It's been months in the making, but here we are...week one of the NWSL season is finally upon us. The Cyprus Cup is done and dusted, and the two European friendlies are out of the way. It's time to really get down to business.
The 18 Canadians (16 allocated players, 2 free agents, and no Katie Kelly) are firmly on the eight teams' opening day rosters, and are back with their teams. The 16 in particular are part of the 46 allocated players that were assigned to teams out of the original 55, with both Americans and Mexicans exiting or joining later for various reasons, be it injury or European contracts, or school.
Despite having no roster dramas, the Canadians already have their work cut out for them. Given the amount of time that the friendlies and the Cyprus tournament have taken them away from preseason with their clubs; the lost time for bonding, training and settling can be tough to make up. But at least they won't be alone, since many of the allocated US national team stars have also missed training camp time with their friendly schedule.
With the opening day rosters in hand, here are the shirt numbers to look for when you tune in (or go) to an NWSL game:
|Adriana Leon||Boston Breakers
|Rhian Wilkinson||Boston Breakers
|Erin McLeod||Chicago Red Stars
|Carmelina Moscato||Chicago Red Stars
|Lauren Sesselmann||FC Kansas City
|Desiree Scott||FC Kansas City||Midfield||11|
|Karina LeBlanc||Portland Thorns
|Christine Sinclair||Portland Thorns
|Tiffany Cameron||Seattle Reign
|Kaylyn Kyle||Seattle Reign
|Emily Zurrer||Seattle Reign
|Melanie Booth||Sky Blue FC
|Sophie Schmidt||Sky Blue FC
|Candace Chapman||Washington Spirit
|Robyn Gayle||Washington Spirit
|Diana Matheson||Washington Spirit
|Bryanna McCarthy||Western New York Flash
|Jodi-Ann Robinson||Western New York Flash
The only roster concern is Washington's Candace Chapman, who is coming off the injury that shortened her Olympic journey. Otherwise, the remaining 17 are ready to go for opening weekend.
The games, for those of you who are looking to watch, will be streamed online through various team websites -- you can find the list here -- it's something that was mandated on each franchise from the league's head office, which makes sense given that a TV deal had been mentioned, but has yet to materialize. The Thorns will also have their home games broadcast via radio, the first team in the NWSL to do so.
Now, let's take a look at this weekend's matchups:
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FC Kansas City vs. Portland Thorns
Saturday, 13 April, 7:30pm CT/8:30pm ET
The inaugural match of the NWSL is already shaping up to be an absolute barn burner: the Portland Thorns have been touted as a strong title contender with the combination of Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair up front, while Karina LeBlanc is expected to be the starting 'keeper. However, the rest of the roster is a question mark, as many of the Thorns' draft picks and both their Mexican players have pulled out, while Tobin Heath will be unavailable until next month when she returns from France -- even when paired with Morgan, it could be one bridge too far to overcome.
All these absences theoretically could make the life of Kansas City's "Canadian Wall" much easier, the tandem of Lauren Sesselmann and Desiree Scott could have a few less offensive threats to worry about. Proto-Canuck Katie Kelly will likely be on the bench, as she will probably face stiff competition from Becky Sauerbrunn and Leigh Ann Robinson to join Sesselmann and Scott in the starting XI. But if the Canadian Wall can hold as well as it did during national team matches, we might see a wound-up and frustrated Sinclair by the end of the evening.
Projected Canadian starters: Sinclair, LeBlanc (PDX), Sesselmann, Scott (KC)
Chicago Red Stars vs. Seattle Reign
Sunday, 14 April, 5pm CT/6pm ET
Chicago hasn't been hit as hard as other teams when it comes to availability and losses, but both Canadians will likely play an important role when Sunday rolls around: Erin McLeod appears to be the undisputed #1 'keeper in the Windy City, and since Chicago's German imports in Inka Grings and Sonja Fuss are not due to arrive until the end of May, the defense will likely have to rely on Carmelina Moscato and Shannon Boxx to anchor a young back four. Plus, McLeod has been on fire lately, which could spell trouble in the early going for Chicago's opponents.
Seattle on the other hand, has had quite the bad hand dealt to them: the loss of Hope Solo to injury and Amy Rodriguez to pregnancy, added to the late arrival of Megan Rapinoe have created quite a mess. The silver lining, however, could belong to Tiffany Cameron: in their absence, she could be given a chance to prove herself as a striker. She will likely have to fight through some more experienced forwards in Liz Bogus and others to win a place in the starting lineup, but if she does, at least she won't be alone -- Kaylyn Kyle could be feeding passes to her from mid, while Emily Zurrer will be in the back line. Cameron is known to be fast, and with Kyle backing her up, Seattle may have a new hero on their hands.
Projected Canadian starters: McLeod, Moscato (CHI), Kyle, Zurrer (SEA).
Sky Blues FC vs. Western New York Flash
Sunday, 14 April, 6pm ET
The Sky Blues won the first WPS title when that league debuted, and so far have built a lineup that could go all the way again. The Canadians look to be in excellent company, Melanie Booth will be an excellent partner to the well-traveled Christie Rampone, while Sophie Schmidt could be looking at playing behind a striking partnership of Mexican Monica Ocampo and Australian Lisa De Vanna. Throw in the Sky Blues' second Australian, the dangerous wing-back Caitlin Foord, and the Flash could be in for a long day at the office on Yurcak Field.
That would be the case, if the Flash didn't have Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd, along with Spanish forward and well-known goalscorer Adriana Martin. However, in the back is where the question marks begin to arise: Alex Sahlen and Brittany Taylor will likely anchor the defense with Katherine Reynolds, while the more experienced of the two Canadians Jodi-Ann Robinson will likely get the call to join them, leaving young Bryanna McCarthy on the bench. Either way, with two superstars in front of them, they could still be in for a long day.
Projected Canadian starters: Booth, Scmidt (SB), Robinson (WNY).
Boston Breakers vs. Washington Spirit
Sunday, 14 April, 6:30pm ET
The last game of the weekend will see young Adriana Leon taking the field professionally for the first time...if she is able to fight through a crowd. The Breakers have a number of well-traveled veteran forwards, including England's Lianne Sanderson, Australia's Kyah Simon and
Canadian Sydney Leroux, and Leon, despite some impressive outings for Canada recently, could find herself on the bench for the first game. On the other hand, Rhian Wilkinson will likely get the start in defense to partner with Cat Whitehill, especially if young Mexican 'keeper Cecilia Santiago is sent in.
While the Breakers have firepower to the nines up front, the Spirit will have plenty of defensive experience to counter: Candace Chapman, when healthy and combined with Robyn Gayle and American Ali Krieger, will be difficult to break down, and Boston will likely need something special (read: Leon) to break through. Meanwhile, Diana Matheson will likely see work in the midfield paired with Lori Lindsey to feed into a largely unknown forward line; but both are known to sneak in a goal here and there (see: 2012 Olympics), which makes this game delicately poised: who breaks whom first, will likely come out the winner.
Also, an interesting fact: the Spirit have housed Chapman and Matheson at a retirement residence. We kid you not.
Projected Canadian starters: Wilkinson (BOS), Gayle, Chapman, Matheson (WAS)