WPS goalkeeping musical chairs

Chris Henderson (not the MLS veteran) follows women’s college soccer in rather remarkable detail, and I’m absolutely not qualified to question his selections in AWK’s 2012 WPS Mock Draft v1.0.

But one point is provocative: Would the Atlanta Beat make a colossal mistake by passing on heralded goalkeeping prospect Bianca Henninger?

A team’s goalkeeping needs may be more obvious than, say, a glaring gap at left wing. But goalkeepers are rarely in demand in the top few selections of the draft.

Check MLS: Out of the 120 top-10 picks of the past 12 years, only six have been goalkeepers. Brad Guzan was the highest pick, going No. 2 in 2005. Adin Brown was No. 3 in 2000. Steve Cronin has bounced between MLS and the second division since being picked No. 10 in 2004. The last three top-10 keepers — Chris Seitz (No. 4, 2007), Josh Lambo (No. 8, 2008) and Zac MacMath (No. 5, 2011) — were picked as prospects.

And that’s no surprise. Goalkeepers typically mature later than field players. We don’t have as much data in women’s soccer as we have in men’s soccer, but it’s safe to say we don’t see a lot of teen phenoms breaking through on the U.S. national team. Hope Solo debuted before age 20 but still wasn’t on the 2004 Olympic roster at age 23.

So if Atlanta is thinking of immediate improvement in goal, would Henninger be the pick? Or would the Beat look for someone who has already gone through the apprentice years?

With only five teams in the league (pending Dan Borislow’s legal action to get magicJack reinstated), you’d have to think goalkeepers would be available. The U.S. player pool lists five goalkeepers, so that’s one per team, right?

Well, no, it’s not that simple. But let’s take a quick look at the goalkeeping pool, focusing with the 13 goalkeepers who saw action in WPS last season. We’ll take into account that some keepers may miss time for the Olympics if the USA and/or Canada can qualify. And if a goalkeeper has retired or definitely isn’t in the mix for the team in question, her name isn’t in italics.

Boston: Has Alyssa Naeher (18 games in 2011) under contract after a successful offseason stint in Europe. Also re-signed backup Kati Jo Spisak, who started a couple of games in 2009 after sticking with the Washington Freedom from its W-League days. Naeher is in the U.S. pool but not in camp, so she’s not expected to miss time in 2012. They’re just looking for a third-stringer. Ashley Phillips played nine games for the Breakers in 2010 and remained on the roster last year along with 2010 third-round pick Kelsey Davis.

Western New York:Like Naeher, Ashlyn Harris (18 games) is in the U.S. pool but unlikely to miss time in 2012. The former Washington Freedom phenom is in U.S. camp, though, so she might get a shot in a friendly or two. She has re-signed for 2012. The Flash had two backups last year — FC Gold Pride alum Brittany Cameron and 2011 draft pick Ashleigh Bowers.

Sky Blue: The Jersey team has Karina LeBlanc (1 game, magicJack) under contract. The former Los Angeles Sol starter, who split time with Val Henderson in Philly in 2010, might miss time if Canada qualifies to the Olympics. Keeper/sweeper Jenni Branam has retired. The question mark is English starter Karen Bardsley (3 games), who played a lot for Sky Blue in 2010 but much less for the club last year due to World Cup duty and Branam’s play. Bardsley is likely to be in London with the one-off Great Britain team; would she want to spend part of the season in the USA? (Bardsley is indeed staying overseas, as Jenna at All White Kit points out.) Sky Blue carried two more keepers last year: Erin Guthrie, who has an FC Gold Pride appearance on her resume, and Kristin Arnold.

Philadelphia: Terrific tandem last year with two-year FC Gold Pride starter and veteran U.S. backup Nicole Barnhart (9 games) and former Los Angeles backup Val Henderson (9 games). Re-signing them would be a great way to signal championship intent this year. Also on the roster last year: Robyn Jones.

That brings us to the team in question …

Atlanta: The Beat’s keepers were certainly busy last year. Allison Whitworth (11 games) had 67 saves; Ali Lipsher (7 games) had 44. Both have experience elsewhere — Whitworth with Gold Pride as Barnhart’s backup, Lipsher with a lot of starts in Boston. They also have one of the two keepers drafted in 2011, Katie Fraine.

So Atlanta could stick with the corps from last season or perhaps take a run at signing Barnhart or Henderson. But then there are all these other keepers in the mix from magicJack, some of whom might not mind signing with a WPS team this season. …

We can probably rule out Brett Maron (4 games), who played for the Beat in 2010 before Hope Solo’s arrival but has signed overseas. Shannon Myers (1 game) also did time in magicJack’s front office and was pressed into service with two goalkeepers out on World Cup duty.

That leaves three big-time goalkeepers, though we don’t know how much interest they’ll have in WPS:

– Jill Loyden (8 games): Hope Solo’s backup with magicJack (and St. Louis before that) and another contender for the U.S. roster.

Hope Solo (4 games): With magicJack gone, can anyone lure her to play in WPS, or will she work her way back into Olympic shape in residency?

Erin McLeod (not in WPS): Canadian starter ditched magicJack to go overseas. Would she come back?

We’re dealing with a lot of moving pieces here. But given the talent that’s available, it’s hard to imagine any WPS team going into the draft with the intent of starting a rookie goalkeeper all season.

Chris sees Atlanta passing on Henninger to make the glitzier pick of U.S. national camp-dweller Sydney Leroux. Then Sky Blue could pick Henninger out of the No. 2 spot. That might be for the best all around. Henninger can sub for LeBlanc during the Olympics and maybe even push her for the No. 1 spot, especially later in the season.

Now if the Beat pass up Henninger and fail to pick up Loyden, Solo, McLeod, Barnhart or Henderson, that would be a sign of trouble.

I’m guessing that some of these keepers have actually signed without having that news announced, so please check back for updates.

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