With the 2010 Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) Draft only a few days away, no coach could be calmer than Washington Freedom head coach Jim Gabarra.
"I've been doing it for a long time, so it's not a huge pressure or anything really new that can come up that we haven't seen through numerous drafts. And I think even in the years when there was no pro league, we were kind of evaluating and recruiting and scouting players as if the league was gonna come back, or in the W-League case, we were looking for players for our W-League team so we have a pretty good understanding of the player pool," Gabarra said.
Gabarra, the head coach since August 2000 who led the Freedom to the WUSA title in 2003, has done his homework. After going through and evaluating all the players that he and the coaching staff are interested in, he has an extensive list ready for the draft.
Gabarra and the staff visited several college soccer games, talked to college and national team coaches, and conducted different levels of evaluations.
He also visited the training camp of the U.S. Under-23 Women's National Team, where the players were mixed with the full U.S. Women's National Team players for a scrimmage.
"I was out at that camp for the couple of days that they overlapped with the full [National] Team. It was good to see those players intermingled with the full National Team. It certainly helps with seeing how well they'll do in the league as opposed to just judging them on their college careers or how they do in the Under-23 competition 'cause that's not the pool of players they're competing with and against."
"Having the full national team there and mixing them together was a really good opportunity for us," added Gabarra.
In 2009, the Freedom finished the season third in the standings and scored the most goals in the league. Its goals per game average was 1.60, above regular season champion LA Sol's 1.35.
Team captain Abby Wambach was one of the league's top goal scorers with eight goals, only second to league leader and four-time FIFA Player of the Year Marta, who had ten.
And with the recent addition of Norwegian striker Lene Mykjåland, Gabarra has confidence with the team's attacking side.
Defensively, it's a different story. The Freedom gave up the most goals last season with a goals against average of 1.60.
Picking seventh in the first round of the draft, Gabarra has an idea of what type of player he'll get.
"Being the team that scored the most goals but gave up the most goals, obviously we need some help defensively. And it doesn't necessarily mean only defenders. It could be a defensive midfielder or a wide defender or a central defender."
"I think certainly the top three to five players in this draft are gonna be impact players or have potential. It's basically someone who's gonna come in and start most games for their teams and perform their role at a high level. In our case, drafting seventh and seeing that you're not gonna get any of those players, we are fortunate that we don't need the attacking side of it.
"So we'll probably get maybe the third best defender, and I think there's a lot of good defenders out there, and we've kind of gone along with that in mind as we fill the team and fill the roster out with our last international spot."
When the WUSA folded in 2003, the Freedom continued to be visible in women's soccer by participating in exhibition matches and joining the W-League. The Freedom won the W-League title in 2007 and continued to be a playoff fixture in 2008 and 2009.
Last year's roster in the professional Freedom team had several former Freedom W-League players, including Sarah Huffman, Becky Sauerbrunn, Lori Lindsey (now with the Philadelphia Independence), Rebecca Moros, and Alex Singer.
For Gabarra, being part of the Freedom W-League team—now known as the Washington Freedom Futures—can give you a slight advantage, but definitely not a sure spot.
"I think it's a great opportunity for us to see kids in a professional environment prior to the draft. It's more input and a little different input than you'd see them playing in the college level or even a national team level 'cause you see them on a day-to-day basis for the entire season and you see how they train, what their personalities are like, and get to know them a lot better than just watching them play and talking to their college coach.
"But I wouldn't say that hey, well, if they played for the W-League team we have to draft them. It's our responsibility to get the best players that we feel are gonna make this team the best team."
The 2010 draft has been highly anticipated in large part due to the amount of talent in the pool of college seniors. UNC midfielder Tobin Heath, widely expected to be the first pick, has been a regular in the full National Team, winning a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and becoming the U.S. Soccer Young Female Athlete of the Year in 2009.
There's also recent MAC Hermann Trophy winner Kelley O'Hara, a forward from Stanford University. She was the top goal scorer in the nation with 26 and led her team to finish the regular season with an undefeated record.
Another forward expected to be one of the top picks is Olympic gold medalist Lauren Cheney from UCLA, as well as Heath's UNC teammates Casey Nogueira and Whitney Engen.
"There's a lot of talent in this graduating class. I think traditionally, going back to the WUSA days, the second, third year of the league there's usually only a handful. Maybe down to two or three real impact players. And this class, it'd be a minimum of five so that's exciting, and I think it's great for the league. It's great for women's soccer," Gabarra stated.
The 2010 WPS Draft will be in Philadelphia, PA on Friday, January 15, 2010. To monitor the draft, follow @womensprosoccer on Twitter starting at 10 AM ET.
PHOTO CREDIT: womensprosoccer.com
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