Early reaction to Friday’s National Women’s Soccer League allocation made the Portland Thorns FC the subject of a lot of envy, and with good reason. The sister franchise of Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers not only got the league’s most marketable talent (Alex Morgan), Canada’s best player (Christine Sinclair), and arguably the most skilled player in the league (Tobin Heath), their “other players” include two parts who project as above average contributors at the back (Rachel Buehler, Karina LeBlanc).
Within the league, reaction varied. Some were shocked by the Thorns’ good fortune. For others, the excitement of a day seven weeks in the making overshadowed any perceived imbalance.
But if we’re talking winners and losers, we have to start with Portland. And unfortunately, since a number of teams were left without a marquee player, there are just as many losers as winners after the NWSL’s dispersal.
Portland Thorns FC – Rachel Buehler, (27, D, USA), Tobin Heath (24, M, USA), Karina LeBlanc (32, G, CAN), Alex Morgan (23, F, USA), Marlene Sandoval (28, D, MEX), Luz Saucedo (29, D, MEX), Christine Sinclair (29, F, CAN)
Portland’s clearly the best team coming out of allocation, perhaps unfairly so. Most people would put Morgan and Sinclair among the best three players in the world, and they’ll have one Tobin Heath providing for them. Buehler’s capable of anchoring an NWSL defense while Karina LeBlanc started for a WPS regular season champion in 2009. Thorns are stacked, have a strong spine, and are somewhat balanced. Opponents are right to be upset, even if the draw of Morgan and Sinclair is bound to make for good TV as the Timbers Army packs Jeld-Wen Field.
Seattle Reign FC – Kaylyn Kyle (24, M, CAN), Teresa Noyola (22, M, MEX), Megan Rapinoe (27, M, SEA), Amy Rodriguez (25, F, USA), Jenny Ruiz (29, D, MEX), Hope Solo (31, G, USA), Emily Zurrer (25, D, CAN)
With Solo and Rapinoe, there’s tons of star power on this team, and with Kyle and Zurrer, Laura Harvey and Amy Carnell got two quality players out of their Canadian allotment. Even if they didn’t get Alex Morgan, there’s a lot to like about this dispersal (after all, they did get the best goalkeeper in the world).
The key to whether this team can keep up with their Cascadia rivals is Rodriguez. If she can score like she did in her second WPS season (under Paul Riley in Philadelphia), Seattle’s results could match their ambition. If she’s the inconsistent player we saw in her first and third years (and recently with the national team)? Seattle will have to rely on Megan Rapinoe (when she returns), who was never the star in WPS she’s become internationally.
FC Kansas City – Nicole Barnhart (31, G, USA), Lauren Cheney (25, M, USA), Renae Cuellar (24, F, MEX), Marylin Diaz (21, M, MEX), Becky Sauerbrunn (27, D, USA), Desiree Scott (25, M, CAN), Lauren Sesselmann (29, D, CAN)
Where are the goals going to come from? Free agency, you’d assume. Or, perhaps Lauren Cheney becomes a striker again (she’s only recently become a midfielder, and only for the national team). If Kansas City moves Cheney back to her natural position, this becomes one of the league’s better allocation classes, even if it lacks one of the true big names. If not, free agency becomes much more important.
Goal prevention, however, is where Kansas City appears particularly strong. Sauerbrunn could be one of the league’s best defenders, with Sesselmann, Barnhart, and midfielder Desiree Scott rounding out what should be a formidable defense.
Boston Breakers – Anisa Guajardo (21, F, MEX), Adriana Leon (20, F, CAN), Sydney Leroux (22, F, USA), Heather Mitts (34, D, USA), Heather O’Reilly (28, M, USA), Cecilia Santiago (18, G, MEX), Rhian Wilkinson (30, D, CAN)
Boston got a player they can build around in 22-year-old striker Sydney Leroux. She’s young, talented, and marketable. For a team that didn’t have a big name attached to them pre-draft, getting Leroux was quite a boon.
They also got Mexico’s No. 1 in Cecilia Santiago – a good young shot stopper whose decision-making will improve with consistent, higher level games. Until that trait’s developed, Santiago’s going to need help in defense, and it’s unclear this allocation gives her enough.
There’s a similar story in midfield. O’Reilly only plays wide right, which means if the Breakers plan on connecting with Leroux and their two other young attackers, free agency and next week’s college draft will be key.
Western New York Flash – Carli Lloyd (30, M, USA), Bryana McCarthy (21, D, CAN), Veronica Perez (24, F, MEX), Jo-Ann Robinson (23, F, CAN), Pamela Tajonar (28, G, MEX), Abby Wambach (32, F, USA)
The Flash were the team short-changed by allocation, getting only six players. They did, however, get the one player they coveted: Abby Wambach. The financial impact of getting the local hero is huge. They also get Olympic hero Carli Lloyd and a Mexican attacker (Perez) who should partner well with Wambach.
Unfortunately, the Flash got little else. They may have received the worst Canadian allocation, and it remains to be seen if Pamela Tajonar will be up to the task in goal.
The Flash may have gotten one of the marquee players, but if Wambach’s ankles can’t hold up over the course of a full season, this dispersal could look terrible at year’s end.
Sky Blue FC – Melanie Booth (29, D, CAN), Jill Loyden (27, G, USA), Monica Ocampo (26, F, MEX), Kelley O’Hara (24, D, USA), Christine Rampone (37, D, USA), Lydia Rangel (21, M, MEX), Sophie Schmidt (24, M, CAN)
Rampone gives the organization a face to build around, but without one of the brighter stars from the national team, this allocation has to be seen as a disappointment. Ocampo is a decent attacker, and Schmidt gives them a quality player in midfield, but the New Jersey-based team got short-changed on U.S. national teamers without getting enough to make up for it.
Chicago Red Stars – Shannon Boxx (35, M, USA), Maribel Dominguez (34, F, MEX), Dinora Garza (24, M, MEX), Amy LePeilbet (30, D, USA), Erin McLeod (25, G, CAN), Carmelina Moscato (28, D, CAN), Keelin Winters (24, M, USA)
It’s a very balanced allocation for Chicago, but one that relies heavily on two players in their mid-30s. With LePeilbet, Moscato, and McLeod, the defense has a strong core, while Turbine Potsdam’s Keelin Winters could help the group transcend its lack of name value.
But despite getting seven solid players, the group is still without one of the marquee U.S. players. As a result, Chicago lack the high-end talent you see in other teams’ dispersals.
Dominguez will need help, and with LePeilbet unlikely to be healthy to start the season (knee), the roster is full of question marks. There are a lot of ways this can go wrong.
Washington Spirit – Ashlyn Harris, (27, G, USA), Alina Garciamendez (21, D, MEX), Robin Gayle (27, D, CAN), Ali Krieger (28, D, USA), Lori Lindsey (32, M, USA), Diana Matheson (28, M, CAN), Teresa Worbis (29, M, MEX)
Curiously, Washington gets three U.S. national team players who didn’t feature at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Krieger was injured, Harris didn’t make the team, while Lindsey was only an alternate. Each player, however has ties to D.C., all having played for the Washington Freedom.
While decent at the back, this group looks weak, particularly going forward. Worbis has a decent goal rate for the Mexican national team, but she’s unlikely to be a major goal producer in this league. Washington’s ability to acquire a goal scorer in free agency (or the draft) might make-or-break their first season.
It’s tempting to be overly critical of these types of ventures, mostly because we tend to adopt our own standards in lieu of some other unambiguous goals. While the days before dispersal saw quotes from U.S. Soccer laud the value of competitive balance, there were clearly other factors at play. Team and player preferences played a big part and are likely one of the biggest reasons Portland and Seattle sit so pretty today.
As for the other teams, Chicago, Sky Blue and Washington have enough history in their communities to make their teams work, particularly given the subsidies the federations are providing with player salaries. Western New York and Boston each got a marketable star, while Kansas City was given a competitive team with two players (Cheney, Sauerbrunn) capable of being faces for their fanbase.
Could the results have been better? Perhaps, but that gets us back to standards. Are you judging this based on parity or other considerations, considerations U.S. Soccer made clear were going to be a factor from the onset. Ultimately, no teams were left far behind, even if the apparent desire to put high profile players (Morgan, Solo, Rapinoe) in marketable situations created some imbalance.
Hopefully highlights of Alex Morgan shooting into Portland’s north end will make it worthwhile.