The 2013 Western NY Flash were never the complete package, but somehow, Aaran Lines' side always made it work. A trip to the final ended with a loss to Portland, ending the Flash's title streak at three. A year later, Western NY returns most of its core, including Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd, Sam Kerr and McCall Zerboni. Goalkeeper Adrianna Franch is the one notable absence, and just how well WNY can cope with the loss of their starting keeper may be thing that puts the Flash in the race for another title, or on the outside looking in.
Head Coach: Aaran Lines, second season (or fourth, depending on how many leagues you're counting)
Where we left off: The Flash finished 2013 at the top of the table, because of course they did. A 10-4-8 record and a semifinal win got Western NY to the final, but the Flash couldn't get it done against Portland and no one had to hear the phrase "four championships in four leagues in four years" ever again.
Big loss: Flash goalkeeper Adrianna Franch made a serious argument for a bunch of post-season awards she ultimately didn't win with a stellar rookie season in 2013. Franch was an essential part of Western NY's run a year ago, and was poised to do the same in her second season. And then the soccer gods did as they do, dealing a cruel blow to Franch and the Flash by way of a torn ACL acquired during preseason training in March. With Franch now set to miss the entire 2014 season, Western NY will have to rely on occasional Australia international Lydia Williams, who they signed after Franch's injury, and rookie Kelsey Wys.
Unsung: Brittany Taylor returns to Rochester to again anchor a defense that also welcomes back Amy Barczuk and Kat Reynolds. Estelle Johnson is gone, but the Flash have acquired Kristen Edmonds, rookies Haley Palmer and Courtney Verloo, and Kat Williamson, who you may remember as the Portland Thorn who was red carded in the final against Western NY a season ago. Taylor is a fixture on the league's all-underrated team, but can she and the rest of the defensive corps adjust to life without Franch backing them up?
We're sorry our jerseys don't have a collar for you to pop. We're still cool though, right?: Carli Lloyd had never had a particularly successful professional season. In WPS, she struggled in Chicago and in an injury shortened season in New Jersey, never seeming like she was totally sure she wanted to be in either of those places. Whatever you think about Lloyd as an international, she can, and does, score goals, usually of the huge variety. But that success with the USWNT had never translated to Lloyd's club game, at least, until she joined the Flash. Last season, Lloyd, for the first time, truly looked comfortable in a shirt that wasn't the U.S. one. Alongside McCall Zerboni, Angela Salem and a handful of new players, including Spanish international Vicky Losada, Lloyd is back for a second season in the first place she's every really looked like she belongs.
Hometown hero: Abby Wambach was, for so long, the thing the Flash wanted that they couldn't have. Wambach, the Rochester native, always playing somewhere else, wearing a shirt neither paid for with hot dog dollars nor bearing her home region's name. The NWSL version of the Flash were finally able to get Wambach, and Abby delivered, netting 11 goals in 19 games a season ago, en route to the inaugural NWSL final. Of course, the Flash lost that title game, and if you know anything about Abby Wambach, you know that she wants to win. Wambach has scored more international goals than anyone else, ever and will still be a major contributor to Western NY's offense, but she's also getting older. Sam Kerr, the 20 year old Australian international who scored six times for Flash last season will once again line up alongside Wambach, and thanks to the inevitable march of time and age, find herself relied on more and more for offensive contributions.
In conclusion: One player never makes a team, and the Flash finished top of the table in 2013 for a lot of reasons that had nothing to do with Adrianna Franch. But also a lot of reasons that did, and that's what makes her loss so devastating. The Flash's defense was solid, but not great, but they didn't always need to be because they knew Franch was back there, ready, and now she's all of a sudden not. Then again, Western NY is a team that always seems to find a way despite whatever else happens, whatever blows they're dealt or ways they think they've been slighted, and maybe, probably, the Flash will find a way to make it past this one too.