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Monday, January 14, 2013
Portland the big winner after NWSL allocation

By Julie Foudy

Here is a job I don't envy: Carefully, politically, tactically, PR-fully (yes, I like making up words) place 55 women across the eight teams of the National Women's Soccer League, 55 women who pretty much all have an opinion on where they would like to play, some stronger than others, of course.

It is not easy. Spouses, fiancés, family, hometowns, houses being built, owner love (or lack thereof) all come into play; but, in the end, every player realizes they may not get their first pick, or even their second. They also realize playing professionally again in a sport they love eventually means, "Have job, will travel."

Given all of the variables, U.S. Soccer and its allocation team did a good job of trying to evenly distribute competitive balance, hometowns, allegiances, positional balance and star power. Not everyone will be happy, of course, but most will agree that, yes, life is good again ...

... especially good for Portland. Thorns FC got two of the best strikers in the game at the moment in U.S. star Alex Morgan and Canadian striker Christine Sinclair (currently third all-time in scoring in the world), along with a creative midfielder and distributor in two-time Olympic gold medalist Tobin Heath. Add in a savvy, veteran defender in U.S. national team center back Rachel Buehler and loads of experience and personality in Canadian goalkeeper Katrina LeBlanc, and it is pretty clear Portland got the strongest allocation. It also explains why former Portland Pilot Megan Rapinoe was allocated to Seattle. (At least the allocation committee kept her in the Northwest.)

Portland fans may be upset about not getting Rapinoe (and that Canadian and fellow Pilot Sophie Schmidt got allocated to New Jersey's Sky Blue), but for competitive balance, I think it is a good move. And if you have Morgan and Sinclair, then you really should just stop talking and say, "Thank you."

A few other observations based on the allocation announcement:

• Western New York was the only team to land just two U.S. players instead of three (Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd), but as U.S. soccer president Sunil Gulati joked, "Abby counts as two players since she just won the FIFA World Player of the Year Award."

As compensation for just two U.S. players (although many would argue those two really do amount to three), my guess is Western New York will get the first pick in the NWSL draft on Jan. 18. Regardless, I'm pretty certain Rochester fans are just ecstatic they finally get to watch their hometown hero in Wambach.

• After Portland, I think FC Kansas City received the second-strongest allocation of players. KC is really solid up the spine with Nicole Barnhart in goal, Becky Sauerbrunn anchoring its backline and Lauren Cheney bringing versatility in midfield or up front. They also have Canadian national team member Lauren Sesselmann (she was born in Wisconsin), who can play either on the backline or as a striker. And regarding Mexican players, FC Kansas City may have one of the most promising in Renae Cuellar, an alternate on Mexico's 2011 World Cup team and Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year for Oklahoma this past season. So, yes, Seattle fans, I am going with Kansas City as the second strongest in the allocation.

• It is nice to see Ali Krieger back in the U-S-of-A. She has been playing in Germany for too long, so I am happy to see her back, playing near her hometown in Washington D.C. for the Spirit, hopefully with her right knee as good as new.