Defending a championship is no small task.
That’s the course that W-League side Atlanta Silverbacks are trying to successfully navigate through this season, coming off a title-winning campaign in 2011.
So far, with a 5-0 record and outscoring the opposition 17-1, things are looking good for Atlanta, which like other W-League teams, features a strong contingent of college players.
“I think we’ve got off to another good start,” head coach Chris Adams told TopDrawerSoccer.com. “It was a little bit of a quick turnaround with as many college players we have in the beginning only a couple weeks of training before the first game. We got that behind us and are putting more and more things together as time goes on. I’ve been real pleased lately with the depth, more than anything else.”
That depth has allowed Adams to rotate lineups, and still find ways to get results, some in bigger fashion than others.
The crossroads that women’s pro soccer finds itself in currently also adds a unique twist to the season. With the folding of Women’s Professional Soccer, college players who want to continue to play must search for opportunities in the W-League and elsewhere for their chances.
This has led the Silverbacks to snap up several strong players in various stages of their career, including forward Elizabeth Guess (a 2007 North Carolina graduate and Georgia native), defender Bailey Powell (who graduated from Georgia last fall) and midfielder Rebecca Nolan (a Kennesaw State product) to name just a few of those a bit more experienced.
But helping shape the cornerstone and title challenge are players still in college, with most of the talent originating from the Southeast. The recent strong performances by the Silverbacks played a key role in their ability to siphon in some of the region’s best women’s college players.
“I definitely think with our success and making it to the final four two years in a row and winning the whole thing last year the recruitment of players is much easier,” Adams said. “We’ve even had to turn some people away in the last couple of years, which was not the case several years ago.”
The nature of the first month of competition has been challenging in the early going, as the combination of holding a title and also facing brand new W-League teams has made it a difficult road.
“Our division’s a little unique in that it has some expansion teams,” Adams explained. “So what we found the first time was that the expansion teams definitely more so than trying to have their own identity of what they want to do, their main objective was to try and sit in and frustrate us. Luckily, our team’s dynamic to beat you enough in a variety of ways, but we definitely get everybody’s best punch.”
June 16 is circled on the schedule as well, as it marks the first of three meetings in league play against the Charlotte Eagles, currently top of the table in the Southeast Division. Those matchups are likely to determine which side ends up winning the division and advancing to the postseason.
One player likely to play a big role this season is Alexa Newfield. Coming off a sensational year for Georgia, Newfield had knee surgery earlier in 2012 and is still making her way back to full health.
“We’re nursing her a little bit as far as coming back,” Adams said. “She’s completely clear now, so now it’s a matter of getting her game fit. Little by little, she’s played in the last two matches, only played 25-30 minutes each match. We’ve been fortunate enough to have the ability to use her sparingly, we want to make sure we don’t do anything to cause a setback. As the season wears on, you’ll see more and more out of her.”
Her health, as well as how the team progress is going to shape just how likely a second straight W-League title is this summer in Atlanta.
Atlanta Silverbacks College Players to Watch
GK Ashley Baker, Georgia: The shot-stopper is sharing time in goal with Organ, and is also missing some action this summer on national team duty with England.
MF Alexa Newfield, Georgia: A dynamic presence in the midfield, Newfield has just made two appearances off the bench this season as she recovers from a knee injury suffered earlier this year.
D Nicole Hill, Georgia: One of the starters on a back line that has conceded only one goal so far this year, Hill also has the ability to get forward and chip in to the attack, as she’s setup three goals so far in 2012.
GK Connie Organ, UCF: With Baker missing some league action because of national team duty, Organ has filled in nicely with two shutouts in her two appearances this year.
MF Nicole Locandro, Georgia: In the early days of the season Locandro has been a key point of attack, scoring twice in her four appearances.