The Atlanta Beat is one of just three current WPS teams whose lineage is rooted in the days of WUSA (the other two being the Boston Breakers and the Washington Freedom). That incarnation (the Classic Beat? the Vintage Beat? the Beat 1.0?) was consistently one of the best in the league and was the only WUSA team to have reached the playoffs every year of the league’s existence. They featured in the 2001 and 2003 editions of the Founders Cup but returned to Atlanta empty-handed each time. The team was buoyed by international talent of the likes of Briana Scurry, Cindy Parlow, Sharolta Nonen, Maribel Dominguez and Sun Wen.
But the colors and crest of the club did not meet the same demise that claimed WUSA in 2003. Rather, in June of last year WPS announced that the Beat would return. Atlanta entrepreneur T. Fitz Johnson was announced as the team’s owner, former Sothern Methodist University and FC Dallas associate Shawn McGee was appointed General Manager and Gareth O’Sullivan – experienced at the youth, college and professional levels of the game – was named Head Coach.
UNC star midfielder Tobin Heath was drafted first overall in the 2010 WPS Draft, some of the best talent the world’s top leagues have to offer were ushered in (Ramona Bachmann and Johanna Rasmussen) and other quality role players from around WPS filled out the squad (Angie Kerr, Kia McNeill and Leigh Ann Robinson).
To be fair, it’s very hard to predict how a team will do when it has yet to play a single official competitive match. Preseason is a dubious indicator as most of the results against college opposition were pretty lop-sided. However, if one can glean anything from the Beat’s outstanding preseason record, it’s that goals might come from anywhere. Kia McNeill, Katie Larkin, McCall Zerboni and Sophia Mundy were among Ramona Bachmann and Mami Yamaguchi in the collection of goal scorers.
Heath did not take part in preseason (or in the Algarve Cup or in any of the WNT friendlies) due to a lingering bout of stomach illness. The creative youngster joins a midfield of players who weren’t necessarily WPS superstars in 2009 but who contributed vital roles to their teams. This includes Manya Mankosi, Katie Larkin and McCall Zerboni from the Los Angeles Sol and both Stacy Bishop and Sophia Mundy formerly of the Breakers.
Defensively, Allison Whitworth will be tending the net behind her fellow former FC Gold Pride teammate Leigh Ann Robinson. Kia McNeill will be able to add pace in the backline.
Atlanta’s forward line might be their best asset. Ramona Bachmann has plenty of experience and talent for her 19 years and could be able to pry open defenses with her strike partner Johanna Rasmussen (who scored four goals in a recent World Cup qualifying game for Denmark). Mexican international Monica Ocampo could also provide options in a deeper role along with Amanda Cinalli off the bench.
Atlanta acquired Angie Kerr (and Kia McNeill) from Saint Louis in exchange for their first round draft pick in the Dispersal Draft. Such a loaded move indicates how much stock Atlanta puts in Kerr who is an able supplier of the ball. She will undoubtedly be a major component in the team’s make-up and could pair up well with Heath in the center of midfield.
The Beat have seemingly followed the tradition their predecessors set by stocking their squad with players from all over the globe. Former Umea teammates Bachmann hails from Switzerland and Mami Yamaguchi is a Japanese international. German Shelley Thompson, Dane Johanna Rasmussen (also from Umea) and Mexican Monica Ocampo are the only WPS players from their respective countries. And former Atlanta Silverback Rebecca Nolin hails from England.
Such as with any expansion team, more questions surround the Beat than answers. This is a very young squad with an average age of 25 years. Its eldest player is Rebecca Nolin who is just 27 years old. How will the team’s youth affect its performance? Will Gareth O’Sullivan find some synchronicity in a recently-formed squad? Will Tobin Heath be healthy and will she be able to handle the pressure that comes with being the #1 overall pick? How will an untested and youthful defense fare? Can a former role player elevate to becoming a leader in midfield? Will a strike force of decorated internationals be able to replicate their former glories in the United States?
These questions will soon be answered but it sure is nice to have the Beat march on.
GK Allison Whitworth Traded from FC Gold Pride for draft picks. Appeared in 4 matches for FC Gold Pride, allowed 1.25 goals per game and earned 1 shutout
GK Brett Maron Signed as a free agent. Previously played with Kristianstad of the Damasvellskan
D Kia McNeill Traded by Saint Louis. Cornerstone in Saint Louis defense that ranked second best in defensive categories across the board. Appeared in 19 games for the Athletica
D Tracy Hamm Signed as a free agent from FC Gold Pride but did not make any appearances for Gold Pride last season
D Leigh Ann Robinson 1st overall pick in Expansion Draft. Played in 18 games for FC Gold Pride and scored a game-winning goal
M Tobin Heath First overall pick in 2010 WPS Draft. Has made 14 appearances for the U.S. Women’s National Team and has won the College Cup three out of the four years she was the UNC Tar Heels
M Angie Kerr Acquired in trade with Saint Louis. Has made 10 appearances with the U.S. Women’s National Team and earned 18 appearances with the Athletica last year
M Katie Larkin 6th overall pick in Expansion Draft. Larkin Played 14 times for the Los Angeles Sol
M Manya Makoski Selected with 9th overall pick in Dispersal Draft. Appeared with the Sol 17 times (Injured Reserve)
M Sophia Mundy Signed as a free agent. Played in three games with the Breakers last year. Set single-season records for goals, points and shots with the University of Houston in 2005. (Can’t resist showing some love for my school)
M Stacy Bishop Signed as a free agent from Boston Breakers. Appeared in 10 matches for the Breakers and contributed two assists
M Mami Yamaguchi Drafted in International Draft for Expansion teams. Won Damasvellskan title with Umea IK in 2008-09 (scoring 4 goals in 36 appearances), has been capped at every level of the Japanese National Team and earned the Hermann Trophy with Florida State University in 2007
M McCall Zerboni Signed as a free agent. Played in 10 games for the Los Angeles Sol, recoring a goal and an assist. Was named MVP for UCLA’s 2008 season
F Ramona Bachmann Number 1 pick in the International Draft. Won two Damallsvenskan titles with Umea IK from 2007-2009
F Amanda Cinalli 4th overall pick in Expansion Draft. Played in 12 matches for the Athletica, scoring two goals and assisting in one
F Monica Ocampo Selected as International Discovery player. Member of the Mexican National Team and recorded league-high 11 assists for FC Indiana in 2009
F Johanna Rasmussen Selected in International Draft for expansion teams. Has played for Umea IK and has earned 13 goals in 64 appearances for Denmark
F Lauren Sesselmann Signed as a free agent. Appeared in one match for Sky Blue FC. Scored nine goals and fourteen assists for FC Indiana in 2008. Holds record for career points, goals, assists, game-winning goals, multiple-goal games and shots on goal at Purdue University
F Shelley Thompson Signed as a free agent. Previously played for Vfl Wolfsburg and has been capped at every German youth level, including two caps for the senior team. Top goal scorer in Frauen Bundesliga in 2004-05 season with 30 goals
GK Malori Lofton-Malachi Acquired via free agency from Philadelphia Independence. Previously named 2008 W-League Goalkeeper of the Year with the Tampa Bay Hellenic
D Blakely Mattern Selected 21st overall in 2010 WPS Draft from the University of South Carolina. In her senior season, she was captain of the #9th ranked defense in the country
M Rebecca Nolin Acquired via tryout process. Played for the Atlanta Silverbacks as well as at Kennesaw State University (where the Beat will play their first few home games). Also captained Chelsea Ladies Football Club in 2001
M Marisha Schumacher-Hodge Signed as a free agent. Previously trained with Boston Breakers. Was Big East midfielder of the year in her sophomore and senior seasons for Boston University