LONDON – If you are anything like me, you've been excitedly waiting to see the US Women's national team take the field in Germany for the past few months. Maybe that excitement extends all the way back to when they won gold at the 2008 Olympics or when things went awry the 2007 World Cup.
And like me, you may have also noticed a lot of new names in the WPS games this past weekend. That was a result of the fantastic presence WPS players have at the 2011 Women's World Cup. Thirty-six current WPS players as well as 20 players with prior WPS experience will be representing their countries in the tournament. Not surprisingly, 20 of the current players will be representing the United States.
Since I am assuming you will already be glued to your television when the US plays, let's instead preview some exciting international WPS talent worth getting out of bed to see.
The clear international star is Brazil's superstar, Marta . She has been wowing WPS fans with her skills for the past three years while playing for the Western New York Flash, FC Gold Pride and Los Angeles Sol. Fans have plenty of great reasons to follow her: she's flashy and creative, she scores goals, earns assists, confuses defenders, and her teams are usually on the winning side of games.
Another reason to watch Marta (as if you need another one) is her home country: Brazil - perennial contenders who are itching for their first Women's World Cup title. Brazil is ripe with players with WPS experience. Current Western New York Flash player Maurine , and former WPS stand-outs Adriane, Cristiane, Erika, Formiga, Francielle and Rosana will all be on Brazil's roster as well.
Christine Sinclair has been a long-time star on the Canadian national team and is their all-time caps leader and top goal scorer. She has been partnered up front with Marta on the Western New York Flash and FC Gold Pride for the past two years - a combination that won the WPS Championship last season and is currently leading this season's standings. Put simply, Sinclair is an absolute scoring machine. In six games this season, she has already netted five goals.
On the defensive side, look for cool and consistent play from Western New York Flash defender Candace Champman . Former Washington Freedom goalkeeper
will also have to play well to keep Canada in some of their tougher matches.
Don't overlook Atlanta Beat midfielder Kelly Parker , either. She will most-likely come off the bench for Canada when they need a lift. She can add a real spark to their offense with her scrappy tenacity and competitive drive. Whenever she is on the field, the action tends to follow her.
The WPS is loaded with exciting English talent this year, and the English national team has certainly hit their stride of late. They reached the World Cup without losing a qualifying game and have recently had big wins over the USA and Sweden in friendly matches.
Kelly Smith of the Boston Breakers is arguably the most well-known Brit. The veteran has been on the English national team since 1995, earning numerous accolades. Often found in the world's best player conversation, she is a very dangerous, crafty and intelligent attacker. When Kelly isn't beating you with her skills, she's figuring out how to beat you with her tactics and creativity. Smith's Boston Breakers teammate Alex Scott also knows how to bring a lot of excitement to a game. She possesses seemingly never-ending energy and can frequently be seen darting up the sidelines from her outside back position all the way into the 90th minute. Look for her to defend with resilience and get forward into the attack whenever she has a chance.
Sky Blue FC also has a strong English trio on their roster this season. Eniola Aluko has the kind of speed that makes defenders nervous, and she knows how to use it. Look for her to push the offsides line and take advantage of Kelly Smith's distribution to get in behind defenses. Karen Bardsley had a standout season in net for Sky Blue FC last year before breaking her collarbone in an All-Star Game training session. If she is back in good form during the World Cup, teams will have to work hard to get anything past her. Anita Asante is a versatile player who will come off the bench to provide solid midfield or defensive help.
Ali Riley is definitely the player to watch on the young and energetic New Zealand squad. She has been the Oceanic Football Confederation's Player of the Year for the past two years. Riley has great speed and loves to get up the flanks from her outside back position on the Western New York Flash. When she is playing for New Zealand, however, the question will be whether she will be able to get involved in the attack, or if she will be too occupied with her defending duties to get forward.
Caroline Seger has been a big part of the Western New York Flash attacking powerhouse this season. She has already scored four goals in seven games. As the captain for both club and country, it is clear that she is a respected leader and teammate. Watch for Seger to creatively play-make from an attacking midfield role and then combine with the forwards to create scoring opportunities.
Therese Sjogran joined Sky Blue FC this season after a very successful professional career in her home country. She has appeared in over 200 matches for Sweden and was voted Sweden's best player in 2007. Look for Sjorgran to be a veteran leader in the midfield on a very solid team.
Seger and Sjogran will join former WPS players Jessica Landstrom, Sara Larsson and Kosovare Asllani on an always competitive Swedish squad (currently ranked fifth) in the world).
Certainly not to be overlooked are the upwardly-mobile Japanese and French squads, currently ranked fourth and sixth in the FIFA World Rankings (respectively). New Boston Breakers signee Aya Sameshima will join former WPS players Homare Sowa and Aya Miyama for Japan. Relative newcomer to the top tier, France, also includes former outstanding WPS talents Camille Abily and Sonia Bompastor , both of whom bring a lot of flair and excitement to the game.
Regardless of who you decide to watch in the Women's World Cup, the growing level of play and competitiveness world-wide could make the 2011 edition the most exciting tournament yet. Gone are the days of easy first-round games and waiting until the semi-finals to meet any tough competition. This tournament should offer a more level playing field, meaning more uncertainty in the results than we have seen before. It will be fun to see who excels, who struggles, who gets lucky and who finishes on top of the podium.
Kristin Luckenbill is a former United States international who played for Women's Professsional Soccer's Boston Breakers and Sky Blue FC at the end of a 10 year professional career. She will be contributing to FOX Soccer throughout the 2011 Women's World Cup.