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It isn't all that difficult to cut a rectangular birthday cake into eight equal parts, minus perhaps a few complaints about corner pieces and extra frosting. Cutting Mt. Everest into eight equal parts? That would be trickier.
At first glance, dividing 23 American soccer players, in addition to 32 Canadian and Mexican players, into eight equal groups in the allocation process for the eight founding teams in the National Women's Soccer League might seem like the cake exercise. In reality, weighing factors like talent, positional depth, regional connections and marketability makes coming up with eight equal groups about as easy as subdividing Everest.
Somebody is going to get the view from the peak.
"It is a very challenging endeavor to be able to put together all of everybody's requests, but that's what the job entails," NWSL executive director Cheryl Bailey said. "And it's exciting, at the same time, to be able to take a look at what the preferences are for the players, what the preferences are for the teams, to be able to balance, obviously, not only the strengths of the players but the positions of the players."
The early consensus, perhaps fittingly if we're sticking with the mountain analogy, seems to be the two NWSL franchises in the Pacific Northwest, Portland and Seattle, were the big winners in allocation. Both teams ended up with multiple stars with local connections likely to help drive attendance in a part of the country that has already proved itself receptive to women's soccer at other levels.
Because of the inclusion of the players subsidized by the Canadian and Mexican federations, allocation is a more significant part of team construction than it was when 21 American players were allocated at the outset of Women's Professional Soccer. Add in as many as four players selected in next week's college draft, and it appears every team will have at least half its roster in place by the time the first free agents officially sign. So while Friday was only the first step, and history suggests far from a decisive step, we do finally have some sense of what these teams will look like when they take the field.
American allocations: Sydney Leroux, Heather Mitts, Heather O'Reilly. Other allocations: Adriana Leon, Rhian Wilkinson, Anisa Guajardo. Leroux made an appearance in Boston over the fall to watch close friend Kristen Mewis play for Boston College, but a full-time return was one of the more notable surprises among the ranks of big-name players in allocation. With her ties to the Pacific Northwest, one of those two teams seemed a logical fit (although if she was disappointed, she hid it well on Twitter). O'Reilly was set to play for the Breakers when WPS folded and did play a couple of games for the WPSL Elite version of the team last season. Continuity is expected to be a strength for the Breakers when free agency begins, and O'Reilly's allocation only seems to underscore that philosophy.
American allocations: Shannon Boxx, Amy LePeilbet, Keelin Winters. Other allocations: Erin McLeod, Carmelina Moscato, Maribel Dominguez, Dinora Garza. Boxx adds another city to one of the more nomadic tenures in domestic women's professional soccer, having played for San Diego and New York in the WUSA and Los Angeles, Saint Louis, FC Gold Pride and magicJack in WPS. It's interesting to see her paired with Winters, viewed in some quarters as a possible heir apparent to Boxx as a holding midfielder with the full national team. This is also an experienced group; by the time the season starts, four of the seven allocated players will be at least 30 years old.
American allocations: Nicole Barnhart, Lauren Cheney, Becky Sauerbrunn. Other allocations: Desiree Scott, Lauren Sesselmann, Renae Cuellar, Marilyn Diaz. Indianapolis isn't exactly an afternoon drive from Kansas City, but perhaps Cheney, a native Hoosier, counts for a degree of regional flair. A St. Louis native, Sauerbrunn definitely has ties to the area. And for an area and organization unconnected to the past women's pro leagues, this looks like a good mix. It gives Kansas City a legitimate elite striker in Cheney, a proven commodity in goal in Barnhart and a defensive centerpiece still on the ascent in Sauerbrunn.
American allocations: Rachel Buehler, Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan. Other allocations: Luz Saucedo, Marlene Sandoval, Karina LeBlanc, Christine Sinclair. Look, there's a reason Twitter got excited about the Thorns. The American allocations alone are reason to be giddy. Morgan is the most marketable player in the league and at 23 years old is only approaching her peak as a goal scorer. Heath is one of the most gifted young technical players in the world, and Buehler is the kind of crunching defender likely to inspire the most creative admiring chants the Portland fans can come up with. Oh, and on top of all that, the Thorns get Sinclair, in the conversation as the best player in the world and a local hero from her college days at Portland.
American allocations: Megan Rapinoe, Amy Rodriguez, Hope Solo. Other allocations: Kaylyn Kyle, Emily Zurrer, Jenny Ruiz, Teresa Noyola. With Rapinoe and Solo, this is already easily the most tweet-able team in the league. It also has a foundation to make a run at being the best team when Rapinoe returns from playing for Lyon in France. And while Rapinoe and Solo are clearly the headliners and are even bigger names in the Northwest than in the rest of the country, no small feat for two of the most recognizable stars, Rodriguez proved in 2010 with Philadelphia that she can be a productive goal scorer at the club level. The 2011 Hermann Trophy winner as college soccer's best player when she was at Stanford, Noyola is an intriguing prospect as a playmaking midfielder who will have Rapinoe and Rodriguez as targets for the ball.
American allocations: Jill Loyden, Kelley O'Hara, Christie Rampone. Other allocations: Sophie Schmidt, Melanie Booth, Monica Ocampo, Lydia Rangel. A lot of people reasonably assumed Sky Blue would load up on local talent in allocation, but while Loyden and Rampone fit the bill, Heather O'Reilly and Carli Loyd headed elsewhere. Obviously, the best bet for being the kind of "anchor" player NWSL executive director Cheryl Bailey talked about installing in each team is O'Hara, the 24-year-old former Hermann Trophy winner at Stanford who shifted from goal scorer in college to fullback with the national team. One of the most intense, combative players in her peer group, she may be a pretty decent match for the Garden State.
American allocations: Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger, Lori Lindsey. Other allocations: Robin Gayle, Diana Matheson, Alina Garciamendez, Teresa Worbis. Along with Heather Mitts in Boston and Christie Rampone in New Jersey, Krieger is one of three players allocated to the same city in both WPS and NWSL. She only ever played sparingly for Washington's WPS entry because she was under contract in Germany, but she is a big coup here as both a Northern Virginia native and a world-class defender. Speaking of which, had Stanford product Garciamendez not been part of the delegation submitted for allocation by the Mexican federation, she would have been the best defender available in next week's college draft. Throw in Gayle and Washington already has the framework of a nice back line in front of Harris, the starter on the winning side in the 2011 WPS championship game.
American allocations: Carli Loyd, Abby Wambach. Other allocations: Bryana McCarthy, Jodi-Ann Robinson, Veronica Perez, Pamela Tajonar. U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati was proud of his line Friday that leaving the Flash as the franchise allocated only two American players was justifiable because they counted Wambach, the newly crowned FIFA player of the year, twice. It's a good line. And even if he was mostly kidding, it's fair. The Flash aren't likely to have Marta this time around, but they do get to keep the local hero in Wambach, and Loyd certainly ranks among the best "second" choices among the American allocations. Both former University of Washington forward Perez and former West Virginia defender McCarthy are young players with very high ceilings.