W-League Western Conference Best XI

By George Tanner/ColoradoSoccerNow.com I enjoyed the 2009 USL W-League season so much,that I decided to put together an All-Western Conference team based on the games we covered at ColoradoSoccerNow.com. First, let me talk about the logistics of picking such an exercise. Because every W-League game we saw in 2009 included the Real Colorado Cougars or the Colorado Force, the All-Western Conference team reflects that. We have a Colorado-heavy squad, and I suppose that’s to be expected. I considered an All-Colorado team, but I dismissed that idea because many of the Force and Real Colorado players performed at a level that was higher than most of their peers across the Conference. And, at the most, we got to see visiting teams play only two games. So this squad is skewed, based on which players actually made the road trip to Colorado and how their clubs fared at altitude. Pali Blues' Tobin Heath, for example, did not play against the Force or the Cougars. Neither did Vancouver’s Jodi-Ann Robinson; she had seven goals and did not make this team because we did not see her. And the undefeated Pali Blues scored only one goal in their two games in this state. The Cougars and Force stood on their heads against the defending champs, but neither team could conjure a victory. The Force was the only team to shut out the Blues this year, and soccer fans in Colorado saw a Pali team that had their back against the wall. I loved the Force defence. I would not trade the back line of Mo Smunt, Carly Peetz, Estelle Johnson, Zoe Avner, and Sally Cole for any other W-League team’s defenders The Force’s defensive unit was the best in the conference. But I couldn’t pick them all… And I loved the Cougars’ midfield. Brittney Macdonald, Beth West, and Kellyn Farrell formed the core of a group that sometimes included Taryn Hemmings and Becca Mays. Those five would create havoc for any team in the W-League. But I couldn’t pick them all… Tom Auclair, who was on the sidelines shooting photos, helped me with the scouting, but the final selections were mine. Enough discussion. Here is ColoradoSoccerNow.com’s first W-League All-Western Conference Team: GOALKEEPER Kay Hawke, Ventura County Fusion: Hawke did not have the best team in front of her, but she played as if she did. She barked orders like each game was her team’s last. She knows when to clear the ball and when to hang back and wait for the save. She is mobile and delivers the ball to her teammates with accuracy and an understanding of the game. She would be the captain of this All-Conference Team. DEFENDERS Jenny Anderson-Hammond, Pali Blues: The best outside back in the league. Pushes forward with abandon, defends with ferocity. She’s fast, skilled, and athletic, and likes to show it. Sally Cole, Colorado Force: A dynamic defensive fullback. Cole wins balls in the air that her 5-foot-2 frame has no right to. Is she a better defender than Colorado’s Carly Peetz or Estelle Johnson? Probably not. But she turns heads on the backline with her power and her aggressiveness. She is the immovable object for the irresistible Force defence. Jenae Gibbons, Los Angeles Legends: Excellent defender on a mediocre team. She moves forward to become a threat in the box on corner kicks, and she takes all the throw-ins in the forward third because of her upper-body strength. A quiet leader, but a leader nonetheless. Without Gibbons, 2009 could have been dreadful for L.A. Randee Hermus, Vancouver Whitecaps: An excellent two-way threat. She takes the team’s free kicks and is a scoring option on corner kicks. Closer to the Vancouver goal, she can beat players positionally or challenge them and dispossess. MIDFIELDERSLeah Tapscott, Pali Blues: In the two games the Blues played in Colorado this year, Tapscott was the most impressive Pali player on the pitch. She gobbles up large amounts of turf and is a tireless defender. Moves well with the ball and moves well without it. Beth West, Real Colorado Cougars: The best distributor we saw. She has a creativity that betrays her 19 years. Excellent ball control. Excellent vision. Excellent possession. The Cougars are a different team, almost flat, when she’s not on the pitch. I look forward to watching her play for years to come. Michelle French, Seattle Sounders: The most enterprising player on a talented Seattle team. Her winning goal in the Force’s home opener turned out to be a key piece of the puzzle, as Seattle and Colorado battled for the conference’s second playoff berth. Iris Mora, Pali Blues: Her skill level was apparent, but she didn’t have the best two games in Colorado. Was it the rigours of playing a mile above sea level? Was it the determination of the Colorado teams? It does not matter. She was the constant that kept Pali ahead of the rest of the league. The W-League website lists her with 16 points during the season (but it says she had only six assists, which can’t be correct; that means she would’ve scored 10 goals, but she’s not among the league leaders on the league’s stats page). Whatever the total, her prowess lifted Pali to another level. Brittney Macdonald, Real Colorado Cougars: The best holding midfielder in the W-League. I would be comfortable using her in central defense or as an attacking midfielder. So maybe defensive midfield is perfect for her. Strong, tall, composed, elegant. Dominant in the air. STRIKER
 Nikki Marshall, Colorado Force: Where to put her. Defence? midfield? striker? She can do it all. If I were a W-League team, Marshall and Real Colorado’s Taryn Hemmings would be the first two Western Conference players I looked at. Marshall got better as the season progressed, and it’s no coincidence that the Force did as well. I’d put her up front on this team; with a full season at striker and these midfielders feeding her, there’s no telling how many goals she would score. WESTERN CONFERENCE MVP
 Nikki Marshall, Colorado Force: Her versatility makes her invaluable. Force coach Craig Deacon could pencil her in at any position. Then, he could move her anywhere and bring in any players as substitutes to react to the script of the game. She’s a tactical weapon without equal in the W-League. And she’s a force of will on the pitch. Her talent level, speed, size and work rate make her the complete package. I can’t wait to watch her play for CU this fall. ALL-WESTERN CONFERENCE HONORABLE MENTION
 Jodi-Ann Robinson (Vancouver Whitecaps); Katie Thorlakson (Vancouver Whitecaps); Estelle Johnson (Colorado Force); Carly Peetz (Colorado Force); Taryn Hemmings (Real Colorado Cougars); Becca Mays, (Real Colorado Cougars); Brianna Young (Real Colorado Cougars)