I would be remiss not to tell you that it has been a while, fans on Bleacher Report, I Told You Sol, and the WPS Fan Corner. But we are back at it again. Women's Professional Soccer season two is on the air! And with it...the often scrutinized, often praised, always publicized WPS Power Rankings.
With the addition of two new teams to the race for the title, the competition gets fiercer and intense. Who will take down the unexpected of trophy-lifters, the New York/New Jersey Sky Blue Football Club?
Is it the ladies of St. Louis Athletica, who have made major strides this season? Could it be one of the most enduring American women's clubs in recent memory, the Washington Freedom? Or is it either of the expansion clubs: the resurrected Atlanta Beat and Sky Blue's regional rival, the Philadelphia Independence?
We will find out as we take a look.
EDIT: With the demise of the Los Angeles Sol, the rankings have been slightly modified to reflect the changes.
1. SKY BLUE FC
Claiming the top spot in the preseason Power Rankings is Sky Blue FC, the defending WPS Champions. Last year, it took the departure of Ian Sawyers and the leadership of Christie Rampone to earn Sky Blue FC its first piece of hardware. The continued success of the ladies of Piscataway depends on the new manager, Finland's Pauliina Miettinen.
Miettinen brings to the table extensive experience as a player and a coach. As a forward, she led the Franklin Piece College Ravens (Rindge, NH) to three national titles, while helping HAK Helsinki earn four league titles, four Finnish Cups, and a UEFA Women's Cup appearance. Miettinen also was an assistant with the Barry University Buccaneers (Miami Shores, FL) and the Florida State Seminoles.
And Miettinen will have plenty of weapons at her disposal. Aside from Rampone, Sky Blue returns players like defenders Keeley Dowling and Anita Asante; goalkeeper Jenni Branam; midfielders Carli Lloyd, Rosana, and Yael Averbuch; and forwards Natasha Kai and Kerri Hanks.
Sky Blue FC will have the services of Finland's Laura Kalmari (former club: AIK Stockholm), Holland's Daphne Koster (former club: AZ Alkmaar), and Sweden's Jessica Landstrom (former club: Linkopings FC).
New acquisitions include defenders Brittany Taylor (Connecticut) and Danielle Johnson (Ole Miss), forwards Katie Schoepfer (Penn State) and Meagan Snell (Santa Clara), midfielders Melissa Clarke (LSU) and Kelly Isleib (Utah), and defender/midfielder Jennifer Anzivino (Rutgers), who was traded from the Philadelphia Independence.
From the Dispersal Draft, Sky Blue FC obtained midfielder Nikki Washington and forward Kiersten Dallstream.
2. ST. LOUIS ATHLETICA
Jorge Barcellos begins his second year with St. Louis Athletica with a sense of purpose and optimism. After a dismal April, Athletica rebounded to finish second on the table behind the Sol. St. Louis will look to improve on their performance in 2009 as they prepare for another season at the Brewery, also known as the Anheuser-Busch Soccer Park.
Returning to Athletica are defenders Tina Ellertson, Kendall Fletcher, and Elise Weber, midfielders Lori Chalupny and Angie Woznuk, forward Eniola Aluko and goalkeeper Hope Solo.
Joining the lineup from the Chicago Red Stars is forward Lindsay Tarpley. Together with Aluko and Madelaine Edlund, they form a consistent scoring triple threat that will be counted on in 2010.
The Umea IK pipeline continues with the acquisition of Edlund and Brazil's Elaine. A capable forward, Edlund led Umea to Damallsvenskan championships in '07 and '08, to go with appearances in the UEFA Women's Cup and UEFA Women's Champions League. Edlund scored 38 goals in her last two seasons with Umea IK.
Prior to signing with Athletica, Elaine spent five seasons with Umea, leading the club to three league titles and a treble—the Damallsvenskan crown, the Swedish Cup, and the Super Cup in 2007. As a member of the Brazilian national team, she helped As Canarias to a second place finish at the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup in China.
New additions to St. Louis from the WPS Draft include forward Kristina Larsen (UCLA), midfielders Amanda Poach (Santa Clara), Sarah Teegarden (Wisconsin-Milwaukee), and Elizabeth Redmond (Duke); midfielder/forward Veronica Perez (Washington), goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris (North Carolina), and midfielder/defender Carolyn Blank (West Virginia).
Acquired from the Dispersal Draft were midfielders Shannon Boxx (the top overall pick), Aya Miyama, Tina DiMartino and Catherine Sorenson (the last pick in the Dispersal Draft).
3. WASHINGTON FREEDOM
Coming in at third in this year's preseason rankings are Jim Gabarra's Washington Freedom. Washington, led by forward/future Hall of Freedom inductee Abby Wambach, will look to improve on a season that saw plenty of promise but little to show for it.
Key returnees to the Freedom, aside from Wambach, include: forwards Rebecca Moros and Lisa De Vanna; midfielders Homare Sawa, Ali Krieger, and Sonia Bompastor; defenders Cat Whitehill, Alex Singer, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Jill Gilbeau; and goalkeepers Brianna Scurry and Erin McLeod.
Washington's first-round draft pick, Nikki Marshall (Colorado), is player for fans at the Maryland SoccerPlex to keep a close eye out for. Marshall, a member of the United States U-23 national team and former USA U-20 WNT member, plays forward, midfielder, and defender. Her defensive presence in particular will be a key piece to the 2010 championship puzzle for Gabarra's club.
Other draft picks by the Freedom include midfielders Carly Dobratz (Washington State) and Beverly Goebel (Miami), defender Kristi Eveland (North Carolina), defender/midfielder Mara Osher (Boston University), midfielder/forward Caitline Misker (Virginia), and goalkeeper Lauren Robertson (Ohio State).
Taken from the Dispersal Draft were defender Brittany Bock and defender/forward Faith Ikidi.
4. BOSTON BREAKERS
Tony DiCicco had to be wondering how things fell apart at the last hurdle for his Boston Breakers long after the 2009 season ended. With a new campaign looming near, Boston will be out to redeem themselves in 2010.
The Breakers will have the services of goalkeeper Allison Lipsher; midfielders Maggie Tomecka and Kristine Lilly; forwards Jennifer Nobis, Fabiana, and Christine Latham; defenders Amy LePeilbet and Alex Scott; and England international forward/midfielder Kelly Smith. Boston also acquired a number of new faces in the offseason from FC Gold Pride in midfielder Leslie Osborne and forward Tiffany Weimer.
Boston soccer fans at Harvard Stadium will be in for quite a treat with the addition of WPS draft picks Lauren Cheney (UCLA) and Alyssa Naeher (Penn State).
A member of the 2008 U-20 Women's National Team, Cheney will go down in Bruin women's soccer history as the first to earn NSCAA All-American honors in all four years of her college career. She also leaves Westwood with career records in points (173), game winning-goals (28), single-season points (57, 2007), single-season goals (23, 2007), and freshman goals (19, 2006).
Naeher, who was the starting keeper on that same 2008 U-20 WNT, left Happy Valley with a .900 goals against average and will provide depth at that position with Lipsher.
Other draft picks for the Breakers include defender Jordan Angeli (Santa Clara), Katherine Reynolds (Santa Clara), Carly Peetz (Nebraska), and Casey Brown (Boston University); forwards Cynthia Morote-Ariza (Loyola-Chicago) and Taryn Hemmings (Denver), and midfielder Gina DiMartino (Boston College). Gina, the younger sister of Tina DiMartino of Los Angeles, was traded from the Sol.
Acquired from the dispersal draft were defender Stephanie Cox and forward MIchelle Enyeart.
5. CHICAGO RED STARS
Emma Hayes's Red Stars had the potential to be a serious contender for the WPS crown last year. Unfortunately, they finished near the bottom of the table and will be looking to rebound from their disastrous season.
The first question that was on the minds of Chicago fans is whether or not Cristiane will be returning next season. The Brazilian free agent was signed to a new contract after her performance with the Santos FC Ladies on loan made it perfectly clear that something special could take place at Toyota Park in Bridgeview. Now the question becomes: will 2010 be their year?
Other key players returning to the Chicago Red Stars include goalkeeper Caroline Jonsson; defenders Kate Markgraf, Ifeoma Dieke, and Marian Dalmy; midfielders Jill Oakes, Megan Rapinoe, and Chioma Igwe; and forwards Karen Carney and Ella Masar.
During the offseason, the Red Stars acquired defender/midfielder Julianne Sitch from Sky Blue FC and goalkeeper Jillian Loyden from St. Louis Athletica to add depth between the pipes.
While Umea IK has already established a pipeline to WPS, a new pipeline is emerging in Linkopings FC—the current, defending Damallsvenskan champions. Keep your eye out for forward Kosovare Asllani. With 12 goals in 22 appearances for Linkopings, Asllani's knack for finding the net will be a big boost to Chicago's title aspirations.
The Red Stars also get a solid defensive presence in Whitney Engen, Chicago's first-round pick in the 2010 WPS Draft. Not only can she defend, but she possesses an intensity that will be a treat to watch. Engen was the second highest-ranked draft pick from Anson Dorrance's 2009 national championship team (fourth).
Other selections by Chicago include forwards Jessica McDonald (North Carolina) and Michelle Weissenhofer (Notre Dame), goalkeeper Kelsey Davis (Portland), midfielder/forwards Sophie Reiser (Columbia) and Fiona O'Sullivan (San Francisco), and midfielder Jackie Santacaterina (Illinois). Taken from the Dispersal Draft was forward Casey Nogueira.
6. FC GOLD PRIDE
There is a reason why Albertin Montoya's FC Gold Pride finished at the bottom of the table. Two reasons, to be exact: lack of defense and a porous offense. The Lionesses of the Bay will need to patch up these holes to turn 2009 on its head in 2010. And the Pride move to a new home: Pioneer Stadium in Hayward. Hence, the new nickname: the Lionesses of the East Bay.
They took the first step towards fixing this problem over the offseason by acquiring midfielder Camille Abily from the Los Angeles Sol. The Pride then acquired defender/midfielder Candace Chapman from the Boston Breakers and defender Niki Cross from St. Louis Athletica.
Don't be surprised to see plenty of Norwegian flags waving around Pioneer Stadium this season. That's because FC Gold Pride also acquired Norway's Solveig Gulbrandsen from Stabaek IF.
Gulbrandsen is one of Norway's most storied players in women's football history and will provide solid experience and leadership to the Pride. As a member of the Norwegian women's national team, she earned a gold medal at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.
Over her illustrious career playing the midfield, Gulbrandsen earned 139 caps for the national team to go with appearances at three FIFA Women's World Cups (1999, 2003, 2007), two Olympic Games (2000, 2008), and three UEFA Women's European Championships (2001, 2005, 2009).
Other key returnees to the team include goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart, defenders Rachel Buehler and Carrie Dew, midfielders Brandi Chastain, Kristen Gracyk, and Kimberly Yokers; and forwards Kandace Wilson, Christine Sinclair, and Eriko "The Fro" Arakawa.
The Lionesses of the East Bay will get a couple of first-round standouts from Stanford in forward Kelley O'Hara and defender Ali Riley. O'Hara won the 2009 Hermann Trophy while also proving to be instrumental during the Pali Blues' 2009 championship season. O'Hara scored 26 goals in 26 appearances for the Cardinal in 2009.
Riley, a member of the New Zealand Football Ferns (the country's women's national team), is a solid outside back and will be key to turning around the Pride's defensive misfortunes.
Other additions to the Pride via the WPS Draft include defender/midfielder Becky Edwards (Florida State), forward Kaley Fountain (Wake Forest), goalkeeper Erin Guthrie (Rutgers), midfielder/defender Ashley Bowyer (Ohio State), and defenders Elizabeth Harkin (Arizona State) and Lauren Wilmoth (UCLA).
The prospects of FC Gold Pride rebounding from their 2009 campaign rose with the selection of Marta in the Dispersal Draft. Also picked were forwards KIki BOsio and Lindsay Browne.
7. ATLANTA BEAT
In the old days of the Women's United Soccer Association, the Atlanta Beat played their games at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium and Herndon Stadium, the home of Morris Brown College. They did fairly well, finishing runner-up in 2001 and 2003. However, six years would pass before the Beat would be revived.
So long Morris Brown, hello Kennesaw State. It's no longer about Cindy Parlow or Charmaine Hooper or even Maribel Dominguez. Now it's about players like Brazil's Maurine (from Santos FC Ladies), Amanda Cinalli (selected from St. Louis Athletica), Katie Larkin (selected from the Los Angeles Sol), Japan's Mami Yamaguchi (Umea IK),...and Tobin Heath.
Yes, the Tobin Heath that just about every talking/blogging head in sports put their money on to be the first one picked. THAT Tobin Heath.
But let's touch on some of the international players for the Beat, managed by Gareth O'Sullivan. Maurine Dornelles Gonçalves comes to Atlanta from Kleiton Lima's Santos FC Ladies, and brings experience in winning championships.
A capable midfielder with a nice first touch, Maurine was instrumental in helping Marta, Cristiane, and Santos win the very first Copa Libertadores de Futbol Femenino. She followed that up with a successful Copa do Brasil title defense.
Yamaguchi comes to the Beat from Umea IK, having established a name for herself with the Florida State Seminoles, NTV Beleza, and Nadeshiko Japan (the Japanese national team).
Also arriving from Umea to the Beat are Switzerland's Ramona Bachmann and Denmark's Johanna Rasmussen. Bachmann is a proven scorer, with 19 goals in 30 appearances for her former club. Rasmussen scored 13 goals in 66 appearances for the Danish national team.
That now leads us to the big question everyone in A-Town wants to know: Can Tobin Heath be the stateside solution to the Brazilliance running rampant in the WPS? With her skill set and one-on-one ability, Heath could pass for another member of the Brazilian national team, perhaps as a facilitator or scoring threat with Marta and Cristiane.
Of course, Tobin can't do it alone, and she will need help from the rest of the Atlanta Beat to keep their inaugural year in a rhythm. Don't be surprised if the Beat or the Philadelphia Independence, which we will take a look at in a bit, pounce on the others at the top. We saw this with Sky Blue FC last season. While it may not be the case this year with the rise in talent, anything is possible in this league.
Other selections for the Atlanta Beat include defender Blakely Mattern (South Carolina), a pair of twins from West Florida in forward Shaneka Gordon and defender/midfielder Shameka Gordon, and forwards Jill Hutchinson (Wake Forest), Carrie Patterson (Georgia), and Casey Langdon (Oklahoma State).
Midfielder Manya Makoski and forward Pavlina Scasna will also join the Beat after being selected in the Dispersal Draft.
8. PHILADELPHIA INDEPENDENCE
Craving for cheesesteaks and football? You bet! Now just because Paul Riley's Philadelphia Independence are sitting at the bottom of the 2010 WPS Preseason Power Rankings does not necessarily mean they will end up as champions by season's end. It would be a tough proposition for Philly to reprise Sky Blue's Cinderella run.
But one would be a fool to think that this objective is all but impossible...especially if you are a fan of the Indies, namely one of the Daughters of Betsy.
For the 2010 season, the Independence will play at John A. Farrell Stadium at West Chester University. After 2010, the Indies will move to the Union Field at Chester, the home of their partner club, the Philadelphia Union.
A little kicker here: The Sons of Ben—who are the primary supporters’ group of the Union—and the Daughters of Betsy are the same organization. They're just operating under different guises.
In the Expansion Draft, the Independence acquired some key pieces in Boston's Amy Rodriguez (the very first WPS Draft pick in league history), LA's Allison Falk (the first scorer in league history), Boston's Heather Mitts, and Washington's Lori Lindsey.
The Linkopings FC pipeline continues with the acquisition of Caroline Seger. Seger scored 15 goals in 99 appearances in the midfield for LFC. Also added to the midfield is Iceland's Hólmfríður Magnúsdóttir. And make no mistake about it: She can score. In 108 appearances for KR Reykjavik, Magnúsdóttir scored 97 goals. She also helped save Kristianstads DFF from relegation in the 2009 Damallsvenskan season.
LSU midfielder Malorie Rutledge was Philadelphia's first-ever WPS draft pick. A second-round selection and the 13th pick overall, Rutledge scored 28 goals and 46 assists in her four seasons with the Tigers.
Other selections by the Indies include defender/midfielders Kelly Henderson (Boston College) and Danielle Collins (William & Mary), goalkeeper Mallori Lofton-Malachi (South Florida) and defender Caitlin Farrell (Wake Forest).
Goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc will provide a strong presence in the net with her selection in the Dispersal Draft. Also selected in the draft was defender Estelle Johnson.
And that concludes our preseason rankings. Only one thing left to do now: Let the countdown to the 2010 Women's Professional Soccer season begin!