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.