April 8, 2011

2011 magicJack Preview

Mike Lyons (1st year)
2010 Record:
8-9-7 (4th place)
Home Stadium:
FAU Soccer Field (Boca Raton, FL)


Goalkeepers (3):
Jillian Loyden, Brett Maron, Hope Solo.
Defenders (6):
Marian Dalmy, Tina Ellertson, Nikki Marshall, Christie Rampone, Becky Sauerbrunn, Meghan Schnur.
Midfielders (8):
Shannon Boxx, Amanda DaCosta(R), Omolyn Davis(R), Sarah Huffman, Meghan Klingenberg(R), Sophie Schmidt(R), Lindsay Tarpley, Kacey White.
Forwards (6):
Lisa De Vanna, Ella Masar, Rebecca Moros, Christen Press(R), Johanna Rasmussen, Abby Wambach.
(R) denotes true rookie; returning players in bold.
Probable World Cup players:
Solo, Rampone, Boxx, Schmidt, Tarpley, De Vanna, Wambach, and possibly Sauerbrunn.

Pretty much everything is new with this team…ownership, location, general manager, coach, name, and most of the team. If it weren’t for Freedom veterans like Abby Wambach, Sarah Huffman, and Becky Sauerbrunn, one could almost call this a completely new franchise.

Lost in all of the changes and confusion of the offseason is that magicJack has put together quite a solid team. They are reasonably strong at every position and have actually added a number of offensive players that should make them even more dangerous. Add Lindsay Tarpley, Kacey White, Ella Masar, Christen Press, and Johanna Rasmussen to an already solid offense with Abby Wambach and Lisa De Vanna and you have the makings of a very potent attack.

Even though this team has four rookies, it is a largely veteran team. But this team will be missing a lot of key players during the World Cup and continuity could be a problem. Even so, magicJack appears to have players to step in at every position and still be competitive.

Goalkeepers: Once magicJack brought Hope Solo into the fold, it really just becomes a question of how many games will she be able to play for her new team. Still recovering from shoulder surgery, she just made her first game appearance against England last weekend. It is a bit of a quandary from a USWNT point of view. She needs the game action, but how much can she risk the shoulder for the time being?

Last season was a year of distractions, between Athletica folding, tweetgate, and the surgery. But absent all of that, when Solo is on top of her game, there isn’t a better goalkeeper in the world. Backing her up will be two keepers that are used to that role. Jill Loyden, last year’s Red Star starter, backed Solo up in Saint Louis during 2009. Brett Maron was Solo’s backup in Atlanta. Both have experience as a starter, with Loyden being called up for national team duty on occasion.

Defenders: There won’t be many teams that can boast the veteran back line that magicJack will field coming into the 2011 season. Marshall is probably the only one you couldn’t call a seasoned veteran and the only one that hasn’t appeared on the senior national team. But what a rookie season she had. Overlooked when it came to rookie of the year voting, she made an impact both on defense and at striker.

The other five defenders are all experienced. Christie Rampone brings her 234 national team caps to magicJack after captaining (and sometimes coaching) Sky Blue for two seasons. A great leader on and off the field, Rampone is a professional in every sense of the word. Becky Sauerbrunn, also a candidate for the WC team, is the only other returnee. She has not missed a minute of action in two WPS seasons, the only player that can say that.

Three more defenders were brought in as free agents and all are excellent players. Marian Dalmy was a strong right back, with good height and the ability to make overlapping runs. Meghan Schnur played left back for Sky Blue and is very solid. Veteran Tina Ellertson joins her Washington Huskie teammate Solo with magicJack. Ellertson is a two-time WPS All-Star, is good in the air and has great speed, especially for a center back.

Midfielders: Here you have your classic blend of experience and youth, long-time national team players like Shannon Boxx and Lindsay Tarpley with young college talent like Klingenberg and Schmidt. The only returning player in the group is Sarah Huffman.

Boxx and Tarpley have combined for 265 caps on the USWNT. Boxx has been the starter at defensive mid for the USWNT for several years. She is strong in the air and has become more of an offensive threat since WPS has started. Tarpley is one of the most intelligent players on the field. Whether playing midfield or forward, she is always looking for the best option and is very unselfish.

The other two veterans on the team, Sarah Huffman and Kacey White, have both had short stints on the national team. Huffman is a consistent, hard-working midfielder, and has been with this franchise back to its W-League days. To me, White has always been underrated. She has good speed, attacks well from the outside and usually serves the ball into her forwards with accuracy.

The rookies on this team are quite intriguing as well. It’s really hard to call Sophie Schmidt a rookie. After all, she does have 58 caps with the Canadian National Team. Ultimately, Schmidt may be the best midfielder this team has. Meghan Klingenberg also has national team experience, both on the junior and senior levels. There is a possibility that Klingenberg may move to outside back for magicJack. Jamaican Omolyn Davis has a lot of talent, which hopefully coach Mike Lyons will be able to harness, while Amanda DaCosta had an excellent career at Florida State and looks to move up to the next level.

Forwards: Abby Wambach has been the focus of this team’s offense for the past two years and that probably won’t change. But Wambach has more weapons around her now, which may give her more room to operate in the middle. Unfortunately, nagging injury problems with her foot seem to have slowed her, although she is gamely trying to play through it. When healthy, she is the best in the world in the air and has scored well over 100 goals for the USWNT.

Lisa De Vanna’s 2010 WPS season got cut short following a broken leg in the Asian Cup. Her speed is a nice complement to Wambach’s strength. De Vanna scored six goals for the Freedom back in 2009. One player that had a strong 2010 season was Ella Masar. Masar scored eight goals for the Red Stars last year and quickly became a fan favorite.

In what could be regarded as a steal, magicJack obtained Johanna Rasmussen from Atlanta. Rasmussen was the Beat’s best player at times last year, and she can switch between forward and wing with relative ease. MagicJack also gets help from the draft in Stanford’s Christen Press. Press scored 26 goals for the Cardinal last year. Rounding out the forwards is returnee Rebecca Moros who adds versatility to the roster. Moros has played defense, midfielder, and forward for the Freedom over the past two years.

Outlook: In spite of the huge roster turnover, this team has the elements to compete for the title. They have a nice blend of youth and veterans and are strong at every position. But will this team ever be at full strength. Wambach’s injury could be a problem and she did not appear to be fully healthy in the recent match against England. Solo also made an appearance in that match, but is coming off from a long recovery from shoulder surgery. In addition, several key players will be absent during the World Cup.

You also have to wonder if some of the older veterans on the team will start to slow down. Talented as they are, Rampone is now 35, Boxx is 33, Wambach is 30, while Solo and Ellertson are fast approaching 30. And Boca Raton is not going to be the coolest spot to play summer matches. Their home advantage may not be as strong either, with the smallest seating capacity in a new home. Over the last two seasons, the Freedom had an excellent home record at 12-4-6 and a fairly dismal road record at 4-12-6.

This team is strong enough to compete. They have the talent, leadership, speed, strength, and depth necessary. But they are also going to need things to break their way, especially with respect to health and quickly developing into a cohesive unit.