Today marks the first competitive match for the Sounders Women since the whatever-that-was season of 2012, when the team was temporarily stacked with national team players thanks to collapse of the WPS pro league. Those pro players have moved on to various allocations in NWSL, as has the team's most important player last season: Veronica Perez, who was allocated to Western New York as a Mexican national team player. Head coach Michelle French was hired to coach the US U20 team and GM Amy Carnell left to run the Seattle Reign (temporarily), completing the exodus.
This season's edition looks more like a typical W-League team — stocked with current collegiate players — but still has a chance to be one of the best Sounders Women teams in years. The new head coach and GM is Hubert Busby, Jr, who's built his resume as a coach and a member of the front office of the very successful Vancouver Whitecaps Women organization. And they've added long-time UW head coach Lesle Gallimore, who certainly has her finger on the pulse of local collegiate soccer talent, as Technical Director.
On the field, the team is very strong by W-League standards, featuring 13 players with senior or youth national team experience for the US, Canada, and Australia. Forward Janine Beckie was just named one of the top 10 collegiate forwards in the country by TopDrawerSoccer. The team returns local youth national team midfielder Isabel Farrell and adds 15-year-old Maddie Shultz, who was just called up to the US U16 national team. They join Sounders Women veterans like Tafara Pulse and Allie Beahan, who can bring some continuity to a club that's obviously gone through a lot of changes quickly.
Last season the team set records for attendance and had, on some weeks, one of the highest attendances outside of MLS in US club soccer, men or women. With the departure of the national teamers and the addition of the Seattle Reign as a local pro side, it's a mystery where the attendance will fall this year. The Jet City Auxiliary remains an active and dedicated supporters group, and residual interest from last season along with the Sounders Women's close branding connections with the incredibly popular Sounders men will hopefully keep them among the top W-League teams in attendance and atmosphere.
Travel will also be a challenge this season, as both Vancouver and Victoria have left the W-League, leaving the two teams in Colorado as Seattle's nearest opponents. The 7-team division is rounded out by 4 California clubs — including the Pali Blues, who dominated the division last season despite Seattle's all-star roster. That schedule's been alleviated somewhat by a very clustered Sounders schedule. After this season-opening two-game homestand, they'll have a road trip of 3 games in 5 days in California, followed by a weekend trip to Colorado for two more, then 4 consecutive matches at home before finishing off the season with a one-game trip back to California. With that kind of stutter-step match congestion, it's a good thing the roster looks so deep.
Tonight they take on the LA Strikers, who were one of the weaker teams in the division last season. Starting off the season on a winning streak would be a nice lift for the team and would certainly separate them from the Sounders men and the Reign, who started off their 2013 seasons poorly.
The stream will be up on USLNation and judging by the preseason, it should be as good or better than many of the NWSL streams.