W-League kicks off 17th season

By Kaeley McEvoy

This past weekend, the W-League, the pinnacle of the USL soccer pyramid, kicked off its 17th season of play. With the addition of six new teams, including the Virginia Beach Piranhas, Dayton Dutch Lyons, Fredericksburg Impact, D.C United, Victoria Highlanders, and L.A. Strikers, the league is looking more competitive than ever. The W-League offers fans a unique sense of the globalization of soccer because its players stem from almost every level of elite soccer across the globe.

This 2011 W-league season includes international all-stars, national team impact players, and collegiate standouts. The question as always, however, will be which team can create the chemistry needed to clinch a W-League championship. Veteran teams such as the Ottawa Fury, Atlanta Silverbacks and Vancouver Whitecaps will attempt to enhance the chemistry of their already established dynasties. Not far behind, however, are a few rookie and second-year teams out to prove that the chemistry of excitement and youth can sometimes overcome experience. 2010 W-league Rookie of the Year, Rashidah Sherman attempted, and succeeded, to prove this point in the New York Magic’s first game of the season on Saturday, May 14. Sherman, who averaged an astonishing one goal per game in her debut season, wasted no time taking charge of the Magic’s direction this summer. Recording a hat trick in the first game of the season, Sherman set the bar high for every team in the Northeast Division of the Eastern Conference.

The opposing New Jersey Rangers, who retired their rookie status in the 2011 season, will look to rebound from their first upset of the season on Saturday, May 21 against a tough Long Island Rough Riders, who are on the quest for yet another playoff berth. On the Atlantic side of the Eastern Conference, playoffs are also already in the mind of the four timing defending Atlantic Conference champions the Atlanta Silverbacks. The Silverbacks started their season off not only on the right foot but in an accelerated sprint towards their goal of another W-League conference title. Their 3-0 victory over newcomers Dayton Dutch Lions illustrates how hard rookie teams must work to compete with the quote on quote “big dogs” of the W-league. Silverback’s forward Tiffani Turpin sent a wakeup call to the Dutch Lions six minutes into play by rocketing a shot past Dayton keeper Kristin McFadden that unluckily hit the post. Eleven minutes later however, Atlanta Midfielder Alexa Newfield slotted a precise ball to Turpin who easily netted her first goal of the season past the Lions defense.

The Silverback’s rival in the Atlantic Division, the Charlotte Lady Eagles, also posted three points this weekend with a win over the newly established Virginia Beach Piranhas. Piranhas coach Wendy Waddell was not disappointed by their debut zero-two loss, “I don’t want my players to hang their heads,” Coach Waddell told press after the game. “In some parts we looked very promising and that showed me the high level at which we could play. But we have to show this level more consistently. We will work on our fitness and work on the way we play together in order to be ready for our next game.” The Piranhas next test will come on Saturday, May 21, against the Dayton Dutch Lions, who will also be looking for their own W-league redemption.

Redemption will also be the name of the game next weekend for newcomers Victoria Highlanders, as they walked away from two matches this weekend with only one point to record. After a scoreless game on Saturday, May 14 against the Seattle Sounders, the Highlanders faced Western Conference powerhouse Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday, May 15, with disappointing results. Whitecaps newcomer Tiffany Weimer netted two goals against the Highlanders in her first game of the season. While Vancouver outshot the Highlanders 19-7, the Highlanders were not without opportunity. During stoppage time, Victoria substitute Jackie Harrison rocketed a low shot from 18 yards out however Vancouver keeper Kristen Funk got down well to preserve the Whitecaps shutout. A shutout was also posted by Pali Blues goalkeeper Anna Maria Picarelli this weekend, when the Blues gained a win against newcomers L.A. Strikers.

The newly established L.A. Strikers competed stride for stride with the once back-to-back Western Conference champions. It was not until the 87th minute of play that Blues forward Tiffany McCarty broke the scoreless draw to record a 1-0 victory. Although their season began with a loss, the L.A. Strikers certainly illustrated that the newcomers of the W-League will be a force to be reckoned with in the 2011 season.

This coming weekend will also leave room for newcomers to make an “impact” on the W-League as newly established Fredericksburg Impact will compete in their debut match versus the Northern Virginia Majestics. The chemistry of each W-League team will be tested within the next week as 12 games will occur setting the tone for yet another extremely competitive summer of globalized Women’s soccer in the W-League.