April 8, 2010

Philadelphia Independence 2010 - Women's Soccer Equivalent of Rocky

Coach: Paul Riley
2009 Record: 2010 Expansion Team

Expansion Draft (5): Lori Lindsey, Nikki Krzysik, Jen Buczkowski, Danesha Adams, Sarah Senty.
Draft Picks (1): Carrie Patterson (traded then re-signed).
LA Dispersal Draft (2): Karina LeBlanc, Estelle Johnson.
International Signings ( 4): Holmfridur Magnusdottir, Karina Maruyama, Lianne Sanderson, Caroline Seger.
Free Agents (7): Sara Larsson, Joanna Lohman, Heather Mitts, Lyndsey Patterson, Gina DiMartino, Robyn Jones, Kat Reynolds.
Trades (3): Amy Rodriguez, Val Henderson, Allison Falk.

Yes, the Philadelphia Independence will enter their inaugural 2010 campaign as the underdog. But sometimes that brings out the best in players and maybe this women's version of Rocky will manage to battle their way up the WPS table.

Philadelphia took a gamble early on, by trading several of their top draft picks for players they thought could help their team immediately. That left them with only one selection in the first 3 rounds, where they selected Malorie Rutledge out of LSU, who didn’t make the team. Whether that gamble pays off or not depends largely on Amy Rodriguez and Allison Falk.

Unlike their expansion counterpart, Atlanta, the Independence signed several veterans to help lead this team including Heather Mitts, Sara Larsson, and Joanna Lohman. Philly did a nice job filling out their defense and midfield with quality players in the expansion draft, especially Lori Lindsey who has been playing very well for the USWNT. Whether Coach Paul Riley can blend this mixture of youth and veterans into a playoff contender remains to be seen.

Goalkeeping-Take both goalkeepers off of the top defensive team in WPS last year and their 13 shutouts, move them 3000 miles east and you have the goalkeeping tandem for the 2010 Independence. Karina LeBlanc, the league’s top goalkeeper, brings her 0.53 GAA to Philadelphia. LeBlanc, who has a sparkling personality off the field, is tough as nails on the field. Val Henderson was acquired in a trade early on, and will once again serve the role of backup to LeBlanc. She shut out Gold Pride in her only 2009 match after starring for UCLA in college. Robyn Jones, who spent 2009 with the New Jersey Wildcats of the W-League, will be the third goalkeeper.

Defenders-Coach Paul Riley and the Independence seemed to put special emphasis on their defensive unit early on. First they grabbed Nikki Krzysik (Red Stars) and Sarah Senty (Freedom) in the expansion draft. Then they signed veteran free agent defenders Heather Mitts and Sara Larsson. Then they traded for Sol center back Allison Falk. Finally, they took Kansas defender Estelle Johnson in the dispersal draft. As a group, they combined for 62 WPS starts last season.

At 6 foot tall, Falk can be a threat at either end of the field on set pieces. She garnered some support as a potential all-star selection last season. Mitts and Larsson should give veteran leadership to the Philly back line. Krzysik is a hard-nosed defender who racked up 5 cautions last season. Senty saw action with the Freedom after missing the first half of the season while completing her college classes. Late addition Kat Reynold, out of Santa Clara, will provide further depth at outside back. With a strong goaltending tandem behind them, this group should ensure that the Independence are in every match.

Midfielders-One of the first signings that the Independence announced was that of Caroline Seger. Seger now has over 30 senior national team caps for Sweden, in addition to a wealth of junior team experience. She is also a veteran of 5 seasons with Link√∂pings in the Damallsvenskan. Seger will give the expansion team a strong presence in the midfield. The second piece of the midfield puzzle is Lori Lindsey. How Lindsey managed to slip into Philadelphia’s hands through an expansion draft, I can’t figure out, but it certainly had to make Philly fans smile. Lindsey has received praise from Pia Sundhage for her play with the USWNT earlier this year. Seger and Lindsey give this expansion team a nice start to a solid midfield.

Jen Buczkowski, another selection in the expansion draft, split time between midfield and defense for Sky Blue in 2009. But it was her solid play, stepping in for Anita Asante in the playoffs, that was the climax of a good season. Another former Freedom midfielder, Joanna Lohman, signed with the Independence as a free agent. Another talented European player, Holmfridur Magnusdottir of Iceland, can play either attacking mid or forward. She has nearly 50 national team caps and scored 5 goals for Swedish club Kristianstads in 2009. This has the makings of a talented midfield group, but is there enough depth here?

Forwards-While the Independence have a lot of experience from the midfield back, the group of forwards they have are largely an unknown quantity. Three of those forwards, Amy Rodriguez, Lyndsey Patterson, and Danesha Adams, played in WPS last season. Rodriguez scored 1 goal in 17 appearances in what was a very frustrating season in Boston. The new start in Philadelphia should do her good and hopefully, she will be able to use her blazing speed to get behind opposing defenses. Adams, a former star at UCLA, played in 12 matches for the Red Stars without scoring. Patterson saw only 12 minutes of action for the Sol last season.

Philadelphia did sign two international forwards that should help here. Karina Maruyama has Olympic experience and is primarily known as a player who can come off the bench and make a difference for the Japanese National Team. She comes over to the US after a successful run with Japanese club TEPCO Mareeze. Lianne Sanderson is a young forward from the English National Team. At just 22 years of age, she has managed 29 caps and 8 goals on a team loaded with offensive talent like Kelly Smith, Eniola Aluko, Fara Williams, and Karen Carney. Gina DiMartino (formerly Boston College) was a late training camp pickup at forward.

Summary-Leadership shouldn’t be a problem on this team as they have several veterans who have played internationally. Philadelphia appears to be strong at goalkeeper and solid enough at defense and midfield. This should make them a competitive team, but I question if this team will be able to score enough goals to win. Their first match against fellow expansion team, the Atlanta Beat, ought to be an interesting battle between what could be a very good defensive team, Philadelphia, against a dangerous offensive team in Atlanta.