Although I am enjoying the breast beating and hair-shirt wearing that the Bath City community is engaged in at the moment, my status as a native Atlantan has given me some cheerier football news to report to you today.
Just over an hour ago Women's Pro Soccer (WPS) has announced the results of their first ever expansion draft, and as a result the first six members of the new Atlanta Beat roster have been revealed. They are: Leigh Ann Robinson (formerly FC Gold Pride - pictured right), Amanda Cinalli and Sara Larsson (from St Louis Athletica), Katie Larkin and Sharolta Nonen (now leaving Los Angeles Sol), and Noelle Keselica (who is packing her bags to leave Sky Blue FC). Prominent among these draft picks is Sharlota Nonen (pictured left), a Canadian international and a former member of the original Atlanta Beat that played in the old Women's United Soccer Association from 2001-04. The number one pick, Leigh Ann Robinson is a respected centre half and shows that the Beat are going to try to build their new club around a solid defence.
Okay, okay. I admit it. I don't really know what I'm talking about here. But I am going to try. I've never followed women's football before, either here or back home, so I will have to learn as I go. I am definitely going to try and be an active supporter, though. At least I will be as active as you can be on this side of the Atlantic, anyway. This is my home town club now, especially as Atlanta has no top flight men's team on the horizon.
I had better explain just what has happened to my British readers because that second paragraph probably makes no sense whatsoever. As I have discussed previously (at length), American sporting leagues do not employ relegation or promotion. New teams appear when the league decides to expand. Rather than just cobble together the best twenty women's clubs in the country, the WPS started life last season with seven brand new clubs funded by local businessmen. After a first (apparently successful) season, the league is now adding two teams to its ranks: the Atlanta Beat and the Philadelphia Independence. Rather than make these new clubs start from scratch, the league has set up an 'expansion draft' to try and ease their way into next season. Hold onto your hats now - this is going to seem a little strange!
Each club in the WPS has had to choose six players from their roster to put into the draft. Atlanta and Philadelphia then took turns choosing players from this pool of forty-two. Once an established club has lost one of its six players to one of the new teams it is allowed to remove two of its remaining five from the draft. No team could lose two players until every other team has lost at least one. Each of the expansion teams was going to be allowed to select nine players each, but in the end Philadelphia took seven and Atlanta only took six. Both teams will get to participate in special draft of international players as well as have early picks in the general WPS draft in January.
How weird is that? Can you imagine Alex Ferguson being told he has to name six players, of whom he could lose up to three to Burnley, Birmingham City or Wolves so that they could have an easier time in the Premiership this season? Exactly what shad of puce do you think he would turn? It boggles the imagination.
Despite the way we Americans like to champion the free market and talk about the survival of the fittest, we can be genuine pinko socialists when it comes to our professional sports leagues. Every sport has its ways of trying to keep 'parity' in its league: salary caps, income distribution and high draft picks for weaker teams. This is based on the belief that having the same old teams win every year is kind of boring (ahem). So really, the charge of 'socialism' isn't appropriate. The league as a whole has a commercial interest in competitive matches so that it can compete with other sports. The creation of the Premiership seventeen years ago was a partial step in this direction, but it is hard to believe that the English football giants will ever relinquish enough autonomy to create an American style league. Oh well, we might as well vive le difference, I suppose.
Back to the Beat: I don't really know if the draft was a success or not. The Beat's general manager, Shawn McGee, seems pretty happy with the results. Soon after the results were announced he tweeted, 'Had a great draft plan and it played well.' So far most of the excitement is centred on the number one pick, Leigh Ann Robinson. Head Coach Gareth O'Sullivan says, 'She works hard and has a positive attitude. We were very fortunate to come away with her.' Leigh Ann herself is putting a pretty brave face on things. The team website quotes her saying, 'I feel like I have so many emotions right now. I am excited to join the Atlanta Beat and anxious to be out there. This morning I was a little nervous because I wasn't sure if I would get a call or not. Now that I am with the Beat, I am excited to help get this team started.' I hope she is still as excited when she experiences her first Atlanta summer!
Well everyone, I am excited! Look out for me in the Atlanta Beat tee shirt in the Bath City terraces (as soon as they print some)!