WPS Draft Preview
W-League players await chance with pro league

by Gerald Barnhart

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

TAMPA, FL – With the Women’s Professional Soccer Draft coming up Friday, January 16 at the NSCAA Convention in St. Louis, more current and former W-League players will be looking on in hopes of seeing their names called in the new league’s second and final draft. Here is a quick breakdown of some of the top W-League prospects likely to be selected by the seven teams in the 10-round draft.

Former Defenders of the Year Andrews and Cooper could go earlyUSL W-League players represented 24 of the 28 picks made on October 6 in WPS’s General Draft, which consisted of four rounds of selections between the seven WPS clubs. Moreover, 18 of those 24 selections competed as recently as the 2008 W-League season. The 24 W-League players selected in the General Draft joined 10 that were selected in the WPS International Rights Draft September 24 and the 13 alumni that were originally assigned September 16 as part of the US Women’s National Team allocations.

Historically, the same incorporation of W-League alumni occurred with the launch of the Women’s United Soccer Association in 2001. A total of 92 current and former W-League players were allocated or drafted by the WUSA leading up to the first of its three seasons.

One of the primary factors in the selection of players will no doubt be experience given the quality of players already lined up to play in the league as well as by the huge jump between the levels of play in collegiate soccer and what will be on the pitch in WPS. Numerous WPS coaches have already gone on the record about the challenges ahead for the relatively inexperienced college seniors, which will likely lead to a high percentage of post-graduate W-League players who have been playing against better competition the past few years being taken Friday.

Another primary determining factor will be nationality. With limits on the number of foreign players per team, a number of star Canadian W-League players will likely find it more difficult to be selected and may go in the later rounds as teams try to fill positions, or will have to work their way onto a squad via training camps in the spring. However, if the behind-the-scenes negotiations with the previously selected internationals are not going smoothly, a run on players from the top teams like the Vancouver Whitecaps, Ottawa Fury and Toronto Lynx may be seen.

Who’s on the Board?

After a quick look at current rosters (taking into account actual and likely international signings only at this time), there are quite a few teams in need of defense – a position where experience is most crucial. Aside from the top few attacking standouts coming off the board early, look for a run on defensive-oriented players in the first two, possibly four, rounds of the draft with Chicago and Sky Blue also taking a stab at goalkeeper early on. With a deep pool of talented midfielders already allocated from the US squad and drafted in October, the only clubs who may need to flush out the offensive end of things early are Boston and Washington.

Goalkeepers

Briana Scurry – One of the few recently active US Women’s National Team players still available, the former W-League netminder (Delaware 1998) will probably go second overall to Chicago, who currently only have an unsigned foreign international slated for the position. With few premium goalkeepers, the Red Stars can’t afford to pass this opportunity up.

Jillian Loyden – The two-year Sky Blue netminder has been one of the top goalkeepers in the W-League, facing extremely tough opposition in the Eastern Conference on a regular basis and still posting a GAA of 0.72. With Sky Blue taking the young Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Cori Alexander in the final round of the initial draft and no other teams in pressing need for a keeper, she may be still available in the second or third round as a security pick-up.

Kati Jo Spisak – The two-year Washington Freedom goalkeeper could find herself staying put. The club already took Canadian star Erin McLeod (Vancouver Whitecaps) in the international draft, but with back-to-back picks at the end of Round One and beginning of the second, she may be taken to shore up the position for the Freedom.

Shannon Aitken – Despite playing the past three years with the struggling Bradenton Athletics, Aitken regularly garnered votes as one of the top keepers in the conference and could find herself drafted as a back-up in the late rounds.

Meghann Burke – A standout that helped lead the Memphis Mercury to the W-2 Final in 2001, Burke posted a GAA average of 1.03 in her two seasons with the club and a third with the Ashville Splash in 2004. She returned to the W-League in 2008 with the Boston Renegades and was right on form with an average of 0.78 and six shutouts in her 14 games. A St. Louis University grad, she may go late to Athletica or stay in Boston if Ireland’s Emma Byrne does not sign with the Breakers.

Defenders

Fanta Cooper – One of the top defenders over the years in the W-League, it was surprising she was not among the players taken in the first draft in October. Look for the 2003 Defender of the Year, who spent the past two years with Sky Blue and 1998-2004 with the Chicago Cobras, to go in the First Round.

Sasha Andrews – Another former W-League Defender of the Year in the mix, the longtime Vancouver Whitecap (2003-06) played last season with the Pali Blues, winning a third W-League title. Needing players on defense, look for Blues coach and LA Sol General Manager Charlie Naimo to take the Canadian international with the fourth pick in the First Round.

Kimberly Brandao – Perhaps a bit off the radar in some circles, the American Portuguese international has been picking up a lot of experience playing for the Portuguese National Team. She has spent the past two seasons with Sky Blue and was a member of the 2004 New Jersey Wildcats, giving her numerous possible clubs in WPS. With St Louis in need of defenders and with a Brazilian head coach (Brazilians speak Portuguese), she may find herself going sixth in the First Round or ninth in the Second, making her a excellent cog in a club that will likely be heavily Brazilian influenced. She could also go later to Los Angeles with Naimo having coached her for the Wildcats and Sky Blue (2007) or stay in New Jersey.

Carrie Dew – One of two senior First Team All-Americans, the young Notre Dame defender could be in high demand. She was with the Pali Blues in 2008, but had a tough time cracking a lineup that included Andrews and four players already assigned to WPS clubs via allocation or draft in the form of Kendall Fletcher, Amy LePeilbet, Jill Oakes and Kandace Wilson. That’s an excellent group she’s been learning from at practice, making her an ideal selection as a prospect. The California-native could go as early as third overall if the Bay Area’s FC Gold Pride decide to take the California homegrown youth route.

Nikki Krzysik – A perfect example of the USL pyramid, the New Jersey product began her career playing Super Y-League and W-League for the New Jersey Lady Stallions, pulling double duty as she made her ascent up the ranks. Her success led to W-League U19 Player of the Year honors in 2004 and All-Conference honors in 2007. She went on to play for the New York Magic the following year and Sky Blue (under Naimo) in 2007. She remained close to school (Virginia) in 2008 as a member of the Richmond Kickers Destiny, where she displayed some range and saw time at midfield. A First-Team All-American and youth international, she’ll likely go in the first two rounds, potentially to Washington, who has back-to-back seventh and eighth overall selections, or to Naimo’s Sol.

Emily Zurrer – A long-time Vancouver Whitecap since the age of 17, she has helped guide the team to two championships while playing in the W-League and has been a part of the youth and senior Canadian National Team program since the age of 16. Naimo may take a chance on her given Zurrer’s experience playing with Canadian keeper and Sol selection Karina LeBlanc, a former W-League player under Naimo for the Wildcats.

Kasey Moore – A newcomer to the W-League in 2008 for the expansion Ventura County Fusion, Moore impressed despite just playing five matches. A Third-Team All-American, she could find herself going between rounds 2-4.

Midfielders

Kele Golebiowski – A former star Australian international with an outstanding career in the W-League and a stint in the former WUSA, she may be one of the few foreign players that will undoubtedly be taken in the draft. She helped guide the Washington Freedom to the 2007 title and is versatile for numerous positions on the field. She began her W-League career in 2001 with the Hampton Roads Piranhas, earning the Rookie of the Year honor. She was among the league leaders in scoring in 2002 before helping guide the Freedom to the WUSA title in 2003.

Kelly Hammond – A highly touted player that was a contender for All-Conference selection, the four-year W-League player was a member of the Northern Virginia Majestics in 2008 after helping the Washington Freedom capture the W-League title in 2007. She began her career with the New Jersey Wildcats in 2004 and won her first W-League championship with them in 2005 under Naimo, making her a familiar choice for the Freedom and Sol.

Rebecca Moros – A two-year player with the Washington Freedom, Moros has been a key factor in the club’s success, finishing the 2007 championship campaign with seven goals in the regular season. She began her W-League career in 2005 with the New Jersey Wildcats, giving her two W-League titles to her credit.

Yael Averbuch – A former teammate of Krzysik with the Lady Stallions (2002-04), Averbuch debuted in the W-League at the age of 14. Since then her career has seen her become a staple of the US youth national team programs and a star at the University of North Carolina where she was recently named a Second-Team All-American.

Julianne Sitch – A veteran of the W-League since 2001, Sitch brings plenty of experience having played for the Chicago Cobras (2001-04), Hampton Roads Piranhas (2005), Chicago Gaels (2007) and FC Indiana Lionesses (2008). She’s reached the semifinals four times in her career, finishing runners-up in 2003 and 2008. Listed as a defender for the WPS combine, Sitch’s experience is primarily midfield and has excellent attacking numbers for her W-League career. Her versatility though may put her in high demand.

Kara Kabellis – A player in the W-League since 2001, Kabellis brings a lot of experience with her. She most recently played in 2008 with Pali Blues, but had stints with the Chicago Gaels (2005, 07), San Diego Gauchos (2006-07), Boston Renegades (2005) and Windy City Bluez (2001-04).

Yolanda Odenyo – Although she saw limited action with Sky Blue in 2008, the former Swedish youth international brings a lot of experience given her career for Sweden and time spent in the competitive Swedish league. A Third-Team All American selection out of Oklahoma State, she may have put herself on the radar, but may be a tough choice given her foreign status.

Jen Buczkowski – A veteran of the league dating back to 2004 with the Cobras, the 2008 All-Conference selection has been a fixture in Chicago soccer, playing for the Gaels since their inception in 2005. She has been a leader for the club and may provide depth for a WPS team.

Domenique Esposito – The recent Rutgers grad has been a regular in New Jersey W-League soccer having played in the league since 2003 when she debuted with two seasons with the Lady Stallions. She moved on to the Wildcats and a W-League title in 2005. After skipping the 2006 campaign she spent the past two years with Sky Blue, arguably having her breakout season in 2008.

Stacy Bishop – An All-Conference selection in her fourth W-League season this past year for expansion Tampa Bay, Bishop has been an attacking threat from midfield previously for Sky Blue (2007) and the Central Florida Krush (2005-06), whom she helped lead to the 2005 semifinals.

Maggie Tomecka – Although she’s been out of the W-League since 2006, the former New Jersey Wildcat (2006) and Boston Renegade (2001-02, 04) brings a lot of experience with her. She helped guide the Renegades to back-to-back championships in her first two years in the league.

Forwards

Tiffeny Milbrett – Quietly tucked away from national spotlight in Vancouver with the Whitecaps, the former US international’s 2008 campaign was subdued by a team bereft of numerous Canadian senior and youth internationals to camps and tournaments. She still garnered All-Conference honors for a third straight season after earning All-League accolades in 2007. She may be at the end of her career, but she’s a proven scorer and could be a great addition after the First Round.

Ali Andrzejewski – A new star on the rise out of the Freedom program, she has found great success with Washington the past two years, earning All-Conference honors after finishing second in the league in scoring in 2007 en route to the W-League championship. Her numbers dipped a bit in 2008, but she may be a future star that’s available in the second or third round.

Sarah Steinmann – The 2008 scoring champion and W-League Most Valuable Player was surprisingly left undrafted in October, but will undoubtedly find herself selected Friday. Her numbers tripled in her fourth season with the Atlanta Silverbacks. She also played for the Charlotte Lady Eagles from 2003-04.

Lyndsey Patterson – Perhaps one of the key factors to Steinmann’s jump in numbers, Patterson joined the Silverbacks in 2008 after two seasons with the Seattle Sounders. Listed at forward for the WPS combine, she played primarily at midfield for Atlanta after two years as a striker in Seattle, showing versatility that could help her get selected.

Marisa Brown – Listed at forward for the WPS combine, Brown brings versatility to the table having played primarily at midfielder for Sky Blue in 2008 and for the Windy City Bluez from 2001-04. But her 2005 season with the Boston Renegades showed some capabilities for her as a striker, finishing the campaign third in points and second in goals to earn All-Conference honors.

Michele O’Brien – A member of the W-League since 2004, O’Brien brings a wealth of varied experience with her beyond W-League competition that also includes midfield. The American has been a member of the Republic of Ireland National Team since 2003 and has also had stints in the English and Swedish leagues in the past two years. She began her W-League career with the Long Island Lady Riders in 2004-05, was a member of the Rough Riders in 2007 and played for Sky Blue in 2008.

Krista Bobo (Davey) – A longtime veteran of the W-League, she began her career with a W-League championship as a member of the 2000 Chicago Cobras. She would go on to play in the WUSA in 2002-03 before returning to the Cobras in 2004. She moved to Richmond in 2005 and joined Atlanta in 2006. Her minimal numbers statistically may force her to go in the later rounds and potentially convert into a midfielder to find a permanent spot on a squad.

Kelly Schmedes – In her two years with the Charlotte Lady Eagles, she has been among the leading scorers in the league, finishing third in points and tied for second in goals for 2008. Although her efforts were not quite enough to garner All-Conference honors at the position in a very talent-laden conference, she may be a good late round pick-up for depth.

Lauren Sesselmann – The FC Indiana Lionesses striker helped guide the club to the final in their first season in the W-League this season, finishing among the league leaders in points.

With the Major League Soccer draft garnering nearly all of the media attention heading into the NSCAA convention, here is at least one attempt at how the first two rounds of the WPS draft could play out on Friday.

WPS Mock-Draft Projection

1
Boston Breakers
Amy Rodriguez, F
2
Chicago Red Stars
Briana Scurry, G
3
FC Gold Pride
Carrie Dew, D
4
Sky Blue FC
Fanta Cooper, D
5
Los Angeles Sol
Sasha Andrews, D
6
St Louis Athletica
Kerri Hanks, F
7
Washington Freedom
Kele Golebiowski, M
8
Washington Freedom
Ali Andrzejewski, F
9
St Louis Athletica
Kim Brandao, D
10
Los Angeles Sol
Nikki Krzysik, D
11
Sky Blue FC
Jillian Loyden, G
12
FC Gold Pride
Tiffeny Milbrett, F
13
Chicago Red Stars
Erin Hardy, D
14
Boston Breakers
Christina DiMartino, M

Links of Note:

WPS General Draft [+]      WPS Foreign Player Draft [+]      WPS US WNT Allocation [+]

W-League Combine [+]     WPS Combines [+]     Official WPS Site [+]

The comments and opinions of the author do not necessarily reflect those of USLsoccer.com, United Soccer Leagues, or its member teams.





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