* = confirmed signed for 2015
(parentheses) = Potentially absent for Women’s World Cup
In A Nutshell:
Seldom has a season rode on a signing as SBFC’s may. The club desperately needs offensive talisman Nadia Nadim back after last year’s star turn at midseason. Not just for her scoring ability, but the fact that Nadim isn’t going to the WWC, which separates her out from just about everyone else on the frontline for the New Jersey club.
Biggest Needs: DMC, CF, LB, WF, RB, CB (with pace)
GK – *Cameron, *Bledsoe
It’s a double-edged sword for the New Jersey club. On the one hand, the club loses last year’s #1, Jill Loyden, to retirement, raising some uncertainty about the goalkeeping situation here. On the other hand, Jim Gabarra’s side may be one of the few in the league that won’t be worrying about losing their starter to the Women’s World Cup.
Long-time backup and occasional injury fill-in Brittany Cameron looks to be back and will be the proven option in goal, though she did not quite reach the heights of 2013, when she looked to be one of the league’s better netminders for the bulk of her time as starter with Loyden injured. It’s clearly now or never for her hopes at an extended run at being a #1 though. Standing in her way will be Aubrey Bledsoe, the best keeper from last year’s class, who skipped out on the 2014 draft and juggled the W-League and a short sojourn to Europe. The upside, of course, is that she got to choose her NWSL destination. She could well be a long-term solution in goal here, it’s just a matter of proving she can handle the pressure of being a #1 right away.
DEF – *Cutshall, (Foord), *Goodson, Haagsma, Johnson, Morris, (Rampone)
SBFC certainly doesn’t lack for options, though the quality of said options is perhaps in question a bit. While Christie Rampone was excellent for much of 2013, the decline in pace was noticeable last season, and one wonders how much she’ll be able to bring to the table while dividing her attention with the USWNT. Rampone losing a step is particularly problematic considering the club depends on her speed and anticipation to balance out the powerful but slower CoCo Goodson at center-back.
With Rampone away on international duty, the likely center-back pairing becomes Goodson and Lindsi Cutshall, who finally began to grow into the lineup after an injury riddled 2013 season. Cutshall doesn’t particularly possess blinding pace at this level either, though she is another big, strong battler in the middle. Other options are in short supply. Hayley Haagsma is back from injury but is an unknown commodity, and Jim Gabarra would need some serious stones to trust her as a starting center-back right away being, essentially, a rookie.
Caitlin Foord will probably fill the right-back slot when here and could form a volatile partnership up that flank with countrywoman Sam Kerr. There’s not really another natural right-back currently on the roster, which could be an issue to say the least. Kendall Johnson may end flipping to that side again, though it’s probably prudent that the club grab another right-back for cover before the season begins.
Johnson is a contender at left-back, though she wavered in and out of favor after a promising rookie season in 2013. If Cami Levin isn’t needed in defensive midfield, she’ll likely battle for the starting left-back spot as well. SBFC has multiple options there though, which may finally put the Kelley O’Hara full-back experiment to bed.
At any rate, the New Jersey club needs pace at center-back despite the numbers already there and some depth at right-back for when Foord is gone.
MF – *Freels, (*Kiryu), Levin, Lytle, (Schmidt), Stanton, *Gordon
There’s talent here, but there’s still room to add to this group. Katy Freels really began to come into her own last season as the playmaker in the center of the park and probably should’ve been called up to the USWNT U23-ish camp roster with some other NWSL standouts. Given the absence of so many midfield stars this year, Freels has a chance to be one of the league’s standouts in their stead.
There are questions elsewhere. Sophie Schmidt was far from her best last season and is far from a sure thing considering she’ll miss most of the season through international duty with Canada. There’s a noted lack of proven quality elsewhere throughout the midfield. Nanase Kiryu was an unmitigated bust last season but will be back this season it appears, though only around international duty with Japan. Taylor Lytle showed potential in 2013 but missed almost all of last season through injury.
The big question is who fills the defensive midfield role Ashley Nick played last season before being traded in the offseason. Cami Levin is one option but may be needed as full-back cover, especially around the WWC. The club signed Shawna Gordon, long one of the lower league terrors who also has some European experience and could be a real find. Late season signing Nikki Stanton also may be back to fight for a roster spot with some of the draftees.
Freels and Schmidt are a nice combo when on form, but you get the feeling this area could use a few fresh faces to add more of a spark to proceedings.
FW – (Filigno), Hayes, Nadim, (O’Hara), (Ocampo), (*Kerr)
This unit, and perhaps SBFC in general, is going to be made or broken by whether the club can bring back Nadia Nadim for the 2015 season. Nadim was the catalyst to the side’s turnaround last year, nearly dragging the club to the playoffs on her back. There’s been little mention of a return to the side this season though, and SBFC’s upside declines tremendously if she isn’t with the club this year. If Nadim is back, SBFC might have one of the most dangerous attacks in the league given some of the supporting pieces.
The bad news is that those pieces are all likely to miss a giant chunk of time through the WWC. That includes new acquisition Sam Kerr, who continues to show flashes of world class ability, with some sensational displays with the Flash last year only adding to her reputation. Opposite of her on the other flank might be Kelley O’Hara, who could well be back to being an attacker full-time after her sojourn at left-back.
The depth isn’t too bad either, with the mercurial Monica Ocampo always a threat to turn a game on its head, while Jonelle Filigno will continue to be groomed for the future for both club and country. The big problem is those two players will likely be missing for WWC duty as well, meaning the club could realistically have Maya Hayes and only Maya Hayes on the frontline during the WWC. Hayes looked lost early in the season in 2014 but slowly came around when Nadim arrived and will be looking for a big breakthrough this year.
Even if Nadim re-signs, SBFC needs at least one more forward for depth. And if Nadim isn’t back, they’ll need more than just one.