Germany looms large for WPS elite

The third Women’s Professional Soccer season opens this weekend with the high-profile USA-based competition taking on even greater significance due to the fast-approaching FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in Germany. The previous two seasons have seen a host of the world’s elite players shift Stateside, and although numbers of international imports are down this season, the highly-competitive league will surely leave those participating at Germany 2011 in prime condition come June.

USA is not, however, the only nation which can lay claim to favourable timing for their premier domestic competition leading into Germany 2011. Norway’s Toppserien and Japan’s L-League also recently commenced, while Sweden’s Damallsvenksan kicks off this weekend, somewhat coincidentally, given the nation’s forthcoming meeting against USA at Germany 2011. Next weekend will see the inaugural round of the much-anticipated English Women’s Super League get under way.

International flavour
The 2011 WPS season will feature a six-team league playing 18 league matches, with the finals series taking place in August. The six teams competing in 2011 are Atlanta Beat, Boston Breakers, the Florida-based magicJack, Philadelphia Independence, New Jersey’s Sky Blue FC and debutants Western New York Flash. Last season’s champions, the Marta-inspired FC Gold Pride, are no longer in the competition, nor are 2009 runners-up LA Sol, leaving the league without a representative in California. The Beat will have the honour of hosting the first match of the season when the Boston team visit Atlanta on Saturday.

Much interest will be centred on Rochester in upstate New York, one of the heartlands of football in the States. It is here that Western New York Flash will be based with the team containing a host of personnel who have moved across the country from the successful Gold Pride team. The Flash will see a number within their impressive roster head to Germany in June. Heading the list is five-time FIFA World Player of the Year Marta, prolific Canada goalscorer Christine Sinclair and 2010 WPS rookie of the year, New Zealand’s Ali Riley.

magicJack, essentially last season’s Washington Freedom side, are blessed with international attacking talent in Australia’s lightning-fast forward Lisa De Vanna, as well as Denmark’s Johanna Rasmussen. English duo Eniola Aluko and Anita Asante help form an impressive spine at Sky Blue FC, while Boston Breakers can count on the speedy attacking prowess of fellow England star, and former FIFA World Player of the Year nominee, Kelly Smith.

Stars and Stripes abound
USA, long-term holders of top spot in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking, will go to Germany with high hopes of a third world crown. Grouped alongside Sweden, Korea DPR and Colombia, they will need to replicate Germany’s 2003 success on US soil if they are to achieve their goal. Should Pia Sundhage’s charges come up trumps, it will be the WPS that is underpinning their platform for success. Of the 23 players in Sundhage’s squad for last weekend’s international against England, all bar one – Frankfurt-based Ali Krieger – ply their trade in the WPS.

The US national team roster is spread fairly evenly across the league's six teams. Arguably magicJack have the pick of the talent in powerful striker Abby Wambach, who has a century of international goals to her name, and goalkeeper Hope Solo, star of the USA’s 2007 FIFA World Cup campaign. Across the state border, Atlanta Beat boasts four Olympians in captain Lori Chalupny, Cat Whitehill, Carli Lloyd and Heather Mitts, with the latter two expected to be part of Sundhage’s plans in Germany.

The Boston Breakers have some world-class defensive talent with Rachel Buehler, Stephanie Cox and most notably, Amy LePeilbet. Further upfield the team possess the talents of striker Lauren Cheney and WPS Rookie of the Year runner-up, midfielder Jordan Angeli. Meanwhile, Philadelphia expanded its roster to feature two more Germany 2011 hopefuls in Nicole Barnhart and Megan Rapinoe, who join Amy Rodriguez and Lori Lindsey in an impressive international quartet.