March 20, 2011

What's New with the Beat...Practically Everything

A little less than one year ago, Atlanta GM Shawn McGee announced the opening day 22-player roster that head coach Gareth O’Sullivan would lead into the Beat’s expansion season in WPS. Well, neither McGee nor O’Sullivan is still with the Beat and out of those original 22 players, only two are still on the team.

Lauren Sesselmann and Allison Whitworth are the only two players left and only Sesselmann has been with the team continuously, since Whitworth was traded to Chicago before returning to Atlanta in the offseason. Even Atlanta Beat version 1.1, which included several signees from the late Saint Louis Athletica, has been mostly dispersed, with only Lori Chalupny remaining from that group of players.

Whether it be a salary dump, a World Cup year strategy, or just re-inventing a team that finished at the bottom of the table, this year’s Atlanta Beat will bear no resemblance to last year’s team. Atlanta completely wiped out their international cast, sending Eni Aluko to Sky Blue, Johanna Rasmussen to magicJacks, and just plain not re-signing Bachmann, Ocampo, and Yamaguchi.

To be sure, the Beat won’t be hurt by World Cup interruptions as other teams will. Likely, only Carli Lloyd and Heather Mitts will be members of World Cup participating teams. Whether this strategy will yield results remains to be seen.

The core of the team is made up of veteran USWNT players Lori Chalupny, Cat Whitehill, Heather Mitts, and Carli Lloyd. Out of the 21 players listed on their current roster, eight are true rookies, including their two draft picks, Kylie Wright and Meghan Lenczyk.

The Beat have two goalkeepers with WPS experience, Whitworth and Ali Lipsher. Both have been starters at various points in their WPS careers, but neither played much toward the end of last season. The third keeper is rookie Kerri Butler out of West Virginia.

Defensively, the Beat boast their most experience, with Mitts, Whitehill, and Keeley Dowling. But they don’t have a lot of speed in the back and will surely miss Tina Ellertson in that respect.

The midfield is extremely inexperienced, with Chalupny and Lloyd being the only two you could consider veterans. Kristina Larsen missed last season due to injury. Angela Salem saw only a few minutes of action in her first season in 2010. The rest are rookies.

If the Beat are inexperienced in the midfield, they are even moreso at forward. Sesselmann spent most of her 2010 season as an outside back. India Trotter saw playing time with both Saint Louis and Sky Blue. Marquez was a reserve for most of the 2010 season. Lenczyk is the rookie in this group.

While last year’s team had a promising offense with several talented international players (albeit a promise that never came to fruition), this year’s team has little discernable offense. The rookies have scored several goals in preseason, but it’s just preseason. The career WPS scoring on this team consists of Chalupny with five career goals, Whitehill with four, and Lloyd with two. That doesn’t exactly inspire visions of Marta, Abby Wambach, or Christine Sinclair.

One has to wonder what strategy coach James Galanis has in mind to manufacture a few wins. The veterans this team features are certainly solid pros, but there aren’t many of them. Some of the rookie show considerable promise, including Megan Jesolva, an undrafted free agent out of Cal. But even when the other teams will be missing several players due to the World Cup, they will still be more experienced than the Beat will.

Last year was a tale of three seasons for the Beat. They opened the season with a terrible 0-5-1 start. After the influx of talent from Saint Louis, the team surged in the midseason, going 4-2-4 over their next ten games and fighting their way into playoff contention. They were a dismal 1-6-1 over their last eight games to finish in last place with just 21 points, well out of the playoff chase. The Beat must show improvement on 2010 or it’s going to be a very long season.