BEULAH’S ALL STAR BALLOT
Now that I’m done stuffing the ballot box for all my favorite players, and since I was too lazy to do a match report for Wednesday’s Freedom-Breakers match, I thought I’d share my All Star picks. And of course, because brevity has never been a strength, each pick will have lots of explanation and a good deal of waffling. That’s just what how we roll here in Beulahland.
Goalkeeper: Hope Solo. This was probably the hardest pick for me. There are three players I could have easily picked here. Erin McLeod and Caroline Jonsson are my other two choices. I don’t think any player, let alone goalkeeper, has been more valuable to her team than Erin McLeod. I shudder to think what the Freedom season would have looked like had the goalkeeper situation remained what it was in the opening weeks. Not only did McLeod come in and immediately provide an upgrade in the goalkeeper position, but she infused a shot of confidence in the entire roster. No other keeper has meant as much to her team. So why didn’t I pick her? Honestly, I think there were just a few too many games where the Freedom gave up a barrel of goals. I realize they weren’t generally her fault and the results in those games were not always negative, but I think Solo just strikes fear in the hearts of attackers a tad more than McLeod. And Hope’s kicking game is a touch stronger as well. Solo just screams All Star more. As for Jonsson, it’s actually tougher not to pick her. I think she’s the best goalkeeper in the league. She is in complete command of her net and made some stops most women simply can’t make. She is an amazing talent and if you were to put her behind a team like the Sol, her stats would match her talent level. But ultimately, with a goalkeeper, results matter. So yeah, she gets punished because her team struggled defensively at times. It was hard though, I went back, forth and sideways with these three about a dozen times. All three deserve the selection and I would have no issues with any of them.
Defense: There’s no way I face Umea in a three back. But since my left back is actually listed as a midfielder on the ballot, I’ll play by the league’s rules here and pick three defenders. I’ll pick two central defenders and a right wing and I’ll let you know who my left back is in the midfielder section. So – without further ado:
Alex Scott at right back. Of course one of DiCicco’s wing backs is who gets the call. He uses outside defensive backs more effectively than any other coach in the league. Scott was dominant at times on offense and a pretty darn good defender to boot. She gave me more “wow” moments than any other wing in the league. Who else did I consider, well, Stephanie Cox is of course a nice stable option. I didn’t think she was utilized as effectively as she could have been (crosses, where were those beautiful crosses all season) and that is ultimately why she didn’t get the nod. Another option would have been Kandace Wilson. Not enough was made about her season ending injury. I really think that killed Gold Pride’s year. She was easily the best player I hadn’t heard of, that I saw all season.
Becky Sauerbrunn in the central defense. OK – this is where you can accuse me of being a homer. That’s fine. But one thing I know for sure, is that the Freedom would not be competing for a playoff spot right now were it not for Becky Sauerbrunn’s play. I think at least 2-3 wins/ties can be attributed to her play. She’s not the fleetest of foot, she definitely has some issues when Cat Whitehill’s not in the game to take care of connecting the backline with the rest of the team, but she reads the game masterfully and has mopped up the frequent messes with the Freedom’s outside backs all season long. Whitehill was still recovering from her knee injury at the start of the year, the Freedom outside backs have been sketchy defensively all season long (especially since Singer stopped being a regular starter), but one thing stabilized the Freedom back line and that was Becky Sauerbrunn making early reads and coming to everyone’s rescue time after time after time. And for that, she makes my all star team. Who else could I have picked here? Amy LePeilbet. Incredibly stable and sound central defender. Does for Boston everything Sauerbrunn does for the Freedom. And Allison Falk just missed too many games for me to seriously consider – she had a great start to the season though.
Tina Ellertson as the other central defender. I had to go with some speed here. With my Sauerbrunn pick set in stone, I wanted to couple her with a speedster instead of a player more similar to her like Whitehill or LePeilbet. And Ellertson is my pick. She has led a very strong St. Louis defense all season long, she reads the game well enough and when she misses a read, she has the speed to run down any player in the league. Saw her run down Lisa DeVanna at a dead sprint against the Freedom and make a great play on the endline. She’s really developed into a nice option in the central D. Who else could have gone here? Anita Asante and Christie Rampone. Asante brings a lot of what Ellertson does. Physical player as well. Doesn’t have quite the responsibility on the pitch that Ellertson does because she’s got Rampone and Dowling out there taking control. As for Rampone, her individual play hasn’t been quite as dominating as I thought it would be. I’ve seen her outplayed on defense by her teammates Dowling and Asante at times. But dang if things aren’t a mess in Sky Blue country and dang if they’re not in the playoff hunt anyway. I’m sure a ton of that is due to Rampone – and a player who can pull a team through whatever mess has been going on over there, certainly deserves to be named an all star, right?
Midfielders: Well I’m picking midfielders, but the way Team Beulah is lining up is a 4-4-2, so I’m picking a left back, defensive midfielder, an attacking midfielder and two flanks who are probably going to be playing pinched in since I’ve got two pretty offensive minded wing backs.
Lori Chalupny as left back. Yeah, yeah, I know, going out on a limb here. She has been brilliant all season. Whether she’s in the midfield or playing left back, she makes St. Louis run. They start their offense with her almost every possession. She makes great decisions with the ball and is very crafty when she keeps the ball at her own feet. She is just technically, tactically and athletically as good a player as there is in the league. Easily an all star and arguably the one of only two US National Team regulars who have shown a consistent level of excellence all season long. I have no other option at left back. If you were to put a gun to my head I’d go with Heather Mitts or Stephanie Cox.
Shannon Boxx in the defensive midfield. Another shocker, right? OK, I know this is the conventional pick, but come on. Boxx is very simply the standard bearer at this position – not just for the league, not just for the US, but for the world. The other US National Team regular having a dominant season. I have no backups here. Leslie Osborne needs more time to fully recover from her knee injury (and some more help, don’t worry Gold Pride fans, Casey Nogueira might be on the horizon) and I expect her to close the gap more next year.
Sonia Bompastor on the left side. She kept the Freedom afloat for the first couple of months of the season. She has great speed, combines well with teammates, puts nice balls through, has a wonderful cross in and is great with the ball at her feet. Some midseason shuffling of the Freedom lineup seemed to stem her flow a bit, but she still makes my all star roster. Other options? Megan Rapinoe and Karen Carney both had their moments but ultimately both wound up being wildly inconsistent over the course of the season. Angie Woznuk would be a nice option as well. She hasn’t been as inconsistent as the Red Stars duo (i.e., her valleys weren’t really that low, just quiet) but I don’t think her highs have been quite as high as Bompastor. She’s not quite the impact player Bompastor is.
Heather O’Reilly on the right side. This was tough – I went back and forth between O’Reilly and Camille Abily here. Wrote up both and ultimately went with Heather O because her import to her team is greater. O’Reilly hasn’t had a great statistical season, but I’ve seen Sky Blue both with her and without her and they’re simply a different team when she’s not on the pitch. She has been distributing wonderfully all season, she’s been taking on defenders and she’s been giving Sky Blue some semblance of offensive shape and allowing them to stretch defenses a bit. As for Abily, she has made a season of capitalizing on all the attention Marta gets from defenses. She is supremely confident, great taking on defenses and very opportunistic in the box. Numbers crunch is all that keeps her off my all star team.
Kelly Smith right behind the forwards as an attacking midfielder. This was another tough decision for me. Abily could have been selected for this slot as well. Ultimately I picked Smith because when she actually plays, she’s arguably the second best player in the league. My issue with Smith, is how often she doesn’t play. It’s tough to select someone who has missed as much time as she has, but, assuming she’s healthy, she’s the best option. Abily plays here if Smith decides to pull herself out of the game.
Forwards: I had four I could have selected, but alas, I don’t think they’ll let Team Beulah play with 13 . . . so, after much deliberation, here are my two.
Marta She has been as advertised. Best player in the league, impacts the game just by being in the starting lineup. Nothing to say here that hasn’t been said by others. I don’t think I’m alone in naming her an all star.
Eniola Aluko I love this player. I first saw her when she was but a wee lass playing in the 2005 UEFA Women’s Championship and picked her as an up and coming star. I’m just pleased as punch that she’s developed into such a complete player. She’s got great speed and is good taking on defenders, but she’s also very savvy and good at setting up her teammates. Who else could I have teamed with Marta? Either Abby Wambach or Christine Sinclair. It’s tough to select Abby because the for the first half of the season she really underperformed. She still gets consideration because I think that underperformance was due in part to the fact that she was still recovering from injury. Now that she appears to be healthy again, she’s been dominant. As for Sinclair, she’s been a bright spot for Gold Pride. She’s had games where she has controlled play. The Bay Area team has had a rough year, but so long as she’s on the roster, they’re not far away from becoming a playoff team. Ultimately though, Aluko gets the nod because she’s been there for her team all year, gotten more positive results, and hey, it’s my ballot and I just like her.
And that is that. I don’t expect this to be the breakdown of the real squad, but if I were queen of the world this would be my all star team and I’d take this squad against all comers.