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  08.10.20 Tim Grainey, USA Searching for Canadians in the WPS league

We’ve been kept abreast of the league all along, and we continue to have dialogue with them. But we've got a lot of balls in the air right now
– Bob Lenaruzzi, Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Searching for Canadians in the WPS league
by Tim Grainey, USA, October 20, 2008

Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) will start play in April of 2009 with seven teams: Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, Sky Blue FC (NY/NJ), St. Louis, Washington D.C. Freedom along with yet to be named franchises in Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay area. After three drafts within the past few weeks (for USA national team players, internationals and a general draft) each team has selected between 12–13 players. With two more combines in December and another general draft in January 2009, this is a good time to look at the prospects look for a strong Canadian presence in the league.
To date, four Canadians have been drafted:
Christine Sinclair (F), Bay Area, first pick of the second round of the International Draft
Melissa Tancredi (F), St. Louis, sixth pick of the third round of the International Draft
Kelly Parker (M/F), Sky Blue FC (NJ/NY), seventh pick of the fourth round of the International Draft.
Karina LeBlanc (GK), Los Angeles, fifth pick of the first round of the General Draft
Goalkeeper Erin McLeod was also selected by Washington Freedom as a Discovery Pick.

WPS teams retain rights to international players for two years and one year for US players, leaving Canada veterans, Tanya Dennis, Martina Franko, Robyn Gayle, Randee Hermus, Diana Matheson, Rhian Wilkinson, Katie Thorlakson, Brittany Timko and Amy Vermeulen undrafted. Their options are either to attend an end-of-year combine, skip the mass tryout and hope to be drafted next January, or solicit individual teams for a trial spot in pre-season. Matheson and Wilkinson are currently playing with Strommen in Norway, while Vermeulen plays for Asker.
Of 28 internationals drafted, only 11% were Canadian. Only 4% of General draftees were Canadian. How then does an interested Canadian make an impression on WPS coaches. WPS held two much ballyhooed four-day combines in September (one in conjunction with the W–League and the other with WPSL) in theory, to drive General Draft selections. But did it. The W–League had 128 players attend its combine in Tampa from which only seven players (5%) were selected. At the WPSL combine in Sacramento, 67 players competed but only one player (1%), Tracy Hamm of Sacramento-based California Storm, was tabbed, by Bay Area. Of 195 total combine players, only eight (4%) made the cut (see table 1). Was it no more than a cattle call and public relations exercise, with some ancillary revenue for the leagues — players had to pay $400 for the privilege of trying out! Although Bay Area and to a lesser extent, Sky Blue FC, stayed awake during the eight days of tryouts, one must conclude that the affair was largely useless for most of attendees. A number of W–League players interviewed just ahead of the August registration deadline had offers to play in Europe yet couldn’t do both. Apparently the ones who went abroad made the right choice and it's likely that December's combine will not offer a sound reason to return.

table 1. W-League/WPSL Combine Selections in General Draft
Selection W-League/WPSL club WPS club
2 Jill Oakes Pali Blues Bay Area
7 Cori Alexander Seattle Sounders Sky Blue FC
13 Kandace Wilson Pali Blues Bay Area
16 Liz Bogus Pali Blues Bay Area
18 Sue Weber Long Island Rough Riders Boston Breakers
22 Jenny Anderson-Hammond Chicago Gaels Sky Blue FC
26 Amanda Cinalli Cleveland Internationals St. Louis
27 Tracy Hamm California Storm Bay Area

Of 15 Canadians participating in the combine, none were selected (see table 2). Former internationals, Sasha Andrews, Melanie Booth and Marie Eve Nault were all ignored, as were WUSA vets, Christine Latham and Sharolta Nonen. Along with Charmaine Hooper, Latham and Nonen have not played for Canada since 2005. They boycotted matches versus China and France in a contract dispute, then filed suit with Sport Canada, who deemed Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) coaching staff to have acted appropriately.

table 2. Canadians in the W–League combine, Sep. 4–7, 2008
Player b. University W–League club
Sasha Andrews '83 Nebraska Pali Blues
Melanie Booth '84 Florida Tampa Bay Hellenic
Michelle Edgar '82 Brock Hamilton Avalanche
Aurelea Gumiela '84 York Toronto Lady Lynx
Allison Heydorn '84 Central Michigan Hamilton Avalanche
Christie Latham '81 Nebraska Atlanta Silverbacks
Shannon Lynn '85 Kent State/IPFW Fort Wayne Fever
Natalie Martineau '87 Montevallo Rochester Rhinos
Kim McMullen '84 Eastern Washington Hampton Roads Piranhas
Marie-Eve Nault '82 Tennessee FC Indiana
Sharolta Nonen '77 Nebraska Atlanta Silverbacks
Rachael Pelat '86 Simon Fraser Vancouver Whitecaps
Erin Porter '80 Fairfield University  
Leah Robinson '82 Virginia Commonwealth Jersey Sky Blue
Nathalie Urbas '82 Sacred Heart Connecticut Passion

Those actually selected were largely a collection of WUSA-experienced players (LeBlanc, Emily Janss, Lori Lindsey, Christie Welsh and Nancy Augustyniak Goffi), US national youth or senior players (Jill Oakes of the 2007 Vancouver Whitecaps, Danesha Adams, Kristin Luckenbill, India Trotter and Angie Woznuk) and a few with experience in Scandinavia (Ifeoma Dieke, Sarah Huffman, Joanna Lohman and Kacey White).

Greater roster turnover than WUSA is expected, since unlike WUSA, drafted players don't sign a pre-contract agreement. WPS also has a much shorter team window to identify players (even though it has been working since late 2005 to launch) so players could be signed in training camp or brought in during the season from Europe or W–League/WPSL franchises.
Ian Bridge, a favourite to replace Even Pellerud as Canada’s women’s head coach, mentioned earlier this year that although the WNT strategy had been reliant on the residency program since 2007, he was looking forward to WPS. CSA coaches have access to most players full-time and create a club-like atmosphere, yet, according to Bridge, the downside is a lack of competitive games to fine tune players. "Their players play for clubs" Bridge explains, We play good, competitive games against boys teams and we play between eight and 12 international games each year. But that daily practice and weekly league play that almost any other country has, is the missing piece. We’ve been finding that’s the biggest challenge, to keep the players match ready, match fit where other countries are already on that level because they have a league.” Canada’s coaches believe the WPS could be good for national players but Canadian prospects remain uncertain.
Sinclair, McLeod and LeBlanc are well known to WPS yet LeBlanc is the only goalkeeper among 12 players selected so far. Brazil’s Marta would be a Los Angeles teammate if she can come to terms. She currently earns close to $200,000 a year in Sweden and reportedly wants double that to play in LA. WPS team salary caps are approximately $540,000 ($27,000 for 20 players on a 6-month contract), within the $25,000-$35,000 range most players are projected to earn. Marta would be a huge investment.

Tancredi, a defender with 2004 national champions, Notre Dame, was converted to a forward by Pellerud and had a breakout season, including four goals in Canada’s four games in CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying in Mexico, early 2008. She's an inspired choice by St. Louis, coached by former Brazil coach, Jorge Barcellos. Tancredi's 'negotiating' teammates at the Southern Illinois University-based squad include goalkeeper Hope Solo, midfielder Lori Chalupny, Brazil’s Daniela and Renata Costa, and Norway’s Ingvild Stensland.
McLeod is the only goalkeeper on Washington Freedom’s 13-player list, joining US internationals Abby Wambach and Cat Whitehill, Japan’s WUSA veteran, Homare Sawa, and Australia’s World Cup revelation, Lisa De Vanna, currently with AIK in Sweden.
Parker (capped once in 2003) was the last player selected in the WPS International draft, by Sky Blue FC, which also picked US Olympians, Heather O’Reilly, Natasha Kai and Christie Rampone, Ester and Rosana of Brazil, and Australia's Collette McCallum. A graduate and now assistant coach of the University of Texas-El Paso, she won a W–League MVP in 2004 and guided Ottawa Fury to multiple Final Four tournaments. In 2007 Parker played midfield in a FC Indiana team that narrowly lost the League Championship match to Pali Blues.

Canadian player prospects would certainly increase if a Canadian franchise were to join WPS. Currently, there are no active discussions between WPS and Montreal Impact or Toronto FC officials. Although Vancouver Whitecaps are monitoring WPS developments, they currently have no plans to apply for a WPS franchise. Whitecaps president Bobby Lenarduzzi recently said: “We’ve been kept abreast of the league all along, and we continue to have dialogue with them. But we've got a lot of balls in the air right now [Major League Soccer (MLS) bid, Waterfront Stadium proposal, BC Place refit], so we need to sit back and concentrate on those things.”
NBA star Steve Nash, who is involved in Vancouver’s MLS bid, is also an investor in WPS, so there is hope that someday we'll see a Canadian franchise in the league. And we remain optimistic that, when opening day rosters are announced in April 2009, more than five Canadians are on the team sheets. spacer