WPS '09 season preview: women's league finally set to kick off again

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Six years after the WUSA folded, the new league, Women's Professional Soccer (WPS), is ready to kick off with Sunday's Washington-Los Angeles debut match. Goal.com's Kathryn L. Knapp breaks down the seven teams competing for the inaugural championship.

Stadium: Harvard Stadium, Cambridge, Mass.

Coach: Tony DiCicco, the all-time winningest coach in U.S. women's history, amassed a record of 103-8-8 and the 1999 Women's World Cup title. He has an eye for talent and it shows from front to back.

Veteran Kristine Lilly will lead the team both on and off the field. The American midfielder leads the U.S. women in all-time appearances with 340 and 129 goals. England international Kelly Smith and U.S. regular Angela Hucles will add stability and an attacking flavor to the midfield. Amy Rodriguez will freshen the attack, joined by Brazil's Fabiana and a handful of other options.

Defensively, U.S. international Amy LePeilbet and England international AlexScott have 64 national-team caps between them, while bringing a youth factor to the back line. Boston will put a quality product on the field. If anyone knows how to succeed in women's soccer, it's DiCicco. Expect the Breakers to have a competitive campaign and be a tough team to get past.

Player to watch: Rodriguez. The No. 1 draft pick has a world of expectations at her feet. But it shouldn't be hard for the rising U.S. star to dazzle after already winning an NCAA championship at USC and Olympic gold.

Opening game: Sun., April 5, at FC Gold Pride.

Stadium: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.

Coach: Emma Hayes joins Chicago from Arsenal Ladies Football Club, where she served as assistant coach and academy director since 2006. She leads a strong attacking group into the inaugural season. Brazilian striker Cristiane will lead the attack, joined by University of Illinois grad Ella Massar, DaneshaAdams and England international Karen Carney. U.S. midfielders LindsayTarpley and Carli Lloyd, as well as internationals Heather Garriock (Australia) and Frida Östberg (Sweden), add stability and strength to the midfield.

Defensively, the Red Stars have a mix of players, including Scotland native Ifeoma Dieke and Virginia grad Nikki Krzysik, who should provide a solid foundation. Caroline Jönsson (Sweden) and Lydia Williams (Australia) add an international flavor to the goalkeeping position. Defenders Mary ThereseMcDonnell, Sarah Wagenfuhr and Michelle Wenino and goalkeeper JamielJohnson are Chicago's developmental players and could see playing time early.

On paper, the Red Stars have a strong offensive squad and a good mix of players. With six countries represented and a lot of top-level internationals, Chicago should be a tough contender in the 2009 campaign.

Player to Watch: Megan Rapinoe. Chicago's first draft pick and the league's No. 2 pick overall embodies many qualities that will aid the Red Stars' attack -- versatility, creativity, perseverance and personality.

Opening game: Sat., April 4, at St. Louis.

Stadium: Buck Shaw Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.

Coach: Albertin Montoya may have found himself in the perfect city for leading a women's team. He gets more than a few gems. U.S. international BrandiChastain won hearts all over the world in '99, and she's back to lead the Gold Pride in its inaugural campaign. Brazilians Adriane and Formiga, Americans Tiffeny Milbrett and Leslie Osborne, Canadian captain and all-time leading scorer Christine Sinclair, and Japanese forward Eriko Arakawa add almost too many options to the attack. Almost.

The back line will include Brazilian Érika and Notre Dame alum Carrie Dew, Stanford alum Rachel Buehler, backed up ably by expected No. 1 goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart.

The Gold Pride will be a fan-favorite team from the get-go. But can it combine its mix of players into a successful squad? The odds are good.

Player to watch: Sinclair. The 25-year-old Canadian has played in 125 matches for her home country with 95 goals. She adds size and speed to the front line.

Opening game: Sun., April 5, vs. Boston.

Stadium: Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.

Coach: Abner Rogers. The London native has served as president and director of coaching at the Laguna Hills Soccer Club Eclipse since '01, and now has the reins of the league's strongest offensive squad.

The Sol may have WPS' must-see player, three-time FIFA World Player of the Year Marta, but she's not the only one who will add an international flair. Japanese international Aya Miyama should have no problem forwarding the ball to Marta. Miyama is known for her perfect distribution and speedy play in the midfield. Forward Han Duan (China) and midfielder Camille Abily (France) will also contribute. Shannon Boxx and AlyWagner bring valuable experience to the midfield, with a combined 229 appearances for the U.S. women. The first player allocated to the Sol, Boxx brings veteran leadership as well.

Defensively, Los Angeles has four options, including Swedish international Johanna Frisk and 6-foot back Allison Falk.

Expect some offensive explosions out of Los Angeles and large crowds. Marta, who is known as Zeferina (Pelé in a skirt), warrants crowds on her own. Add a fiery offense, and the Sol should fill the stands. Los Angeles should have no problem standing on its own in late August, and must be considered a trophy frontrunner.

Player to watch: Marta. The 23-year-old Brazilian forward has tallied 47 goals in 45 international appearances and will showcase her feisty flare in L.A.

Opening game: Sun., March 29, vs. Washington.

Stadium: Korte Stadium, Edwardsville, Ill.

Coach: Jorge Barcellos Barcellos, who is fresh off a silver medal win with Brazil at the '08 Beijing Olympics, has put together a talented squad. The marquee star is U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo. The 27-year-old netminder had an impressive showing as the U.S. won gold at the '08 Games. Overall, she has 75 caps for the U.S. women and will be the backbone of the squad.

St. Louis native and U.S. international Lori Chalupny leads the midfield, with 90 caps and seven goals to her credit. She'll have reinforcements from AmandaCinalli and Brazilians Daniela and Francielle. England international Eniola Aluko and Ashlee Pistorius lead the attack for Athletica, along with U.S. international Kerri Hanks.

Tina Ellertson brings experience to the back line, with 30 caps for the Americans. She'll be joined in back by Sweden's Sara Larsson and Notre Dame alum Elise Weber. Solo will have competition for goalie with JillianLoyden and Erin Kane.

St. Louis always has been known as a strong soccer city. With the roster picked out, the odds are Athletica will stand strong. It has one of the top keepers in the league and could prove that a strong back line is the ticket to the postseason. But expect a few fireworks here and there as well.

Player to watch: Hanks. The Notre Dame graduate dominated in her four years with the Irish with 84 goals and 73 assists. She's a feisty forward.

Opening game: Sat., April 4, vs. Chicago.

Stadium: Yurcak Field, Piscataway, N.J. (The first two home matches will be played at TD Bank Park in Bridgewater, N.J.)

Coach: Ian Sawyers' extensive coaching resume includes stints with the San Jose Cyber Rays (of the old WUSA) and Stanford University. He knows what it takes to have a championship-caliber team, having led the Cyber Rays to the '01 WUSA title.

Natasha Kai, Sarah Walsh and Mele French lead the attacking third of the field. They'll be helped by a deep attacking midfield featuring Heather O'Reilly, who will be a key player in Sky Blue's attack. O'Reilly has 101 caps with the U.S. women (22 goals). Yael Averbuch, Jen Buczkowski, Brazilian Rosana and Australia's Collette McCallum will all provide options in the midfield.

Christie Rampone is one of the top defenders in the league with 204 caps for the U.S. women and four goals. She will lead a relatively strong defense featuring England's Anita Asante, Christie Shaner and Julianne Sitch.

Player to watch: Averbuch. The North Carolina star led her team to two NCAA championships in '06 and '08. Standing at 5-foot-11, she adds height and versatility to the attack.

Opening game: Sun., April 5, vs. Los Angeles.

Stadium: Maryland SoccerPlex, Germantown, Md.

Coach: Jim Gabarra has coached both the WUSA and W-League versions of the Freedom. A veteran of the U.S. men's national team from '86 to '89, he has played against the best on an international stage, giving him a unique view. Veteran U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry leads the Freedom. Scurry has played in 173 matches for the U.S. and is the most-capped goalkeeper in U.S. women's history. Kati Jo Spisak will challenge for the goalkeeper spot. U.S. defender Cat Whitehill and French international Sonia Bompastor will lead the back line.

U.S. international Abby Wambach sparks the offense. The powerful 28-year-old striker has appeared in 127 games for the U.S. with 99 goals.

Japanese international Homare Sawa will add some international flair to the midfield. Sawa has appeared in 130 matches for Japan with 65 goals. ParrissaEyorokon, Lori Lindsey, Allie Long, Lisa De Vanna and a handful of others will help out in the midfield.

Player to watch: Long. The North Carolina Tar Heel helped her team to a national title last fall. Long ended her senior campaign with her best stats to date: six goals and eight assists.

Opening game: Sun., March 29, at Los Angeles.