WPS league news… GO BEAT!!

Allison Whitworth was traded from the FC Gold Pride to the Atlanta Beat.  "We really rate Allison Whitworth ," Beat coach Gareth O’Sullivan said.  “And if you talk to the Bay Area they weren’t thrilled about letting her go."

We felt it was important to have a goalkeeper on the books and at least have that kind of peace of mind. We feel we got good value.
Gareth O’Sullivan, Atlanta Beat Head Coach on the recent trade with FC Gold Pride for Allison Whitworth

While the Philadelphia Independence have taken the aggressive route in acquiring players, the Atlanta Beat have so far taken the quieter road.  The club recently shipped two key 2010 WPS Draft picks to FC Gold Pride to acquire their likely starting goalkeeper, and will still go into the January 15th draft in the enviable position of holding the top selection.

The Beat originally owned the 1st, 10th, and 12th overall picks, but dealt the 10th and 12th to FC Gold Pride in exchange for Allison Whitworth and the Bay Area club’s 23rd overall choice.  Whitworth impressed as Nicole Barnhart’s backup in 2009, but the trade could be deemed risky.

With the eight other clubs set on their starting keepers, the Beat could have held on to the 10th and 12th picks and most likely had their choice of college keepers from a list that includes Portland’s Kelsey Davis, Rutgers’ Erin Guthrie, North Carolina’s Ashyln Harris, Penn State’s Alyssa Naeher and Southern California’s Kristin Olsen.  Instead the Beat went with Whitworth, an Alabama native who attended Auburn and impressed Atlanta Head Coach Gareth O’Sullivan.

“We really rate Allison,” O’Sullivan said.  “And if you talk to the Bay Area they weren’t thrilled about letting her go.  I do feel that the pick, no. 23, that we got is still going to be a quality player.  We felt it was important to have a goalkeeper on the books and at least have that kind of peace of mind.  We feel we got good value.”

O’Sullivan’s draft comments mirror the near universal opinion that the current senior class is as strong and deep as any in recent memory.

“I really do think it is a deep class,” O’Sullivan said.  “There are a lot of fantastic players coming through.  There are five or six who stand out, but I think there are another 15 or 16 in there that are very good players.”

Of course the Beat will have their pick of the litter, and despite reports to the contrary, have not and will not divulge their no. 1 pick until draft day.

“We are decided as to who we’re going to pick,” O’Sullivan said.  “We’re not going to go public with it until January 15.”

Looking at the players currently under contract in Atlanta, the Beat will be counting on their draft choices to play major roles in the team.  O’Sullivan is also pleased with the progress of negotiations with the club’s international draft picks, but no signings have been announced as of yet.

On the current roster are Whitworth, defenders Sharolta Nonen and Leigh Ann Robinson; midfielder Katie Larkin; and forwards Amanda Cinalli and Noelle Keselica.  Defender Sara Larsson is also listed on the roster, but is technically a free agent.

O’Sullivan said the team has had recent discussions with several free agents and that at this time, he does not anticipate any further trades.

“At the moment we’re very happy with our situation,” he said.

As for Whitworth, who expressed delight about returning to her Southern roots, O’Sullivan and the Beat are banking on her blossoming into a WPS star now that she will have a chance to play every week.

“Now that she’s going to be a starter I think she’s going to have an opportunity to really develop,” O’Sullivan said.  “We’re very excited about the trade.”

Tournament Time Arrives, Draft Next

The advent of the NCAA tournament on Thursday means the final phase of the college careers for the graduating seniors.  When it ends, many will bid adieu to soccer, but for several on the cusp of WPS draft boards the next four weekends will represent their final opportunities to impress the league’s nine coaches.

“I really believe that this is the most talented class for some time,” said Emma Hayes, whose Chicago Red Stars hold the fourth pick.  “I think the first round is really going to give teams an excellent potential star.  I’ve been so impressed with Stanford and UNC (North Carolina).  I really believe the attacking talent is outstanding.”

Last year the Red Stars had the second pick in the college draft and took Megan Rapinoe, who ended the season in the eye of the U.S. National Team.  Rapinoe is an exceptional soccer talent, but Hayes believes she could acquire a player of equal athletic prowess with her second round pick in 2010—no. 15 overall.

“I will get as good an athlete,” she said.  “I don’t necessarily think I’ll get as special a talent as (Rapinoe), but I do think we could get a player that could develop because their athletic ability is greater than the group was last year.”

Albertin Montoya holds the third overall pick with FC Gold Pride plus picks 10, 12, and 14.  And he may not be done dealing, saying he is still exploring options for acquiring an additional first round pick.

“I think most of the coaches feel the same way that it is probably anywhere between 15 to 20, 23 players deep depending on team’s needs,” Montoya said.  “I think the first round is just going to be exciting.  I think it is a very strong class coming out.  The first and second rounds are players that I think will have impact on most teams.”

Montoya believes he has a firm grasp on which two players will be gone by the time FC Gold Pride goes on the clock with the third pick—the Breakers hold the second pick—but cautioned, “you just never know what a team will end up doing until draft day.

“I’m excited sitting in the third position because I know we’re going to be able to fill a need that we have,” Montoya said.  “I have two players that I don’t think I can go wrong with in the third spot.”

Hayes has similar sentiments about her fourth pick.

“We’re fourth so we have our eye on a couple of players that we would really like to get,” she said.  “I think we can most definitely get one of them in the first round.  But I have to see what the teams in front of us are going to do.”

As for who will go where, none of the coaches contacted for this story would comment on the record about any players in the draft.

Tobin Heath is considered the best all-around player available and could lead a trio of North Carolina Tar Heels selected inside the Top 5.  Casey Nogueira is a technical marvel and Whitney Egan is the top rated defender in most circles.  Additionally, Harris could well be the top goalkeeper chosen, but with no teams in need of a starter, it could be awhile before any ‘keeper hears her name called.

The country’s other top college teams should be well represented at the top of the draft as well.  Undefeated Stanford boasts goal-scoring machine Kelley O’Hara and her 23 goals in 20 regular season matches.  The speedy Ali Riley began her career as a striker but converted to outside back as a junior and has been mentioned as a top defender.

Hayes believes the overall athleticism of the senior class is such that some still playing up top may find themselves playing in the back once they hit WPS.

Lauren Cheney’s Olympic gold medal when she replaced an injured Abby Wambach last summer makes her the most experience of the college seniors.  The UCLA forward has been projected as a Top 5 pick.  If her Bruins move through to the national quarterfinals they could host Portland which would give Cheney a chance to try her luck against Davis, another top goalkeeper.

Free Kicks

  • The Red Stars say they still intend to resign Cristiane and that the Brazilian forward would like to be back with the club.  Cristiane is an unrestricted free agent.
  • Portland senior Michelle Enyeart had a sad ending to her college career when she was carried off the field with a knee injury during the Pilots’ West Coast Conference final win over San Diego.  Enyeart scored 13 goals and added 12 assists this season and could see her draft stock plummet due to the injury.
  • The Beat are hopeful of finalizing their stadium announcement in the upcoming weeks.
  • The Independence have traded out of the first round to acquire Amy Rodriguez, Allison Falk, and Val Henderson.  But head coach Paul Riley said the team will not be parting with the 13th overall pick, now the club’s first.  “The convention is in Philadelphia so we better hold onto it,” he deadpanned.  (The 2010 WPS Draft takes place on January 15 at the NSCAA Convention in Philadelphia.)
  • Hayes reports that Lindsay Tarpley and Megan Rapinoe, both of whom had knee surgery since the end of the season, are both on course to join the club for the opening of training camp next Spring.
  • FC Gold Pride and the Chicago Red Stars are both hopeful of announcing international signings before Thanksgiving.
  • There have been six instances of first round picks being traded including the no. 5 overall pick twice.  That pick was originally Boston’s, was traded to Philadelphia, and then to Los Angeles.
  • A player with a familiar name expected to be drafted is forward Gina DiMartino of Boston College, the younger sister of FC Gold Pride midfielder Tina DiMartino.  Gina scored seven goals this season.  But she did not lead the team.  A third sister, freshman Victoria DiMartino, christened her college career with 14.

Have a question, a suggestion, or a story idea? Did you see something we didn’t? Let me know atthirtymtp@aol.com .

Dan Lauletta is a freelance writer and can be reached at thirtymtp@aol.com . The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s, and not necessarily those of Women’s Professional Soccer or womensprosoccer.com.

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