The relentless flash: Western New York Flash season preview

Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd headline a strong team, but are they too unbalanced to compete for a title?

The Western New York Flash are one of only four teams to return to the women’s professional soccer arena after the USL W-League, WPS and WPSL Elite leagues folded. The Flash has dominated the field in three different leagues with players such as Kelly Parker, Alex Morgan and Caroline Seger. Individually these players have contributed to the history of the Flash by securing each league championship title from 2010 – 2012.

Head Coach Aaran Lines is expected to continue collecting trophies for the Flash. His team is comprised of forward thinking players, likely to line up in a 4-4-2 formation. The Flash have won each one of their preseason matches, and their midfielders have been key. In their first preseason match against Canisius College, McCall Zerboni was credited with two goals in a 3-0 win, while Jodi-Ann Robinson has scored three times in preseason.

The Goalkeepers

Initially, the Flash had four goal keepers to choose from: Adrianna Franch, Ashley Walsh, Pamela Tajonar and Valerie Henderson. Clearly there was a divide for whether the team should employ young keepers (Franch and Walsh) or a mixture of young and veteran keepers. Ultimately, they stuck with Mexican international Tajonar and Franch, an up-and-coming American youth international.

The favored keeper at the moment is certainly Adrianna Franch, who was recently called up to a USWNT camp. At 5'9", she has excellent size for a goalkeeper. Aside from her height advantage over most players, there are numerous other selections why she was the Flash's first selection in the draft. Besides her strong play with U.S. youth teams, she was also an excellent college player. In her junior year at Oklahoma State, she started in all 20 matches of the season to produce 12 shutouts and a 1.07 GAA. By the end of her senior year, she had recorded 38 career shutouts. Additionally, she is only the seventh player in Big 12 Conference history to be named First Team All-Big 12 four times. Statistically, Franch impresses across the board, however, this will be her first year playing against professionals

Pamela Tajonar was a former member of the Flash’s original franchise, the Buffalo Flash, winner of the 2010 W-League championship. As a goalkeeper she has acquired international experience playing in the United States, Spain, and more recently, for Swedish powerhouse LdB Malmo.

Unfortunately, the Flash spent most of their resources enhancing their front line and merely has an average defense, though not one without some talent.

The Defenders

Unfortunately, the Flash spent most of their resources enhancing their front line and merely has an average defense, though not one without some talent. Bryanna McCarthy, Brittany Taylor, Amy Barczuk and Melinda Mercado are the likely candidates to start and should make up a solid back four. Barczuk is fresh out of college, which means she has been physically active training on and off the field in recent months. This is in contrast with players like McCarthy and Johnson who have not played as often or in as high of volumes like their counterparts.

This is Brittany Taylor’s time to shine as she will be a highly qualified veteran commanding the back-line for the Flash. Taylor is a recurring character in the world of professional women’s soccer; previously she has played for Sky Blue FC and the New York Fury. In 2009 while playing for the Hudson Valley Quickstrike FC in the USL W-League, Taylor earned the high accolade of being named the Defender of the Year. The value of having Taylor on the team is that she has played against most of the league's veteran players in the previous leagues and understands their style of play. She can assist her fellow back-line members on how to proceed against their opponents.

Melinda Mercado was drafted by the Boston Breakers for the 2012 WPS season. It is no surprise why, her height and athleticism on the field speaks volumes of her skills as a defender. In 2010, Mercado had an excellent year for Oklahoma State. With her as a starting defender, OSU recorded 10 shutouts. Throughout her college career, Mercado started in 98 games for OSU, and during those matches the team recorded 52 shutouts.

Originally, I assumed that Amy Barczuk would play midfield, but she looks set to play along the back line. The move makes sense because the Flash defense was weak previously, but with Barczuk their unity has strengthened. Barczuk slipped to Western New York in the second round of the draft, but has the potential to make other teams regret passing on her. At 5’10, she is difficult to overpower for any opponent striker or midfielder willing to compete with her. She's an excellent header and tackler of the ball, and captained her Colorado team last season.

As a starting defender for the West Virginia Mountaineers, Bryanna McCarthy completed her senior year in 2011, but has only logged six appearances for the Canadian National Team since 2010. This is a shame because her collegiate career speaks highly of her skills. As a defender for WVU she assisted in 11 shutouts during her senior year, and 10 of the teams she played against registered five or fewer shots on goal.

The Midfielders

Angela Salem, Sarah Huffman, Carli Lloyd and McCall Zerboni are likely to make up the starting midfield for the Flash. They should provide a good balance, with Huffman and Salem having proven themselves as defensively adept in the past. Lloyd is simply remarkable as she can read plays, but also take a shot on goal from anywhere on the pitch and have it result in a goal.

Carli Lloyd is the centerpiece of the team. If Short Round from Indiana Jones and Jean Grey had a kid, it would be Carli Lloyd. She is the perfect mixture of enthusiasm, athleticism and intelligence. She's currently recovering from a shoulder injury, but should return to the field shortly.

If Short Round from Indiana Jones and Jean Grey had a kid, it would be Carli Lloyd.

Lloyd is likely to be the more attacking of the Flash's two midfielders when she comes back. She is more than capable of being the primary connector between the midfield and forward line. Lloyd has demonstrated countless times before that, even with three defenders surrounding her, she can still control the ball in her zone and successfully clip a pass to an open teammate. There are times on the field where you just don’t expect Lloyd to take the shot, but she does. Some see it as selfish and some see it as opportunistic, but it's what makes her successful. Lloyd is expected to be out until May, and Jodi-Ann Robinson should temporarily take over the attacking midfield role.

Angela Salem was a highly anticipated player arriving to the team next to Wambach, Lloyd and Zerboni. Salem returns after a successful run with the Flash which resulted in the team winning the WPSL Elite league in 2012. It should come as no surprise if Salem starts for the Flash as it appears that Lines is committed to bringing her back to the Flash fold after choosing her as his second Supplemental Draft selection this year. Salem has always been successful in the midfield; she completed her Francis Marion University career with 11 goals, 27 assists in 54 matches. Setting Salem up in the left wing position will be more beneficial than her remaining in the central midfield role. Salem clearly understands how to create goal scoring opportunities for her teammates, and her glory moment for the Flash came in her penalty kick during the championship game which saw the Flash take home the league title. She can create goal scoring opportunities and if she can command the flank and push the ball forward while preventing the opponents from moving further into the Flash half, then it will allow for her to become more of an attacking midfielder which might in future terms increase her value in the league.

Most teams have a player on the field that is revered for their drive, and for the Flash, is it undoubtedly McCall Zerboni. She returns to WNYF in part because she has produced a stellar record with the team. In this formation Zerboni is likely to be a right midfielder. Zerboni is a playmaker and aggressive on the field, if she can handle the flank with great stride then she would be able to open up opportunities for the strikers ahead. She has played for the Flash before during their WPS and WPSL Elite seasons; in 2012 she was named team captain.

Robinson might be best reserved as a sub for the Flash during the season, after Lloyd returns. Currently, the Flash are using Robinson as a midfielder, while she is actually utilized as a forward, the position she played in college, for the Canadian national team. In 2012, Robinson didn't see much of the field for Canada, but since the start of 2013 she has already received three starts. Progress is clearly being made on her part during training if the national team has selected her to start for them in a rather coveted spot. However, she's not going to start over Lloyd, but she could find time on the right wing later in the season. Likely joining Robinson on the bench will be Kim Yokers, is a veteran in professional soccer. She has clocked time for FC Gold Pride and the New York Fury. However, she hasn't played competitively in quite some time, and has primarily focused on coaching.

The Forwards

Abby Wambach is a strong character on the field, and there is simply not enough space in this article to discuss her accolades. She is one of the greatest footballers of all time, accumulating 154 goals for the USWNT. Despite a recent string of poor performances during the USWNT’s campaign at the Algarve Cup, Wambach remains a talented forward and supportive team player. For a forward, there isn't much wiggle room; however, Wambach is regularly seen dropping deep to pick up the ball.

The final piece in the jigsaw is to decide which player will join Abby Wambach up top. The Flash has gathered a group of players that are experienced and hungry for goals. At the moment, Vicki Dimartino and Adriana Santamaria are competing for a starting spot alongside Wambach.

Vicki DiMartino only recently completed her collegiate career with Boston College, and departed with 34 goals and 25 assists in 91 games played for the Eagles. She will have a chance to get regular minutes up top next to Wambach, but she has plenty of competition for time.

I will bow down to popular consensus that Adriana should be a starting forward for the Flash. She has great skill in her feet, and more often than not when the ball lands at them in the box, she finishes. During the WNYF’s preseason match against Penn State, Adriana netted two goals. An added bonus is that Adriana and Salem have produced a strong partnership on the field as they have played together in the past for the Flash.

Samantha Kerr and Veronica Perez are talented players, but they will likely struggle to land starting roles on this team. Thanks to the presence of DiMartino, Adriana and Wambach, Kerr and Perez are unlikely to see the minutes they want. Kerr is a member of the Australian national team and a former member of W-League team Sydney FC, while Perez has been capped by Mexico. The best chance for both players to play this season is likely at positions other than forward.

The Flash have excellent forward depth, but could this team have been better constructed? On the one hand, the Flash has gathered a superb forward lineup, but at the same time, they arguably dropped the ball when selecting their defenders. They have the talent to compete for a title, but it's spread in an uneven way.

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