April 3, 2011

2011 Atlanta Beat Preview

Atlanta Beat
James Galanis (2nd year)
2010 Record:
5-13-6 (7th place)
Home Stadium:
KSU Soccer Stadium (Kennesaw, Georgia)


Goalkeepers (4):
Keri Butler (R), Katie Fraine(R), Allison Lipsher, Allison Whitworth.
Defenders (6):
Keeley Dowling, Colleen Flanagan(R), Analisa Marquez, Heather Mitts, Kat Reynolds, Cat Whitehill.
Midfielders (8):
Lori Chalupny, Bianca D’Agostino(R), Megan Jesolva(R), Carli Lloyd, Angela Salem, Vendula Strnadova(R), India Trotter, Kylie Wright(R).
Forwards (4):
Katie Bethke(R), Kristina Larsen, Meghan Lenczyk(R), Lauren Sesselmann.
(R) denotes true rookie; returning players in bold.
Probable World Cup players:
Mitts and Lloyd.

The Beat enter the season hoping to make improvements on last year’s 7th place finish. Almost the entire roster has changed since last September. Gone is the complete international cast. What’s left is a combination of rookies and older USWNT players, both current and former.

The roster is very heavy on young players, with no fewer than nine of the players being right out of college and several more with very limited WPS experience. That’s going to place a heavy burden on the veteran players such as Lori Chalupny, Cat Whitehill, Heather Mitts, and Carli Lloyd.

Goalkeepers: As of last word, the two Allisons, Lipsher and Whitworth, were vying for the number one keeper’s spot. Lipsher has 10 career WPS starts, but none last year. Whitworth has eight career starts over two seasons. Both have showed positive signs in their WPS experience. Lipsher posted an 0.58 goals against average in 2009 for Boston. Whitworth has three career shutouts.

Atlanta kept four goalkeepers, at least for the time being. The other two are rookies Katie Fraine (Florida) and Keri Butler (West Virginia).

Defenders: Atlanta doesn’t have a lot of veterans on the team, but one position they do have experience is on defense. Heather Mitts and Cat Whitehill have combined for nearly 250 national team caps. Keeley Dowling was a two-year starter for Sky Blue FC.

With Mitts beset with injuries, coach James Galanis has experimented with Analisa Marquez at right back, moving Dowling inside. Kat Reynolds could start at the left back position. Rookie Colleen Flanagan is listed as a defender, but can also play midfielder. Lauren Sesselman, who played a lot of outside back for Atlanta last season, is another option although Galanis seems to prefer her at midfield or forward.

Midfielders: The midfield starts with captain Lori Chalupny. Chalupny is usually right in the middle of the action, as her fouls suffered totals over the first two WPS seasons would attest. Always a top defensive player, she is getting more of a chance to show off her offensive skills these days. She will be joined by USWNT starter Carli Lloyd, owner of one of the hardest shots in women’s soccer. However, in her first two WPS seasons, that shot has been highly inaccurate. That’s something that will need to improve if Atlanta is going to make any noise this year.

India Trotter is the only other experienced midfielder, having played both in WPS and abroad. Only second year player Angela Salem has limited experience among the rest. Rookie Kylie Wright out of UCLA is a defensive specialist that could develop into a solid WPS player. Both Megan Jesolva (California) and Vendula Strnadova (Memphis) have had good preseason camps. Bianca D’Agostino (Wake Forest) is another option in the midfield. Lauren Sesselmann has also seen action at midfield in the preseason.

Forwards: There is not another team even close to being this inexperienced at forward. Meghan Lenczyk, Katie Bethke, Lauren Sesselmann, and Kristina Larsen have a total of 10 WPS games played, with four starts and no goals among them. And those are all Sesselmann. Lenczyk and Bethke are rookies and Larsen might as well be as she suffered a season-ending injury in the 2010 preseason with Athletica.

Larsen and Lenczyk have showed potential in preseason, but again, it’s just preseason. Larsen, like her teammate Carli Lloyd, has a powerful shot. Galanis really likes what he sees in Lenczyk, but says she needs to get physically stronger. Bethke scored 26 career goals at the University of Minnesota.

Outlook: I just can’t see this team scoring many goals. Lloyd is probably their most dangerous offensive player and she will miss a good part of the season with national team duties. Chalupny, Larsen, and Lenczyk have score quite a few goals in preseason, but that’s against college competition. And their defense, while experienced, is not the fastest group in WPS by a long shot.

This team is very young and very inexperienced and we’ve all seen how hard it is for rookies to score a lot of goals. There does seem to be a positive attitude surrounding the team, probably in large part due to the amount of young players, but that will carry the team only so far.

This team is going to have to win a lot of 1-0 and 2-1 games and scratch and claw for every point they can get. They will lose fewer players to the World Cup than every other team in the league, but even with World Cup losses, the other five teams will still be more experienced. I wish I could be more positive about this team’s chances, and I could certainly be wrong, but it’s hard to see this team showing improvement over last year’s record.