Los Angeles Soccer: Western New York Flash
Rising women's star Alex Morgan has a new club, and it means she'll be spending more time with her boyfriend.
Morgan, 22, signed Monday with the Seattle Sounders' W-League team, joining fellow U.S. national-teamers Hope Solo and Sydney Leroux for the upcoming season in the United Soccer Leagues' women's competition.
The striker from Diamond Bar, who has 16 goals in 32 international appearances and made huge splashes at last year's Women's World Cup and last month's CONCACAF qualifiers for the London Olympics, was a rookie last year for the Western New York Flash in Women's Professional Soccer. With WPS going on hiatus, her contract with the Flash doesn't carry over into this season, in which the club will play in a new “elite” division of the Women's Premier Soccer League, the W-League's rival.
“I am excited to play in a city that is so passionate about soccer,” Morgan said in a release from the Sounders Women. “The Sounders [has] one of if not the best fan support in MLS. I can only imagine how Seattle fans would respond to having a full professional women’s team in the future.”
Morgan knows the Sounders well. Her boyfriend, Servando Carrasco -- they've been together since her freshman year at Cal -- is a second-year midfielder for the Major League Soccer club.
Morgan is in Portugal with the national team for the annual Algarve Cup, which begins Wednesday, with the U.S. taking on Denmark.
Counting down the 11 biggest 2011 stories in Southern California soccer ...
The struggles facing the women's game in America were forgotten for a few weeks last summer, during the U.S. team's exhilarating run to the title game at the Women's World Cup in Germany.
The Yanks did not win the trophy -- Japan's story was, ultimately, far more compelling, and their aim in the shootout truer -- but they rallied a nation behind their quest for a first World Cup title in a dozen years, creating a buzz that offered a few reminders of that magical summer of '99.
The Americans had faltered at the previous two World Cups while winning Olympic gold in Athens seven years ago and Beijing in 2008, but the golden generation -- Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly and Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain and so forth -- is gone and the attention (and Nike's millions) they received was spent long ago.
This group caught the public's imagination with a stirring run to the final as Abby Wambach added to her legend, Hope Solo became a mainstream presence and Diamond Bar's Alex Morgan emerged as a real star. They needed Wambach's goal deep into stoppage in overtime to force penalties against Brazil in the quarterfinals, wore down France in the semifinals, then watched two leads slip away, one of them in OT, against the surprising Japanese.
The World Cup's impact on the game in America wasn't clear. Women's Professional Soccer, now entirely an East Coast venture, completed its third season by dropping to five teams, managing to survive only through U.S. Soccer largesse. The Western New York Flash, the newcomer from the USL's second-tier W-League, won the title -- they had Marta, of course -- but there are serious questions about the league's future.
A prominent way of thinking is that a national professional women's league is impossible in a country so large, unless Major League Soccer (or some multibillionaire with bucks to burn) wants to step in and finance things. No sign of that. The solution: entwined regional leagues, with the champions meeting at the finish -- exactly what the semipro W-League and its rival Women's Premier Soccer League do.
Getting all the parties to the table, and onto the same page, could take some doing, but among the proponents of such a venture is Abner Rogers, who coached the Los Angeles Sol to the first WPS regular-season title. The Sol didn't make it to year two, but Rogers and his partners in the Bay Area formed two WPSL teams -- the Orange County Waves, who won the WPSL championship -- with a WPS slot in mind.
Counting down the top 11 personalities of 2011 in Southern California soccer ...
Alex Morgan's explosion onto the women's soccer scene has been euphoric, and not just for her. The energy, speed, aggression -- and, yes, innocence -- she has brought to the U.S. women's national team has made a difference, and fans have noticed.
How could they not. Morgan is the Yanks' super sub, the woman U.S. coach Pia Sundhage turns to when a goal is required. The striker from Diamond Bar has come through, with 10 goals in 26 international appearances, six of them in the 88th minute or later.
She was a force at last summer's Women's World Cup in Germany, scoring a vital insurance goal in the semifinal victory over France, then twice providing the U.S. leads in the final -- scoring in the 69th minute and assisting Abby Wambach midway through overtime -- before Japan rallied for a 2-2 draw and prevailed on penalty kicks.
Morgan (Diamond Bar HS), 22, is a slashing forward who tears open space against opposing defenses to score goals, set up teammates or open crevices that can be exploited. She debuted for the U.S. in March 2010, following her junior season at Cal, became a regular that fall and used a solid spring as the U.S. prepared for the World Cup to cement her job. She relishes her role on the team.
“As a forward, you have to kind of thrive on that pressure," Morgan said last spring. “When I get in those moments, and I only have five, 10, 15 minutes to show what I have to contribute, instinct takes over. In the last 10 minutes of the game, you can't really think about the technical side. When you have to score a goal in the last five minutes, you've got to really use your strengths and work with them.”
Morgan also was the No. 1 pick in last January's Women's Professional Soccer draft and won the championship in her rookie season with the Western New York Flash, scoring four goals in 14 games.
Amy Rodriguez had failed on a breakaway and done little when other chances came her way, but with time running out on her Philadelphia Independence, she came through in a big way.
The former USC star from Lake Forest knocked home a rebound in the 88th minute to pull Philly even with the Western New York Flash in the Women's Professional Soccer final Saturday in Rochester, N.Y. It only delayed the disappointment.
The Flash, featuring a half-dozen Southern California products, prevailed on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw, handing A-Rod and the Independence their second straight title-game defeat.
Rodriguez's second playoff goal, a swift shot from a sharp angle that beat WNY goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, was the apex of a dramatic, often thrilling final that featured a red card, a would-be winner off the crossbar, a diving save to force penalties and another diving stop to win the shootout.
The red card went to second-half substitute Beverly Goebel, from Moreno Valley, who left the Flash with 10 players after picking up two yellow cards in overtime. San Clemente's McCall Zerboni converted the third penalty for Western New York, which celebrated when Harris stopped Laura Del Rio after the first nine shooters converted.
Christine Sinclair, who scored the Flash's goal in the 64th minute, and Marta claimed back-to-back titles. The star forwards, along with defenders Ali Riley (Pacific Palisades) and Kandace Wilson (Los Angeles), were key figures last year for FC Gold Pride, which disbanded after winning WPS's second championship.
Western New York's starting lineup included Riley, rookie forward Alex Morgan, from Diamond Bar, and WPS Defender of the Year Whitney Engen, from Rolling Hills Estates. Zerboni came on midway through overtime; Wilson was on the 18-man roster but did not play.
Rodriguez's 81st-minute goal in Saturday's 2-0 victory, which set up a showdown this weekend in Rochester, N.Y., with regular-season champ Western New York Flash, was just her third in a difficult season.
After a breakthrough, 12-goal campaign in 2010, she made just 10 appearances for Philly this season, starting six games and seeing only 641 minutes of action. Rodriguez's time was whittled by her duties with the U.S. national team and at the Women's World Cup, but the Independence's go-to forward last season was eclipsed by new arrivals Veronica Boquete -- WPS's Player of the Year -- and Tasha Kai, whose superb strike at the start of the second half provided the lead over magicJack.
The former USC All-American from Lake Forest is finding her game again, just in time.
“Amy wasn't in great form,” Philadelphia coach Paul Riley told ESPNW after Saturday's victory. “Amy, in the past few weeks, has worked on her game a lot. Today you could see.”
The Independence lost to Bay Area-based, since-dismantled FC Gold Pride, 4-0, in last year's WPS final -- all three goalscorers, Christine Sinclair, Marta and Kandace Wilson, are with the first-year Flash now -- and that defeat spurs them into Saturday's meeting with the first-year Flash (Fox Sports West, 1 p.m. PT).
“We were disappointed in ourselves” after last year's defeat in Hayward, Rodriguez told ESPNW. “We had worked so hard during the season, and then that last game was unfortunate. This game was a steppingstone. Our goal is to make it to the championship and, obviously, to bring home the trophy.”
Two Palos Verdes Peninsula players were winners when Women's Professional Soccer announced its season awards Wednesday.Whitney Engen (Rolling Hills Estates/Peninsula HS) was voted Defender of the Year after her Western New York Flash won the WPS regular-season title, and Christen Press (Palos Verdes Estates/Chadwick School) was chosen Rookie of the Year after a solid first year with Boca Raton, Fla.-based magicJack.
Philadelphia forward Veronica Boquete was the surprise winner as Player of the Year, and her boss, Paul Riley, was awarded Coach of the Year. Western New York's Ashlyn Harris (Goalkeeper of the Year) and Marta (Golden Boot) and Philly's Nikki Krzsik (Sportswoman of the Year) also were honored.
Engen, a second-year pro out of the University of North Carolina, was the key to a Flash defense that conceded just 18 goals, tied for the league's lowest total, as the club overcame the Philadelphia Independence in the season's final weeks to finish first at 13-2-3.
Press, a former Stanford star who won the Hermann Trophy last December as college soccer's top player, scored eight goals -- just two off the league leaders -- as magicJack stormed into the playoffs behind star forward/head coach Abby Wambach. Press scored WPS's first rookie hat trick on July 30.
BRANAM RETIRES: Jenni Branam, among the more spectacular female goalkeepers the U.S. has produced, retired following New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC's final game.
Women's soccer's finest talent will remain in Women's Professional Soccer. Marta, the Brazilian forward who was MVP and scoring champion in WPS' first two seasons, reached agreement Tuesday with the expansion Western New York Flash for the final year of her reported three-year, $1.5 million deal with the league.
Marta, who has won FIFA's World Player of the Year award the past five years, scored 10 goals to lead the L.A. Sol to the 2009 regular-season title and a berth in the championship game, then scored 19 as Bay Area-based FC Gold Pride won the WPS title last year. The Sol disbanded last January, and Gold Pride folded in November.
The Flash, which as the Buffalo Flash won the USL W-League title last year, previously acquired former Gold Pride defenders Ali Riley (Pacific Palisades/Harvard-Westlake School), Candace Chapman and Kandace Wilson (Los Angeles/Walnut HS and Cal State Fullerton), midfielder Becky Edwards, and forward Christine Sinclair.
The club also has picked up Swedish national team captain Caroline Seger, U.S. national-teamers Yael Averbuch and Ashlyn Harris, as well as midfielder McCall Zerboni (San Clemente/San Clemente HS and UCLA) and defender Whitney Engen (Rolling Hills Estates/Peninsula HS). It made Diamond Bar's Alex Morgan (Diamond Bar HS) the top pick in the Jan. 14 WPS draft.
Engen, who became a free agent when the Chicago Red Stars pulled out of the 2011 season earlier this week, was one of WPS's top rookies last summer. The former University of North Carolina standout will join defender Ali Riley (Pacific Palisades/Harvard-Westlake School), who was WPS Rookie of the Year, and third-year midfielder McCall Zerboni (San Clemente/San Clemente HS and UCLA) in Buffalo and Rochester.
Riley played last season for WPS champion FC Gold Pride, which folded last month. Zerboni played for the defunct L.A. Sol in 2009 and for the Atlanta Beat last season.
WPS will operate as an East Coast league in 2011, with franchises in Boston, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta and Western New York.
Ali Riley, the Rookie of the Year in Women's Professional Soccer, has a new club.
Riley (Pacific Palisades/Harvard-Westlake School), a left back out of Stanford University who plays for New Zealand's national team, agreed to contract terms Thursday with the expansion Western New York Flash, which will play in Buffalo and Rochester.
Riley became a free agent when WPS champion FC Gold Pride folded last month.
Gold Pride's other starting outside back, Kandace Wilson (Los Angeles/Walnut HS and Cal State Fullerton), and star forward Christine Sinclair, a Canadian national-teamer, also agreed to terms with the Flash.