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Pack your bags, #WPSChat Tweeps. With all the player movement in the WPS this week, we are going to board the #WPSChat express train and take a tour of the teams making moves. Stops will be made at Atlanta, Boston, New Jersey, and Western New York. Last call, all a board!

Q1: The Atlanta Beat.

  • What do they lose with the trade of Angie Kerr, Eniola Aluko, and Tobin Heath?
  • What do they gain in the draft picks they received?
  • Grade this trade for the Beat?

Q2: The Boston Breakers.

  • What is gained with the signing of Kelly O’Hara?
  • What is gained with the signing of Nikki Washington?
  • Have the Breakers addressed all their off-season needs?
  • Grade these signings for the Breakers?

Q3: The New Jersey Sky Blue FC.

  • What is gained with the trade to get Angie Kerr, Eniola Aluko, and Tobin Heath?
  • What do they lose with the sending of draft picks to Atlanta?
  • What off seasons needs are addressed with this trade?
  • Grade this trade for Sky Blue FC?

Q4: The Western New York Flash.

  • What is gained with the signing of Ali Riley?
  • What is gained with the signing of Brittany Bock?
  • What is gained with the signing of Christine Sinclair?
  • What is gained with the signing of Kandace Wilson?
  • Grade these signings for the Flash?

Q5: What would you like to discuss in the upcoming weeks?

Join us on Monday at 8pm EST to throw your thoughts into the mix. Just log on to Twitter, Tweetchat, or Tweetgrid, and use the #WPSchat tag.

Week 2 of the #WPSchat unintentionally had a theme running through it: college, college, college. Half the questions were in reference to that theme, starting off with chat contributors sharing who their favorite collegiate rookie in the WPS is. The two overwhelming favorite rookies were Tobin Heath from the Atlanta Beat and Lauren Cheney (the real LC) from the Boston Breakers! Kelley O’Hara from FC Gold Pride was a close third.

There were many return contributors from Week 1. One even emailed me her thoughts to post during the discussion. (That is true dedication and passion, thanks @katiemarx!) Add in the new contributors from this week, doubling the number of contributors from the first chat. We had Tweetchat really working.

This week, question 1 (What impact does college soccer have on the WPS?) was the most discussed. All were in agreement that there is a back and forth benefit between women’s collegiate soccer and the WPS. A professional league is an incentive  to develop talented players so that they are able to compete for spots. This increases the quality of play at the college level.  Some also thought that talent would be wider spread throughout the NCAA, rather than being concentrated in a few top programs (UNC and Notre Dame, for example.)

Question 2 dealt with how we as fans can help drive attendance, including the use of  grassroots tactics to spread the word about the WPS and how extroardinary it is. Another suggestion is continuing to build the supporter groups for the teams which helps bring in fans and enhance the game experience. And when you attend a game bring a friend with you so they may experience the beautiful game for themselves.

We find the “Tweet of the Chat” from question 2 about how fans may drive attendance to games:

“The WPS has to do is find a way to turn all the millions of soccer players in the US into soccer fans” – @AreYouOnTheBall

Continuing on the collegiate theme, our favorite play of the week was from a collegiate rookie. Carolyn Blank’s goal which evened the score in the Atletica vs. Breakers game was by far our top pick.

If you weren’t able to attend this week’s chat you may join next week’s chat on Monday starting at 8:00 pm EST. Next week’s question will be posted on Friday.

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.

The WPS preseason has begun and, as I await the beginning of the regular season, post ideas have been absent. This isn’t to say there hasn’t been news worthy or post worthy topics such as Citi becoming a founding partner or teams slimming their rosters. Nothing that I thought of or put on paper seemed to stick. Then teams started playing exhibitions and scrimmages, the players posted blogs and tweeted of their excitement about getting back on the pitch. This is when an idea came to me for not just one post but a series of posts and the ‘Who Dat’ blog post series was born! This is the first of eight posts that will take an in-depth look at where each of the eight teams stands as they prepare for the start of the regular season. The Atlanta Beat will be the first team through the ‘Who Dat’ treatment.

The Front Line: This group will be given many chances to score and shouldn’t have much trouble doing so. Most of the scoring from this group will come from Shelley Thompson, Ramona Bachmann, and Monica Ocampo. All three of these players have played on the national level and have been successful with their former club teams and leagues. This group with the help of the midfield will put a lot of pressure on the opposing teams defense and goal tending.

The Midfield: The core of this team starts in the midfield with Tobin Heath. She is going to set the pace on both sides of the ball for the midfield and the team. She is the anchor in a superb midfield group which includes Mami Yamaguchi, Stacey Bishop, Angie Kerr, and Sophia Mundy. This group will be great in getting the ball up the field and setting the front line up with great scoring opportunities. The Beat will not be slow in getting back on counter strikes and will defend hard in this part of the field. This pace would hurt most any team but the Beat have plenty of replenishment with the sheer number of midfielders to provide fresh legs on the pitch.

The Defense and Goal Tending: The Beat’s defense and goal tending is young. The youth in the backfield may at times lead to inconsistent play allowing for opposing teams to get into the backfield and to put pressure on the goal tending. As the season passes this group will gain experience and improve.

The Atlanta Beat will be a fun team to watch and will give a good fight each game. With each passing game and experience gained this team will come together and find their stride to come up with some big wins.

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

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.

Since the end of the draft I have come across many stories covering a player’s draft day experience and one player’s very unique story. I like to categorize these stories as ‘feel good draft day stories’ because of the joy, excitement, humbleness, gratitude, and comradery found in them.

The first ‘feel good draft day story’ I came across was Ali Riley’s account of her day and moments leading to the announcement of her selection by FC Gold Pride. In the third paragraph you were able to sense the joy and excitement, the humbleness and gratitude, and the comradery. She logs-on to twitter right from the start to follow the draft and she sees Tobin, Lauren, and Kelley go in that order as the top three selections. And as she watches the next six selections go by, she gets a text from college teammate Kelley O’Hara “get readyyyyy”. Ali then gets selected 10th overall by FC Gold pride and with moments is on the phone with Kelley, Tobin, and Lauren shrieking with joy.

The next ‘feel good draft day story’ accounts Becky Edwards day of the draft. Becky’s day started similar to Ali’s, with her waking up early and logging-on to twitter to follow the draft. Becky was rooming with another potential draftee Kaley Fountain for the u23 USWNT training camp. The two wait in anticipation to see their names tweeted in the hotel, the first round has ended, and FC Gold pride is selecting first in the second round. And Becky has to wait no longer as her selection by FC Gold Pride gets tweeted, both players screamed with joy and excitement. Now they would wait for Kaley selection and eight selections later Kaley was chosen by none other than FC Gold Pride as the 2oth overall pick. Not only are they roommates and good friends they will be teammates.

The last ‘feel good draft day story’ I will mention is unique from those I mentioned before and those of all the other draftees selected. It is the story of Danielle Collins which tells a special message. Before draft day and up until her selection as the 62nd overall pick by the Philadelphia Independence Danielle (best known around the office as Dani) worked in the front office for the team. Dani was injured last fall before last year’s draft and decided to take a job for the Independence after graduation. She continued to play and work on her game while handling her responsibilities in the office. It was at this year’s open tryouts for the Independence where Dani got the respect she deserved as a player. After reading about Dani’s story I could only feel good.

These are only a few of the many more ‘feel good draft day stories’ to be told.

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.

It is less than 12 hours away and I am unable to contain my excitement.

But for the true soccer geeks the excitement starts tonight with the unveiling of the new match ball for the WPS. And the excitement doesn’t end there because not only will the WPS hold their draft in Philadelphia tomorrow but they will also be unveiling the new team uniforms. It is Christmas in January-what will Kelly Smith, Amy LePeilbet, Kristine Lilly, Leslie Osborne, Alex Scott, and this year’s #2 pick wear next season? How will Heather Mitts and Amy Rodriguez look in their new uniforms for the Philadelphia Independence? Well with a little patience we will find out soon enough.

Now for the more pressing business of the draft. The Breakers have the #2 pick in the draft and with the unprecedented number of high-caliber players available they are sure to get someone who could have an immediate impact on the team. Being a UNC Tar Heel fan I have two fan favorites which I would love to see wearing those new Breaker uniforms next season, Tobin Heath and Casey Nogueira. But this however is unlikely (not impossible). For my predictions I went with logic instead of with the heart. Without further ado here are my first round predictions for the 2010 WPS draft:

1. Atlanta Beat–Tobin Heath
2. Boston Breakers–Lauren Cheney
3. FC Gold Pride–Kelley O’Hara
4. Chicago Red Stars–Casey Nogueira
5. Los Angeles Sol–Whitney Engen
6. Sky Blue FC–Brittany Taylor
7. Washington Freedom–Kelly Henderson
8. Los Angeles Sol–Ali Riley
9. Los Angeles Sol–Nikki Washington
10. FC Gold Pride–Kaley Fountain
11. Boston Breakers–Nikki Marshall

You may follow the draft as I will be through the WPS twitter feed starting at 10 am on January 15th.

Wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t. I will tell you since the major sports media hasn’t, won’t, and probably will not.

On January 15th the WPS will hold it’s second draft in Philadelphia. The pool of players coming out of the college this year are some of the most talented the league has seen, lead by Tobin Heath. The UNC senior is believed to be “the next Marta”-a player of the highest caliber. She lead the Tar Heels to three national championships in four years and to their unprecedented 20th national championship. Tobin is joined by fellow UNC seniors Casey Nogueira, Nikki Washington, Whitney Engen, Ashlyn Harris, and Kristi Eveland who are also expected to make a splash in the draft. This is just one team-other remarkably talented players are leaving the NCAA and entering the draft. They include:

  • Lauren Cheney, UCLA
  • Kelly O’Hara, Stanford
  • Brittany Taylor, UConn
  • Kelly Henderson, BC
  • Ali Riley, Stanford
  • Kaley Fountain, Wake Forest
  • Nikki Marshall, Colorado

A lot of these players will make immediate impact for their teams and are the future of WPS. The League has done superb job spreading the word through mock draft contests, a series of ‘getting to know’ the draftees articles, and the experts’ analysis. Other traditional venues of sports media aren’t even coming close to this. Search ESPN, CBS Sports, or Fox Sports websites for ‘WPS draft’ and your return results are nil. Fox Soccer Channel which broadcasts WPS games is hosting a show on the eve of the draft but information about the show isn’t found anywhere on their website. I know about this through the efforts of the WPS.

I am excited about this year’s draft and it’s outcome, to see which teams draft which players. Of course I am most excited to see who the Breakers will draft with the #2 and #11 picks in the first round. I will be following the action through the most reliable media sources the Breakers’ and WPS twitter feeds.

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