April 5, 2011

2011 Philadelphia Independence Preview

Philadelphia Independence
Paul Riley (2nd year)
2010 Record:
10-10-4 (3rd place, finished runner-up in playoffs)
Home Stadium:
Leslie C. Quick Jr. Stadium (Chester, Pennsylvania)


Goalkeepers (2):
Nicole Barnhart, Val Henderson.
Defenders (6):
Lauren Barnes(R), Allison Falk, Estelle Johnson, Nikki Krzysik, Kia McNeill, Leigh Ann Robinson.
Midfielders (7):
Jen Buczkowski, Christina DiMartino, Sinead Farrelly(R), Lauren Fowlkes(R), Lori Lindsey, Joanna Lohman, Megan Rapinoe.
Forwards (8):
Danesha Adams, Veronica Boquete, Laura del Rio, Gina DiMartino, Tasha Kai, Holmfridur Magnusdottir, Amy Rodriguez, Lianne Sanderson.
(R) denotes true rookie; returning players in bold.
Probable World Cup players:
Barnhart, Lindsey, Rapinoe, Rodriguez.

Like Boston, Philadelphia returns most of their roster from last season, 13 players in all. They only lost three players that saw appreciable playing time…Caroline Seger, Heather Mitts, and Sara Larsson. And they have made some additions that should impact the team, including two USWNT players, Megan Rapinoe and Nicole Barnhart. In addition to Rapinoe, the Independence brought in three exciting offensive options with Tasha Kai, Veronica Boquete, and Laura del Rio.

Another positive for this team is that they will be less affected by the World Cup than most of the rest of the league, losing in all likelihood only four players. With the depth they have added, they are probably positioned as well as any team heading into a season that will certainly be somewhat disrupted by the World Cup.

Goalkeepers: The Independence face the 2011 season with both starting goalkeepers from the 2010 championship game. What more can you say? Nicole Barnhart has been a fixture on the USWNT for years, playing in Hope Solo’s shadow. But between her brilliant season with Gold Pride last year and getting several starts on the national team due to Solo’s shoulder surgery, she has come into her own as a strong keeper. Last season, she posted a 0.77 goals against average with eight shutouts.

Val Henderson started the 2010 season battling for the number one spot with Karina LeBlanc, but by the end of the season, she had won the job and started all three playoff matches. Yes, Philly got blitzed by four Gold Pride goals in the final, but Henderson did a very capable job up until then. Only a temporary situation I’m sure, but the Independence have just two goalkeepers on their roster, a situation that must change when Barnhart is away on national team duties.

Defenders: With veterans Mitts and Larsson no longer on the team, Philadelphia acquired Leigh Ann Robinson and Kia McNeill from Atlanta and drafted Lauren Barnes out of UCLA. They will join returning players Allison Falk, Nikki Krzysik, and Estelle Johnson.

The trio of McNeill, Falk, and Krzysik in the middle give Philly a very physical central backfield. McNeill and Falk are both good in the air. Falk can be a weapon on set pieces in the offensive third as well. Rookie Lauren Barnes adds depth. Robinson and Johnson could be the starters outside. Johnson had a strong rookie season for the Independence in 2010.

I imagine Paul Riley would like to see Robinson get forward, something she did quite well at times with Gold Pride in 2009, but was unable to do as much last season with Atlanta. The other outside option is Frida Magnusdottir, a fast, aggressive player that seems to be at home anywhere on the field and is listed as a forward.

Midfielders: Philly’s biggest loss in the offseason was probably Caroline Seger, the excellent Swedish midfielder that is now with Western New York. However, don’t feel too bad for the Independence. They added USWNT winger Megan Rapinoe and two promising draft selections, Sinead Farrelly and Lauren Fowlkes.

Farrelly is a talented young player out of the University of Virginia. She is known for having great vision and is excellent at distributing the ball. Oh, and she can score as well, with 30 goals in her career with the Cavaliers. Fowlkes, a Notre Dame alum, has good size at 5-10 and can play defensive mid or center back.

While Rapinoe has struggled at times in her WPS career, she is a solid performer on the USWNT. Hopefully, coach Paul Riley’s system will bring out the best in her. With returnees like the always solid Lori Lindsey and the highly skilled Tina DiMartino, this could be one of the best midfields in the league. For depth, add veterans Joanna Lohman and Jen Buczkowski, both of whom were full-time starters on last year’s team and this is a quite impressive group.

Forwards: One problem for Coach Riley is going to be getting playing time for all the options he has at forward. He has the leading scorer from last year, Amy Rodriguez, who had 12 goals and 6 assists. After a disappointing rookie season, Rodriguez showed what she could do last season. With her speed and now with added experience on timing her runs, there is no reason to think she won’t have another good season this year.

Riley also has Tasha Kai, who led Sky Blue in goals two years running. And perhaps this year, she will be injury-free, something that has plagued her over the last two years. Riley has raved about her performance in preseason. Philly also returns English striker Lianne Sanderson, who showed flashes of her talent last year scoring five goals.

Two Spanish forwards, Laura del Rio and Veronica Boquete also join the team. Boquete is extremely fast, having a strong season with Buffalo in the W-League, before having a stellar, if short, stint with the Chicago Red Stars. Del Rio is a veteran who knows how to score, but has yet to make a big impact in WPS. Add Danesha Adams, who probably scored the biggest goal in Independence history against Boston in overtime, sending them to the finals, and DiMartino sister number two, Gina.

Outlook: This team really has everything it needs to compete for the title. They have speed, talent, skill, and no one is going to push this team around. The speed this team has up front will give opponents all sorts of trouble.

One would think that last year’s runner-up finish would make Philadelphia favorites, with Gold Pride no longer around. But this league is very tough at the top and winning a championship will not be easy. Even with last year’s phenomenal success, the Independence only finished the regular season with an even 10-10-4 mark.

You have to like that this team kept its nucleus together and made some nice additions. They will not be hurt by the World Cup as much as either Western New York or Boston, who stand to lose twice as many players, or even Sky Blue which will likely lose six. But when it comes down to it, the other teams will have most of their roster come playoff time, so the Independence will still have to beat the best to climb to the top.

The Independence should have an exciting attack, with plenty of options, and they should be able to match last year’s strength in the midfield. It may come down to how well this team can defend. While their back line is solid, it does not have all the national team players that grace a few of the other defenses around the league. But if they can play solid team defense, this team should do quite well.


Anonymous said...

Riley has no idea in what he has in ND alum Lauren Fowlkes. Hopefully he learns quickly and gets her in the line up. She is a winner and has rarel lost a game she has ever plated in. High school, college and for our country.