January 13, 2011

A Whole Different Game - 2011 WPS Draft Preview

Last year, at the time of the draft, we had nine teams in WPS vying for the top players in college soccer. This year, there will only be six.

Last year, there were 64 players chosen. This year, there will be only 24.

Last year, while teams all had different needs and certainly some were in better shape than others, all of the teams were entering the draft in fairly similar situations. This year, it ranges from Philadelphia and Sky Blue, both of which have nearly full rosters already, to Boston and Western New York, who have some holes to fill but are pretty far along, to Atlanta which has a lot of work to do, to Washington which couldn't even field an indoor team at the present time.

Which I guess brings us to another point. For ease and familiarity purposes, I will refer to that particular franchise as the Washington Freedom for now.

And then there's the fact that with two more teams out of action, there are still a lot of quality free agents on the market to fill roster spots. But then again, depth will be more important this year with the World Cup pulling several players away from their teams for varying lengths of time.

This year's draft will be webcast live on the WPS website.

So first, let's look at each team and where they are now (at least with respect to personnel):

Atlanta Beat
Current Roster: GK-None; D-Keeley Dowling, Cat Whitehill, Tina Ellertson, Kat Reynolds, Lauren Sesselmann; MF-Carli Lloyd, Lori Chalupny, Johanna Rasmussen, Kristina Larsen; F-India Trotter.
Where They Draft: 3, 7, 14
What They Need: Scorers (and a lot of them); a goalkeeper: a holding midfielder; depth everywhere. They'll probably fill a forward spot with Christen Press with the 3rd pick. Uncertainty about Solo makes their goalkeeping situation a big question mark, but with so many free agent keepers, I don't know if they'll draft one. Lots of different possibilities with that 7th pick.

Boston Breakers
Current Roster: GK-Alyssa Naeher, Ashley Phillips, Kelsey Davis; D-Alex Scott, Amy LePeilbet, Rachel Buehler, Stephanie Cox, Ifeoma Dieke, Kasey Moore; MF-Jordan Angeli, Leslie Osborne, Liz Bogus, Nikki Washington, Kelly Smith; F-Lauren Cheney, Kelley O'Hara, Taryn Hemmings.
Where They Draft: 6, 12, 19, 24
What They Need: Depth everywhere, an attacking mid/wing, another forward. No team will likely get hit harder by the World Cup than the Breakers. They could potentially lose their entire starting back line plus their best attacking players during parts of June and July. They should be able to get a quality player at the 6th pick.

Philadelphia Independence
Current Roster: GK-Val Henderson; D-Heather Mitts, Allison Falk, Nikki Krzysik, Frida Magnusdottir, Leigh Ann Robinson, Kia McNeill, Estelle Johnson; MF-Jen Buczkowski, Megan Rapinoe, Lori Lindsey, Tina DiMartino, Joanna Lohman; F-Amy Rodriguez, Lianne Sanderson, Tasha Kai, Danesha Adams.
Where They Draft: 2, 5, 9, 11, 15, 18, 23
What They Need: Midfield depth, backup keeper, defensive depth. Philadelphia has a nearly full roster and unlike last year, they are loaded with draft picks. In addition, Jeff Kassouf of The Equalizer is reporting that Philly has signed Veronica Boquete and Laura del Rio. If he's right, and he usually is, then Philadelphia is loaded with attacking options. They are probably one of the few teams that can afford to use a draft choice on a goalkeeper. Farrelly will likely be their midfield choice at the 2nd pick. I think they'd like Fowlkes at the 5th, but will she still be there?

Sky Blue FC
Current Roster: GK-Karen Bardsley, Jen Branam; D-Anita Asante, Brittany Taylor, Kristi Eveland, Carrie Dew, Danielle Johnson, Kiersten Dallstream, Michelle Wenino; MF-Kendall Fletcher, Carolyn Blank, Heather O'Reilly, Tobin Heath, Angie Kerr, Allie Long; F-Eniola Aluko, Laura Kalmari, Casey Nogueira.
Where They Draft: 16, 21
What They Need: A forward and depth. Sky Blue is already sporting a crowded roster and they only have two lower picks in the draft. So barring a trade, they should make the least draft day noise.

Washington Freedom
Current Roster: GK-Erin McLeod; D-Becky Sauerbrunn, Nikki Marshall; F-Abby Wambach
Where They Draft: 4, 10, 17, 22
What They Need: What don't they need. Wambach and McLeod will miss time for the World Cup. I'm sure somewhere here, there's a plan. Let's hope it starts unfolding tomorrow at the draft.

Western New York Flash
Current Roster: GK-Ashlyn Harris, Brittany Cameron; D-Whitney Engen, Candace Chapman, Ali Riley, Kandace Wilson, Kaley Fountain, Brittany Bock; MF-Yael Averbuch, McCall Zerboni, Caroline Seger, Beverly Goebel; F-Christine Sinclair. Note that they are also rumored to have Becky Edwards, but I have yet to see definitive confirmation of that.
Where They Draft: 1, 8, 13, 20
What They Need: At least two forwards, one of which will be Alex Morgan, attacking mids, depth everywhere. They have already built a fairly solid foundation for an expansion team, but scoring is at a premium in this league, so they must go offense in this draft.

I must say that this draft, past the first three or four selections, will be very hard to predict, because we don't know what is in the works as far as free agent signees. Teams have to draft for depth this year, because of the World Cup. It also means that teams will be looking for versatile players who can possibly fill several roles.

So, with much trepidation, here are my predictions for this year's draft:

1) Western New York - Alex Morgan, F, California (There has been very little doubt that she would be the number one pick for quite some time. She already has made an impact on the USWNT and besides being a great player, she has the added attraction of being the one player in this draft that may already be a drawing card).

2) Philadelphia - Sinead Farrelly, MF, Virginia (Paul Riley has stated that he is looking to fill some midfield slots and Farrelly is considered the best midfielder in college soccer. Additionally, she is from the Philadelphia area).

3) Atlanta - Christen Press, F, Stanford (Next to Morgan, she is the highest ranking forward in a year where there is a shortage of impact players in that area. Great speed and a nose for the goal, but taking it to the next level has proven difficult for many a top college scorer).

4) Washington - Lauren Fowlkes, D/MF, Notre Dame (One of the very few players in this draft that has size and skills, which is a highly sought after commodity. I've penciled in three or four different players at this slot and I'm still not confident, because Washington could go many different directions here).

5) Philadelphia - Elli Reed, D, Portland (If Fowlkes is still available, Philly will grab her in an instant. But if she's not, Riley likes outside backs that can jump into the attack and Reed fits that bill. Lauren Barnes and Meghan Klingenberg are possibles here, too.)

6) Boston - Meghan Klingenberg, MF, North Carolina (Good skills, solid UNC pedigree and I don't think Tony DiCicco can pass her up. Lilly's retirement makes Klingenberg all the more attractive here).

7) Atlanta - Amanda DaCosta, MF, Florida State (With Heath gone, DaCosta gives Atlanta a player with solid skills and good playmaking ability).

8) Western New York - Sophie Schmidt, MF, Portland (A very good player with national team experience. Only drawbacks are that she is an international and she will be at the World Cup).

9) Philadelphia - Lauren Barnes, D, UCLA (Another solid defensive player, although a little shorter than one might like at center back).

10) Washington - Meghan Lenczyk, F, Virginia (After the top two at forward, Lenczyk has the potential to take it to the next level).

11) Philadelphia - Keelin Winters, MF, Portland (Philly adds depth at midfield with Winters. A tough, gritty player and hard worker).

12) Boston - Jessica Tsao, D, Portland (Yet another Pilot and Boston fills in much needed depth with this talented outside defender).

13) Western New York - Rose Augustin, MF, Notre Dame (WNY continues to add attacking players with Augustin. She had 11 goals and 10 assists for the national champions).

14) Atlanta - Megan Jesolva, MF, California (Could potentially be the steal of the draft if she continues to improve. U-23 experience and while she will probably not be a big scorer, she can do a lot of things well).

15) Philadelphia - Kristin Arnold, GK, Texas A&M (With so many selections, Philadelphia has the luxury of using one for a keeper and Arnold is probably the best from the college ranks).

16) Sky Blue - Danielle Toney, F, Penn State (I probably have her more highly ranked than most people, but I think the skills and potential are there).

17) Washington - Kylie Wright, MF, UCLA (Another player with U-23 experience gives the Freedom a solid midfielder).

18) Philadelphia - Ashlee Elliott, D, Florida (A center back with some experience at forward. Her height makes her an ideal target on corners and free kicks).

19) Boston - Rachel Givan, D, Boston (More depth at outside back for the Breakers).

20) Western New York - Tanya Taylor, F, UC-Irvine (11 goals and 12 assists in her senior year).

21) Sky Blue FC - Omolyn Davis, MF, George Mason (Could we see the first Jamaican player in WPS?)

22) Washington - Vendula Strnadova, MF, Memphis (A good attacking player that has played somewhat under the radar at Memphis).

23) Philadelphia - Jackie Carron, D, Michigan (First team all-Big Ten, can play defender or midfielder).

24) Boston - Lisa Kevorkian, F, Boston University (Big time offensive threat for the Terriers after spending three seasons with California).

Other Players to Watch:
Goalkeepers: Nikki Weiss, Notre Dame; Katie Fraine, Florida.
Defenders: Cassie Dickerson, Ohio State; Caitlin McDowell, Maryland; Megan Monroig, Penn State; Erica Campenelli, Texas; Kacey Richards, Connecticut.
Midfielders: Tiffany Yovino, Hofstra; Kendra Chandhoke, Portland; Bianca D'Agostino, Wake Forest; Colleen Flanagan, Virginia; Courtney Jenkins, Ohio State; Chelsea Regan, Boston College; Rachel Shipley, Texas A&M; Brittney Steinbruch, Miami (F); Alyssa Mautz, Texas A&M; Gina DeMaio, Rutgers.
Forwards: Amy Caldwell, Boston College; Whitney Hooper, Texas A&M; Brooke Knowlton, Boston College; Megan Ohai, USC; Anessa Patton, Santa Clara; Alysha Bonnick, Missouri.