giving a clinic in perfectly timed runs and scoring two goals. Marta is the best player in women’s soccer. A 4-time FIFA Player of the Year, she is not only talented, but her speed and determination make her very hard to stop. She also has the most lethal left foot in women’s soccer.

Even before Gold Pride secured Marta, they already had the makings of a great front line combo after drafting Kelley O’Hara out of Stanford. O’Hara, with teammate Riley, helped lead Stanford to the NCAA final before falling to perennial power UNC. Santa Clara’s Kiki Bosio and free agent Rosie Tantillo help add depth to this talented group of forwards. Bosio had 3 goals and 7 assists for the Broncos last season.

Summary-Last season, Bay Area had only two players (Sinclair and Milbrett) to score more than one goal over the course of the season. In fact, between May 3 and August 1 (a total of 12 matches), the only player that scored on anything other than a penalty kick was Sinclair. We won’t be seeing that kind of drought this year. My guess is Gold Pride will have 6 or 7 players with two or more goals this season.

That leads us to the midfield and defense. No organization did a better job at trying to fill their needs than FCGP. But will the midfield be deep enough and will the defense be good enough for Gold Pride to earn a title? No matter how many changes a team makes, it still isn’t easy to go from last to first in just one season. I’ve always said that any team that Marta is on will be a contender, but only time will tell whether Gold Pride’s other improvements will be enough to win it all.