WPS Best XI and the evolving U.S. women’s national team

As I puzzled over my ballot for the WPS Best XI, announced today, something strange occurred to me. I couldn’t justify putting many U.S. national team veterans on the team.

It’s not that the team is completely foreign — only Marta, Ali Riley (U.S.-born), Kelly Smith and Christine Sinclair hail from other countries. (Side note: Marta is the only player on the Best XI who didn’t play U.S. college soccer.) We’re simply seeing other players emerge.

Here’s a quick comparison:

PLAYER 2008 Olympics 2010 WPS Best XI Current USWNT camp
Abby Wambach, F injured Yes Yes
Cat Whitehill, D injured
Leslie Osborne, M injured got votes
Hope Solo, GK 6 starts injured
Christie Rampone, D 6 starts (capt) Yes
Heather Mitts, D 6 starts Yes
Shannon Boxx, M 6 starts my ballot Yes
Carli Lloyd, M 6 starts (2 GWG) Yes
Lindsay Tarpley, M 6 starts Yes
Heather O’Reilly, M 6 starts got votes Yes
Angela Hucles, F/M 6 starts (4 G) retired retired
Amy Rodriguez, F 5 starts/1 sub Yes Yes
Kate Markgraf, D 5 starts
Lori Chalupny, M 5 starts injured?
Natasha Kai, F 1 start/5 subs
Stephanie Cox, D 1 start/4 sub Yes
Rachel Buehler, D 1 start/1 sub Yes Yes
Tobin Heath, F/M 3 sub injured Yes
Lauren Cheney, F 2 sub Yes
Aly Wagner, M 1 sub retired retired
Nicole Barnhart, GK Reserve Yes Yes
Amy LePeilbet, D Yes Yes
Whitney Engen, D my ballot Yes
Kristine Lilly, M pregnant got votes Yes
Jill Loyden, GK Yes
Alyssa Naeher, GK Yes
Ali Krieger, D not in WPS Yes
Meghan Schnur, D Yes
Brittany Taylor, D Yes
Yael Averbuch, M Yes
Sarah Huffman, M Yes
Lori Lindsey, M Yes Yes
Joanna Lohman, M Yes
Kelley O’Hara, M Yes
Megan Rapinoe, M Yes
Sydney Leroux, F college Yes
Alex Morgan, F college Yes
Jordan Angeli, M Yes

The only differences between my ballot and the Best XI: I had Boxx and Engen instead of Angeli and Buehler. Close calls in both cases.

We see some natural evolution here, with young players replacing retirees such as Hucles and Wagner. LePeilbet (28 years old) had a long road back from knee injuries. Lindsey (30) had played only 28 minutes for the national team — five years ago — before 2010. But it’s still a surprise to look back at the Olympic team from two years ago — gold medalists — and see only two players on the WPS Best XI.

Some of the movement is easily explained. Wambach would have been a third Olympian on the WPS Best XI if not for the horrific broken leg she suffered before Beijing. O’Reilly and Rampone are still perfectly good players who got mired on a dysfunctional Sky Blue team this season.

Chalupny’s injury situation — cleared to play in WPS but not for the national team — is still puzzling. Kai is always a bit of an enigma, and she has had a few injury problems along the way.

Where we might see the biggest change is at the back. Whitehill and Markgraf aren’t in camp. Mitts made it to camp despite serving as a substitute at the end of Philadelphia’s season.

And the current camp roster may not be the final word on the changes between now and the 2011 World Cup. Angeli, a second-round draft pick who can play almost any position on the field, made the Best XI roster but wasn’t called to camp.

So the good news for the U.S. team is that WPS is accelerating competition for places. That competition might give U.S. coach Pia Sundhage a headache through World Cup qualifying this fall and a World Cup year in 2011, but she surely doesn’t mind.

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