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Yesterday, I traveled to Pennsylvania to check out the Independence vs. Beat game.  This post is broken in to two sections: my trip down and my observations of the game.

The Trip:

As I rode the train from Boston to West Chester sipping my Earl Grey soy latte, I couldn’t help but think of yester year.  I was on my way to take in the battle of the expansion teams on the 2010 WPS opening weekend, traveling by train like many sports writers before me.  They would travel by train from city to city, more than likely sitting in the meal car drinking brandy or scotch.   Wearing a fedora with press pass, they were armed with nothing by a pencil, and writing pad. There would be a good chance that the writer would be on the same train as the team. After the story was complete, the writer’s work would be sent via telegram once they arrived at the next destination. And this was seen as breaking news, sent by the latest and greatest of technology. Though the WPS wasn’t around then, I feel connected through history– I was about to see one of the oldest sports around today; the game of football or known also as soccer.

There cannot be reflection without comparison and so I look at the fabled sports writer of times past in light of that of today.  Instead of pencil and paper, the writing of the story is done on a computer or laptop using word or even directly through the internet. The writer’s work is either posted directly through the internet or sent by email to the editor, no more telegrams. The article is then distributed through blogs, online articles and publications, and social media (twitter, facebook) rather than print newspapers. Lastly, the sport I am about to see has even come along way. It is now considered a major professional sport in America and it will be female athletes taking the field.

So what does this all mean? It means professional sports are evolving and progressing. But more evident is that the essentials are the same, but the medium is changing. The games will still be played and reported on; these are the essentials. The means of how information is gathered, written, and distributed are what is ever-changing. This means that us sports junkies are able to get our information quickly, and the WPS is the best in the game at delivering it.

The Game:

The match I went to see featured the two new teams to the WPS: the Philadelphia Independence and the Atlanta Beat.  The game was played on the Independence’s turf. I arrived at John A. Ferrell stadium on the West Chester University campus 45 minutes prior to kick-off, and the atmosphere was electric. Before I even entered the stadium, I got hit with the energy; fans were tailgating in the parking lot, a band was playing, and there were plenty of kid activities outside the stadium entrance. The flow of electricity did not stop once inside the stadium. The music was rockin’ and the fans were enthusiastic—dancing, cheering, and clapping. All this was happening before the introductions of the starting line-ups.

The electric atmosphere did not waiver through out the evening. During the introductions, the Independence’s mascot was unveiled. A bald eagle from the Philadelphia Zoo, it was a beautiful bird and I sat in amazement at its glory. The players were introduced, beginning with Atlanta’s starting line-up and then to the Independence, where the decibel level of the crowd went up more than a few notches. The international players were presented flowers to cheers from the fans. Next up was a local inspirational speaker who got the cheering crowd on their feet, and set the bar for the rest of the evening. And now the teams and fans were set for kick-off.

The game was all that I have come to expect from a WPS game. I was a bit surprised by it being so because I was watching two expansion teams. The WPS has succeeded where most other sports leagues have failed in expansion. This confirmed two thoughts of mine prior to the start of the season. One is the depth of the talent pool in the 2010 draft being that of the likes we may not see for quite sometime.. The Beat midfield controlled that part of the field, led by rookie Tobin Heath.

My second observation is that the folding of the Sol consolidated the talent in the league, pushing a lot of talent in to the new expansion teams.  Although the independence were without Heather Mitts, Karina LeBlanc, a former Sol player, held a clean sheet. I was afraid to take my eyes off the action as I might miss a goal or shot on goal. The excitement did not stop at all during the game, and the cheers of 6,000 fans attested they had an extraordinary experience.

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This is the second installment in the ‘Who Dat’ series. As I mentioned in my last post, I will be taking an in-depth look at all the WPS teams in a lead up to the start of the season. The Boston Breakers are this post’s team to go through the ‘Who Dat’ treatment.

The Front Line: This group had its ups and downs last season for the Breakers. A terrific first half of the season and a bumpy second half. The Breakers looked to improve the frontline in the offseason and have done just that. The other team’s defense will no longer have the luxury of a single focused strategy on stopping Kelly Smith without being hurt by the Breakers other offensive threats. The fresh faces of this group Lauren Cheney (USWNT goal leader so far in 2010), Laura del Rio, Tiffany Weimer, and Sarah Walsh will be welcomed by Kelly Smith and will finish plays. A not so fresh face to the team but a fully recovered Fabiana will bolster this group as well.

The Midfield: Best performing group through out the whole season last year for the Breakers was the midfield led by team captain Kristine Lilly. This group really did it all last season from setting the frontline up to getting back and defending. They were tenacious and looked to be weakened by the retirement of Angela Hucles. The Breakers did an outstanding job in free agency to fill the hole left and make it better than last season. The acquisitions of Leslie Osborne and Chioma Igwe will bring this group to that next level.

The Defense and Goal Tending: The defense and goal tending for the Breakers was solid for most of the last season. There were only a couple of notable let downs last season against Sky Blue FC and the season finale against the Sol. The Breakers retained Allison Lipsher who did wonderful in net replacing Kristin Luckenbill midway through the 2009 season. In the games she started only Karina LeBlanc had a better GAA and percentage of shutouts vs total games. In the draft the Breakers selected net minder Alyssa Naeher to spell Lipsher. Opponents had extreme difficulty breaking the defensive wall of the Breakers last season that consisted of Heather Mitts, Amy LePeilbet, Alex Scott, and Candace Chapman. At the beginning of the offseason that wall looked to be falling apart with the loss of Heather Mitts and Candace Chapman in free agency. The breakers made their biggest fix for the defense in the dispersal draft with the selection of Stephanie Cox. Stephanie will fill the spot left vacated by Heather Mitts and Breakers will use Kasey Moore and Jordan Angeli to fill the center defense.

The Breakers will be a team to watch in the 2010 WPS season and look to be a good challenger to Sky Blue FC’s championship defense.

The next team to be put on the table for the ‘Who Dat’ treatment will be the Chicago Red Stars, so stay tuned.

In the aftermath of the dispersal draft I have become sober. The buzz of the dispersal draft has worn off and reality is setting in. What is that reality? The reality is the best brand in the WPS last season is no longer a franchise, the Los Angeles Sol players are now members of their opponents from last year, and the WPS is stronger.

The Los Angeles Sol built the most noticable brand last season. The building of the brand started with AEG willing to absorb the payroll and overall net loss for the season. With the acquisitions of Marta and Shannon Boxx, arguably two of the best players in the world; the Sol brand was born. The brand continued to grow throughout the season as the Sol became one of the most offensively explosive teams and dominant defensive teams. The Sol had the highest average attendance at home and brought the crowds out to whatever stadium they were playing in. The brand was successful but as a franchise the Sol could not survive. At the right time there may once again be a professional women’s soccer team in Los Angeles because there is market demand for one.

A great part of that brand were the Sol players who were then with out a team to play for. The WPS set-up the dispersal draft to retain the talented players of the Sol including Marta, Shannon Boxx, Karina LeBanc, Stephanie Cox, Aya Miyama, and Brittany Bock in the league; But also to find a home for the recently drafted players Casey Nogueira, Nikki Washington, and Kiersten Dallstream. The dispersal draft was three rounds in which teams selected players from the Sol roster to become members of their team. Saint Louis selected Shannon Boxx with the first pick which bolstered their midfield. Philadelphia selected Karina LeBlanc second to give them a sure net minder behind defensive backs Heather Mitts, Sue Weber, and Allison Falk. The Bay Area selected Marta who will now be playing along-side former teammate Camille Abily and offensive standout Christine Sinclair. Chicago selected Casey Nogueira who will give them a future star on the front line. Boston selected Stephanie Cox who will bolster their defensive line after losing Heather Mitts to free agency. New Jersey selected Nikki Washington who will be playing along-side former UNC Tar Heel Yael Averbuch in the midfield. Washington selected Brittany Bock to help with their defense which had the highest GAA in the league last season. Saint Louis with the last pick of the first round selected Aya Miyama which along with Shannon Boxx will be quite the midfield. The dispersal draft wrapped up in just over an hour and the Sol players once again were part of a team.

The WPS with the Sol franchise being discontinued and the Sol players being kept in the league through the dispersal draft became stronger. The players that were once a part of the Los Angeles Sol are now spread across the league bolstering the new teams they are members of. The talent in the league is more condensed and will create a highly competitive league in which any team may become the champion. With great competition comes notice and being noticed will bring more fans and supporters to the league.

With the buzz of the off-season wearing off I am looking for my next buzz and that will only come with the beginning of the season. In a little over two months I will be able to say ‘Let the season begin!’ Until then I will look to write a team outlook for each team for the next season. So keep an eye out for the series of posts starting later this week.

When an agreement with a potential buyer of the Sol franchise and the WPS fell through this past week the Sol franchise was discontinued. This left the players of Sol with out a team. The WPS has set the dispersal draft of the Sol players for Thursday, February 4th. The draft will have the eight franchises selecting players from the Sol roster over three rounds. The order of the three rounds will be as follows.

First Round:

  1. Saint Louis Athletica
  2. Philadelphia Independence
  3. FC Gold Pride
  4. Chicago Red Stars
  5. Boston Breakers
  6. Sky Blue FC
  7. Washington Freedom
  8. Saint Louis Athletica

Second Round:

  1. Atlanta Beat
  2. Washington Freedom
  3. Sky Blue FC
  4. Boston Breakers
  5. Chicago Red Stars
  6. FC Gold Pride
  7. Philadelphia Independence
  8. Atlanta Beat

Third Round:

  1. Atlanta Beat
  2. Philadelphia Independence
  3. FC Gold Pride
  4. Chicago Red Stars
  5. Boston Breakers
  6. Sky Blue FC
  7. Washington Freedom
  8. Saint Louis Athletica

For the eight teams in the league this presents itself as a great opportunity to solidify their rosters for the 2010 season. The 2009 regular season champions Los Angeles Sol featured one of the top talented rosters in the league. The Sol as a team were number two in the league for goals scored and GPG, had the best GAA, and the most shutouts. The team roster had the top two goal scorers in the league, the co-assist leader, the best goalie, and added three first round draft picks, wow! Knowing all this I immediately thought of Tobin Heath in the midfield setting Marta up at the forward spot and the beauty this held. Although this would be an incredible and exciting offensive pairing it more than likely will not come to fruition. Keeping the talent pool that is available in mind I got excited thinking who on the Sol roster would be wearing the Breakers blue this coming season. And with the 5th selection overall in the dispersal draft the Breakers would be sure to get a top talented player. Barring any last minute trades the following are my predictions for the first round of the dispersal draft.

Dispersal Draft First Round Predictions:

  1. Saint Louis Athletica–Marta
  2. Philadelphia Independence–Aya Miyama
  3. FC Gold Pride–Karina LeBlanc
  4. Chicago Red Stars–Shannon Boxx
  5. Boston Breakers–Brittany Bock
  6. Sky Blue FC–Nikki Washington
  7. Washington Freedom–Stephanie Cox
  8. Saint Louis Athletica–Casey Nogueira

If you want to read more on the Los Angeles Sol being discontinued and the dispersal draft click here.

This past week the WPS announced they are discontinuing the Los Angeles Sol franchise. This is sad news for Sol fans and for WPS fans a like. The news should not be taken lightly but should also not be seen as ominous by the WPS, its teams, or its fans. Instead it should be chalked up to a lesson learned.

What this means for the WPS:

In light of this the WPS will have a net growth for the 2010 season of plus one with the additions of the Beat and the Independence minus the Sol. Because of the full strength of the league, the 19 Sol players will be dispersed amongst the eight teams remaining. The WPS is building a solid brand campaign ‘See Extraordinary’ around its unique, diverse, and talented players. And with the loss of the Sol the WPS is set to be a stronger league. It will continue to set and achieve realistic goals and build and grow so that they may once again have a franchise in the Los Angeles market.

What this means for the teams:

The Sol was considered by many to be the most successful team of the 2009 season. They had the highest attendance, they were regular season champions, they were a high scoring team, and lost the championship game by a 1-0 margin. If you are looking at just the on-field measurements, the Sol was the most successful team. By fiscal measurements they were not. The other teams in the league will benefit from this and succeed if they are fiscally responsible as well as having a viable product. Teams should continue their focus on building sponsorship, season tickets, and their fan communities.

What this means for the fans:

For Sol fans, continue your support of the league and keep the support alive for a Los Angeles franchise in future. And when the time is right that new franchise will thrive. For all other fans it is a reminder that the league is new and that the teams do benefit from the fan community. So start or continue to run your mouth about your team, players, and game experience to everyone you know and meet. Bring family and friends to a game so they may experience the greatness of it all.

At the end of the day, the 2010 season will play out like any other with teams, players, and fans a like looking to bring home a championship. The WPS may have lost the Sol but it surely isn’t soulless.

The draft has come and gone and I am still basking in the glory of that day. And I have the WPS and my favorite team the Boston Breakers to thank for this. What a job they did tweeting the up-to-the-minute status of the draft as each team made their selections. The highlight tweet for me on the day was moments after Tonya Antonucci uttered the words “The Atlanta Beat select Tobin Heath” as the #1 pick overall. The WPS tweeted a video capturing this monumental announcement of her selection, the scene in the draft room, and the presenting of her new team scarf. The next great moment of the day is when the Breakers tweeted their selection of Lauren Cheney as the #2 overall pick and then the pictures of her Breakers team scarf presentation. The day continued like this with the tweeting of real time draft statuses, first round selection pictures, and behind the scene pictures. My hats off to the WPS they really made me feel as though I was there in the room and for this the WPS is a big winner on the day!

Three teams made significant progress in the draft and are big winners.

The Atlanta Beat with the #1 pick got a player and a leader who they could build a franchise around. Tobin Heath with her outstanding technical game is labelled to be one of the greatest. Her potential will have the Beat stepping on the pitch next season with confidence.

The Boston Breakers had the makings of a great team last season and took a big hit this off-season with losses in free agency, retirement, and the expansion draft. The losses of Heather Mitts, Sue Weber, and Candace Chapman left an impenetrable defensive wall needing patching. The wall is once again impenetrable thanks to the selection of Alyssa Naeher (minding net spelling Allison Lipsher), Jordan Angeli, and Katherine Reynolds. With the #2 pick Lauren Cheney they filled a significant gap in scoring.

The Los Angeles Sol: what could the regular season champ need to be better? Well, your answer is the replacement of the league’s second leading goal scorer Camille Abily who was traded to FC Gold Pride. They recovered through the draft by selecting three top prospects at the forward position Nikki Washington, Casey Nogueira, and Kiersten Dallstream.

This year’s draftees held as a collective group looks to be the most talented a group that will come out of college for quite some time, so there were no big losers but only big winners and winners.

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