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W-League Preview: Western Conference
Seattle making big waves; will be challenged in division

W-League Western Conference Preview

Wednesday May 9, 2012

The 2012 edition of the W-League’s Western Conference features international talents such as Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, and Edite Fernandes, as well as plenty of fierce regional rivalries. With its high-profile signings Seattle will be expected to contend for a championship, but they will have to get past what could be the most formidable lineup of opponents the W-League has to offer.

Colorado Rapids Women: The club formerly known at the Colorado Force will look to be just that as they aim to qualify for the playoffs. One of five W-League teams with MLS affiliations, the Rapids Women will be especially keen to try and better their local rivals the Colorado Rush. Head Coach Daniel Clitnovici will rely heavily on a number of new, high-profile signings in Australian international defender Brooke Spence, Danish internationals Camilla Kur-Larsen and Katrine Korsgaard, South American international Ode Fulutudilu, and England international Laura Thacker. General Manager Cayla Deacon’s team has all the signs of being a major contender in 2012.

Colorado Rush: Coach Erik Bushey has lost some experience and decided to replace it with young potential. Gone are Danielle Foxhoven, who signed for a club in Russia, and important goalkeeper Krissy Tribbet. In their place come in U20 Canadian goalkeeper Dayle Colpitts and American U20 forward Kendall Johnson. Mentoring these players and being leaders in the locker room will be the task of top 2011 All-W-League First Team forward Lindsey Horan and versatile 25-year-old Brittany Bock. Bock, the No. 5 selection in the 2009 WPS draft, is experienced and decided to sign with the Rush because she played at the U20 World Cup under current Rush president and CEO Tim Schulz.

LA Strikers: Demian Brown and the Strikers kick off their second season against their cross-town rivals the Pali Blues and are hoping to improve upon last year’s sixth-place finish. They’ve had an extremely successful preseason and are hoping a few of the newcomers, such as English duo Laura Stockdale and Hannah Beard can augment a team featuring dynamic forward Cherelle Khassal and playmaker Samantha Johnson.

Pali Blues: The self proclaimed “world’s most famous soccer supporter’s club,” the Tony Danza army, have had a lot to get excited about this offseason. Head Coach Charlie Naimo returns and locked up the heart of his defense by bringing back Christie Shaner and Sasha Andrews, who played more than 2,500 minutes between the two, and Italian international goalkeeper Anna Maria Picarelli, who tied for the league shutout lead in 2011 with six. Additionally, US Women’s National Team defender Whitney Engen decided to join because of previous experience and respect for Naimo. A similar sentiment was echoed by former national team member Sarah Huffman when she signed. Liz Bogus and Nikki Washington, who won the league championship with Pali in 2008 and 2009, respectively, also are familiar with Naimo’s methods.

Santa Clarita Blue Heat: Last year’s conference winner winners featured two of the best players in the league, but rookie head coach Charles Martinez knows the Blue Heat cannot rest on their laurels. Martinez was the assistant manager last season and was promoted after Fabian Sandoval decided to leave. Luckily, he has MVP finalist Edite Fernandes and Goalkeeper of the Year Cynthia Jacobo to make his transition as simple as possible. Fernandes will be joined by two of her Portuguese national teammates in Anna Borges and Laura Luis, while Jacobo may not need any help at all, as she played every minute and led the league in saves in 2011.

Seattle Sounders Women: The big news was the acquisition of U.S. Women’s National Team stars Hope Solo (a Washington native), Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Sydney Leroux, Keelin Winters and Stephanie Cox. But that’s not to say reinforcements were desperately needed. The partnership with the MLS Sounders has given the team the resources to become more consistent and achieve success. Head Coach Michelle French has a strong defense with World Cup star Solo in net and Cox and Kelli Smith on defense. In the midfield, Rapinoe is joined by Winters and Julia Roberts. Up front, the defenses of the W-League already saw the impact of 2011 MVP Leroux and will naturally be concerned with the addition of superstar Morgan and the Mexican international Veronica Perez.

Vancouver Whitecaps FC: Vancouver’s consistent success can be attributed to one factor: their incredible youth system. New Head Coach Jesse Symons spent five years as the coach of the Whitecaps FC Girls Prospects from 2006-10, before being appointed the W-League boss. He takes over a group that finished second in the conference in 2011, just a point off Santa Clarita. The defense will be led by homegrown defender Shannon Woeller, who is in her fifth year with the club and is a starter for the Canadian National Team despite being just 22. She will certainly make it easier for new goalkeeper Justine Bernier, who was third overall in saves with 68 in 2011. Also on defense is Canadian international Melanie Booth. The midfield has not been forgotten, as internationals Kaylyn Kyle, Chelsea Stewart and Desiree Scott look set to provide a creative midfield. College standout Brandi Vega and Chelsea Buckland, also a Canadian international, are the forwards for a team sure to create many chances.

Victoria Highlanders FC: Joining such a tough division was always going to be a tough ask for the Highlanders, and a last-place finish in 2011 wasn’t a huge surprise. David Dew is hoping that his players were able to take the experiences of last season and grow, and he’s done well to keep the core of his team together. Elizabeth Hansen had six goals and was central to everything the Highlanders did going forward in 2011. Goalkeeper Stephanie Parker was among the league save leaders in 2011, despite only playing nine games. Midfielder Amelie Mercier will be asked to take a key role season, as will Mallory Hackett. Hackett can play in midfield or defense, and will be moved around depending on the development of CIS All-star defender Kelsey Tikka. Danish winger Mariel Solsberg and youngster Lindsay Hoetzel are capable of producing magic, and should take the burden off Hansen. 

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