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April 7, 2010 > Gold Pride ready for season to begin

Gold Pride ready for season to begin

By Giovanni Albanese Jr.

FC Gold Pride had a season to forget in 2009. In its inaugural season, the Pride went 4-10-6, accumulating 18 points while finishing last in Women’s Professional Soccer’s seven-team league.

WPS made some changes in the off season: first came the addition of two organizations, the Atlanta Beat and Philadelphia Independence; then it lost the 2009 regular-season champion Los Angeles Sol when no one stepped to the plate to take on the team as a majority owner.

For the Hayward, Calif., based Gold Pride, in order to avoid duplicating its ’09 season, General Manager Ilisa Kessler made many changes to the team’s roster.

Some significant departures from the Pride include Leigh Ann Robinson, Leslie Osborne, Tiffany Weimer, Formiga, Adriane and Allison Whitworth; meanwhile, the team made a splash with its additions, acquiring the top two goal scorers from ‘09 -- Marta and Camille Abily -- as well as Candace Chapman, Ali Riley, Kelley O’Hara, Kiki Bosio, among others, to form one of the deepest teams in WPS.

“I think we’re much deeper this year than we were last year,” said Gold Pride coach Albertin Montoya. “Last year when we were missing a few of our key players (our level of play) went down considerably; this year, things have changed a little bit.”

Some of the Pride players will be with their respective national team at various points throughout the season attempting to qualify their country into the 2011 Women’s World Cup, giving the club a chance to show off its depth. A couple holdovers from the 2009 Pride, USA National Teamers Rachel Buehler and Nicole Barnhart, believe the team will be just fine in their absence.

“I think being out here practicing together everyday, you’re going to improve whether you’re at the top or bottom of the roster,” said Barnhart, a goalkeeper for the United States Women’s National Team. “It’s going to get everyone prepared when it’s time for them to step on the field.”

“We have great depth,” said Buehler, the Pride’s captain and shut-down defender. “We have a lot of players that will step up to the occasion … those will be great opportunities for them to get some time on the field and show their stuff.”

A season ago, FC Gold Pride lost Kandace Wilson to a season-ending injury in a May 11 game against the since-defunct Sol. At the time of the injury, the Pride were in the midst of a playoff chase. Without Wilson, the bottom fell out, and the Pride faded fast.

“I didn’t think one player could have such a big impact on a team, but when Kandace had her season-ending injury, it seriously hurt us,” said Kessler. “We lost speed and an aggressive defender … we are looking forward to having her back in our back line.”

Gold Pride will have its full compliment of players when it begins the 2010 regular season on the road against the Saint Louis Athletica on Sunday, April 11. It will be the club’s first game against a WPS foe since its regular-season finale against Athletica on August 18, a 1-1 tie.

WPS’ lone West Coast club, instead, played a preseason match against Japanese JI League club TEPCO Mareeze (4-1 Gold Pride win) and the University of San Francisco women’s soccer team (10-0 Pride victory). In addition to the preseason matches, the Pride played a number of closed scrimmages with good success, including a 3-0 win over TEPCO.

Needless to say, the club is champing at the bit to get its first crack at a WPS club. But they don’t feel playing against lesser competition will hurt them once the regular season begins.

“We’ve been gearing up for this first game of the season for the past month,” said Barnhart, the Pride’s starting keeper. “I don’t think it matters who you play in preparation for it as long as you get some games in; getting that time playing together; getting to know each other, knowing the strengths and weaknesses, what each player does; and what we need to do to get the results.”

And on all accounts, the players of the Pride are getting to know each other at a rapid rate.

“This year, we have a great vibe on the team,” said Buehler. “Everyone is excited to be here. There’s a lot of positive energy … we’re all meshing really well. It’s a lot of fun.”

Coach Montoya holds the same sentiment as his team’s captain, and feels the Pride are all set for its season opener.

“We’re ready,” said Montoya about the opening night game vs. Athletica. “Things have come together, and we’re just finalizing and fine tuning before we head to St. Louis.”

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