So the first three players have been allocated to each of the teams. The foundation has been set. Letís take a look and try to figure out what everyone has and where the teams rate so far. And let me say at the outset, I reserve the right to turn all my comments and rankings on their head after the international draft.
1. Chicago Red Stars: Carli Lloyd, Kate Markgraf, Lindsey Tarpley
I really like this allocation. Chicago has a top US player on every line, assuming that Tarpley plays forward. In Lloyd, they have one of the best young midfielders in the game. She is more a target than a table setter and has one of the hardest shots in the US player pool. She has an uncanny ability to find the back of the net, she will shine in this league. Teaming her with Tarpley creates a tremendous offensive foundation. While I expect Tarpley to be playing forward (this expectation could change after the international draft occurs, but letís just go with it for now), she is very much a table setter. She is a very tactically savvy player who plays with her head up and even if sheís playing up top, sheíll be assisting on plenty of Carli Lloyd goals, and of course scoring plenty of her own. I think putting Lloyd on a team with a very unselfish and sophisticated forward is a great idea. Takes some of the pressure off Lloyd and letís her look for her own opportunities more than if she had to run the offense alone. As for Markgraf? As sound a foundation on defense as you could have. Fast, defensively sound, years of experience. Christie Rampone is the only defender in the player pool who can match what Markgraf brings to the central defense. This team is the most balanced so far.
2. Sky Blue FC: Natasha Kai, Heather OíReilly, Christie Rampone
I could have easily ranked this allocation first, but I like the versatility and the balance on Chicago a little bit better. I expect OíReilly to be playing forward and I expect her to explode. With two very dangerous, fast forwards with the ability to take on defenders they should be able to shred defenses. You canít focus on one because the other will wreak havoc. I like either playerís chances to find the back of the net being covered 1 v. 1. Regarding Kai, I expect her to be one of the league leaders in goals scored. The technical and tactical sophistication in the league will be less than it is on the international scene and this will enable her to use her raw athletic ability to score, score, score and score some more. Defenses wonít be able to keep up so, that she still doesnít play with her head up as much as one might like, simply wonít matter. And then you pair Rampone with all this offensive power. Speed, leadership, savvy, solid fundamentals on defense. Like Markgraf there is no weakness here and with Rampone you get the added bonus of having a central defender who also has great offensive instincts. Great start for this franchise . . . Iíve almost talked myself into giving them the top ranking.
3. St. Louis: Lori Chalupny, Tina Ellerston, Hope Solo
I think I might be overrating them, but I just feel good about this group. I think Chalupny is really going to shine in this league. I hope to see her in the midfield and I hope she has an offensive role. She has tremendous instincts on offense. When given the opportunity she has shown that she has the ability to thread balls through to the front line and that she has great 1 v. 1 ability when she takes on defenders on her own. Add that to a tremendous workrate and an ability to win more than her share of 50-50 balls and I think sheíll be a force if played in the center of their midfield. As for Ellerston, she can play anywhere on the field. Thatís going to give St. Louis a lot of flexibility filling out the rest of this roster. Ellerston has great speed, is probably a good enough to defender to play on the wing in the league and sheís definitely good enough to play wide in the midfield or up top. I remember watching her when she was in college and thinking she was one of the most dominant collegiate forwards I had ever seen. I hope she has an offensive role on this team. And then thereís Solo. Probably the best goalkeeper in the league . . . no clue who else is going to be goalkeeping in the league, but regardless, Iím already anointing her the best. I think this team is going to surprise people, especially if the coaches didnít rate them as highly as I did and they get a high international draft spot.
4. Boston: Angela Hucles, Kristine Lilly, Heather Mitts
I am uneasy ranking them this high, but I guess this is where they belong. I think Iím uneasy because I donít really believe in this group. Hucles had a fantastic Olympics, no question, but sheís really a complementary player not a star. Sheís a very opportunistic goal scorer, but she needs a star to capture the attention of the defense. Iím not sure how itís going to work if she is that star. Lilly is a completely unknown quantity at this point. She hasnít played in a year and sheíll be forced to be a marquee player on this team. And honestly, a lot of my skepticism stems from the fact that sheís only a year younger than I am and that worries me. I just donít know how sheís going to recover from all the aches, pains and sprains as quickly as she needs to. As for Mitts, sheís a wing defender. You donít exactly lay a foundation for a franchise with a wing defender. That said, sheíll set a good tough tone on the defense and has great athletic ability. Itís just that when Iím picking the most important positions to fill first, wing defender isnít on my list. Donít get me wrong, this group is rock solid, but I just donít feel real good about them right now. I think if they get a marquee player in the international draft, my uneasiness could wane.
5. Los Angeles: Shannon Boxx, Stephanie Cox, Aly Wagner
I went back and forth flipping Boston and Los Angeles when I was doing my rankings. I think I wound up ranking Los Angeles behind Boston because of the lack of offensive fire power. They have no target players or even potential target players in this allocation. Boxx is a tremendous defensive midfielder and has solid tactical instincts. That said, she needs someone to whom to pass the ball. Wagner is a tremendous attacking midfielder, one of the best table setters in the game. She learns every player on her team and makes it a point to get those players the ball in a position and in a fashion that puts them in them in the best position to score. That said, she too needs someone to whom to pass the ball. Cox will shine in this league. She is one of the most fundamentally sound defenders in the player pool. Her trouble at the international level is based solely on a lack of speed. Her speed will be plenty in this league though. And those crosses, those crosses in from the wing are a thing of beauty. But she too needs someone to whom to pass the ball. So right now, Iím ranking this group fifth and thinking itís not such an exciting allocation. But this is one team whose prospects could immediately change once the international draft occurs. One marquee forward, one marquee Brazilian forward, and this becomes one of the teams to beat . . . well, it at least becomes a team that has the potential to score a lot of goals . . . so long as we get Ms. Wagner a Portuguese phrase book.
6. Washington Freedom: Ali Krieger, Abby Wambach, Cat Whitehill
ďWhy ranked so low?Ē you ask. ďBecause it appears Krieger is not actually playing this season,Ē I answer. If I hadnít read in other venues that Ms. Krieger is under contract with Frankfurt through June 30, and then read a couple of days later that that contract was extended, I would have ranked this allocation third or fourth. But as it is, it appears that the Freedom allocation in 2009 is two players, one coming off a broken leg and the other coming off an ACL tear. This is my home team . . . I am concerned.
First, Iím thrilled with the Wambach selection. She will dominate, she will score many goals, she will be a lot of fun to watch. Legs break, they heal, sheíll be good to go at the start of the season.
Second, Iím thrilled with the Whitehill selection . . . in 2010. ACLs tear, they heal just enough for a player to get back on the field, and the player will play and look OK, but the player simply wonít look like herself for a year and a half or two years. They never do Ė they always tell us theyíre fine, but thatís simply not how it works out. That Cat isnít really a player who relies on speed and the ability to cut sharply probably means it wonít impact her game as much as it could, but Iíll be surprised if sheís not in and out of the lineup for various reasons all season long. That said, one Cat Whitehill blast on a free kick can completely change any game and she is a very savvy defender. So, uncertainty of her coming off injury aside, itís easy to be excited about this pick.
What I donít understand is how in the world, during this initial allocation, a team selects a player, Ali Krieger, who wonít be available until midseason at the earliest. Comments by Gabarra in the Washington Post indicate he was aware she wouldnít be available until midseason. I just donít get it Ė I know sheís local, but you donít sacrifice the first year of your franchise to get a local girl when thereís an alternative you could have selected who would bring the exact same talents to your team (India Trotter, anyone?). My only hope is that this is all part of a diabolical scheme to get a top international choice. If Gabarra looked at what he could take in the allocation and decided to blow it so the Freedom would be ranked lower and heíd get a higher international selection, then OK, I donít necessarily agree with it, but I get it. And if thatís not what just happened, then wow . . . I mean . . . wow . . . why would you do this, why would you put your team at such a disadvantage. I anxiously await the international draft to see what in the world is going on here.
7. Bay Area: Nicole Barnhart, Rachel Buehler, Leslie Osborne
I like all three of these players very much. Nicole Barnhart can be a dominant goalkeeper. Like Solo, she has the ability to completely change the complexion of a game. Buehler is a very fundamentally sound defender who Iíve enjoyed watching since I first saw her in that U-19 world championship all those years ago. Osborne is the heir apparent in the defensive midfield for Team USA. She has great ability to win balls, both on the ground and in the air, isnít afraid of the tough tackle and can find her teammates well distributing the ball. All that said, I donít know if this is how Iíd want to start my team. A defender, a defensive midfielder who is coming off an ACL tear and whose status wonít be known until she actually gets on the field, and a goalkeeper. This allocation is completely devoid of offensive talent and unlike Los Angeles, there isnít even a table setter here. They not only need some offensive fire power in the international draft, but offensive fire power who can create goals for herself. This team just seems a little further away than the others. Now, a nice Brazilian forward, that could change it all, but as of right now, I think this has to be ranked the weakest of the allocations.