It's okay if you hadn't heard of any of the seven players the Philadelphia Independence picked in the WPS Draft prior to yesterday. To many outside observers, there were only two really big names in the pool: U.S. national team forward Alex Morgan and Mac Hermann Trophy winner Christen Press.
But Paul Riley has a reputation as one of the best coaches and talent evaluators in women's soccer, as proven by the Independence's run to the WPS title game in their first season of existence. As I listend to Riley talk after his club picked a league-high seven players in the draft, it quickly became clear that he knew what he was doing.
Riley wanted players who could make significant contributions when his stars are away at the World Cup during the summer. He especially singled out Haverford, Pa., native Sinead Farrelly, the team's first pick of the day.
"I think [Farrelly] is going to to straight into the lineup," Riley said . "She's got all the tools to be a top player at the WPS level... She is one of those players who can get to the full national team and maybe make it to the Olympics next year."
Riley especially praised Farrelly's creativity and passing. That will matter even more because of Caroline Seger's departure in a trade to Western New York.
"I think in this league, if you can make the final ball tell - which she can - then you can make it in this league," Riley said of Farrelly. "I think other midfielders in this league don't have the ability to make that final ball tell... She's a younger version of Lori Lindsey."
That's no small compliment, as Lindsey is one of the smartest and most experienced players in the women's game.
After picking Farrelly, Riley turned his attention to shoring up the team's back line. Regular starters Allison Falk and Holmfridur Magnusdottir are injured, so we may well see draft picks Lauren Fowlkes and Caitlin Farrell on the field early in the season.
"We have to tighten up defensively," Riley said. "We're a little light in the back - we really didn't make any huge offseason signings [there]."
In addition to the draft, one of the other major talking points for the Independence in this offseason has been moving their home games from West Chester University to Widener University. The club's new home is much more accessible for many fans, and it furthers Chester's identity as a focal point for soccer in the region.
I heard from a number of fans last year who said that they wanted to go to Independence games, but driving to West Chester was just too long a trip. Riley said he thinks the move will help fix that.
He even gave a shoutout to the Sons of Ben on the league's webcast of the draft, praising them for the visits they made to West Chester and expressing a hope that they'll come to Widener even more.
That's not something you hear all that often in women's soccer circles. There is a segment of the sport's community that doesn't like having that kind of atmosphere at their games, out of fear that it will the crowd less family-friendly. But Riley clearly embraces the passion that makes soccer unique, and I think he should be applauded for saying so.
"We have the noisiest crowd of any in the league," Riley said. "I think if we can get those guys behind us, get them in the middle of the stands and get them singing, I think people will come. I think we can fill the place."
There's much more from Riley in the video interview below. I've also posted audio interviews with coaches and executives from the rest of WPS, including:
- Anne-Marie Eileraas, commissioner of Women's Professional Soccer
- Tony DiCicco, head coach of the Boston Breakers and former head coach of the U.S. women's national team
- Jim Gabarra, head coach of Sky Blue FC and former head coach of the Washington Freedom
- Brianna Scurry, general manager of the Washington Freedom and former U.S. national star player
Among the many issues discussed were the league's financial struggles, the talent available in this year's draft, and the controversy over the Washington Fredom's rebranding as MagicTalk SC. Steve Goff of the Washington Post sums up the Freedom/MagicTalk story quite nicely in this blog post.