March 28, 2011

Philadelphia Independence - Speed To Burn

With 13 players returning from last year's WPS runner-up team, the Philadelphia Independence enter the 2011 season as one of the favorites. Add a nice draft and a few key additions and the Independence are well positioned to compete for the league title.

The first thing that comes to mind when talking about the Philly attack is speed. They already had one of the fastest forwards in women's soccer with Amy Rodriguez, plus young English striker Lianne Sanderson.

Philadelphia added Tasha Kai from Sky Blue, Laura del Rio from Boston, and Veronica Boquete from Chicago. Fans are hoping that Kai, who was plagued by injuries for much of the past two years, can return to 100% form. Del Rio is on the Spanish National Team, but Boquete might be the most intriguing. She had a goal and two assists in just three matches with the Red Stars after wreaking havoc on opposing defenses while playing with Buffalo in the W-League.

The offense should also be bolstered by the acquisition of another former Red Star, wing midfielder Megan Rapinoe. Rapinoe never could quite get untracked with the Red Stars, but she has put in many solid performances with the USWNT.

Although Philadelphia will miss Caroline Seger, the returning midfield cast of Lori Lindsey, Tina DiMartino, Joanna Lohman, and Jen Buczkowski is plenty strong. The Independence drafted midfielder Sinead Farrelly, considered by many to be the most talented player in college soccer, with the second overall selection.

Defensively, the Independence return Allison Falk, Nikki Krzysik, and Estelle Johnson. Two former Atlanta defenders, Kia McNeill and Leigh Ann Robinson, will also be competing for starting jobs, as will draft choices Lauren Fowlkes and Lauren Barnes. And don't forget another speedster, Frida Magnusdottir, who can play virtually anywhere on the field.

Val Henderson had won the number one goalkeeper's job last season and had a good playoff run until the championship game. But she will be joined by USWNT keeper Nicole Barnhart, giving Philly a fine one-two combo in the nets. Barnhart led WPS in goals against average with the WPS champion Gold Pride. It's not often that one team can boast having the two starting keepers from the previous year's championship match.

No one can deny the excellent job that coach Paul Riley did last year, taking an expansion team and guiding them to the finals. The Independence came together as a team far quicker than anyone could have imagined. Now the challenge for this team is to continue to grow and make a run at the championship.