Best of the WUSA
By Scott French, Soccer America
It's time for Soccer America to honor the best the WUSA had to offer this year, so here's our choices for MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Coach of the Year. Our WUSA XI-plus a second team-will be presented in next week.
MVP: Tiffeny Milbrett, New York Power.
The WUSA's top offensive force carried New York to the postseason almost by herself. She scored 16 of the Power's 30 regular-season goals, a good number of them through sheer individual effort.
Coach Pat Farmer says his team too often relied solely on Milbrett, expecting her to beat entire defenses on her own. That she did so regularly is testament to skills that have pushed her past U.S. teammate Mia Hamm and China's Sun Wen as the world's best female player.
Critics point out that she scored nine of the 16 against Boston and Carolina, two of the poorer teams in the league, and managed just one goal against Atlanta and none in four games against Bay Area. What they forget is that the five goals she tallied vs. the Breakers and four against the Courage were decisive in New York's season sweeps of those clubs, results that meant the difference between the semifinals and watching the playoffs from home.
COACH OF THE YEAR: Ian Sawyers, Bay Area CyberRays.
Much has been made of the CyberRays worst-to-first climb, with good reason. After six games-nearly a third of the campaign-Bay Area stood eighth with a 1-4-1 record. They went unbeaten over the next 10 games and 10-1-3 over the next 14 to grab the top spot in the WUSA, which they surrendered to Atlanta in the regular season finale while resting eight regulars.
Sawyers did nearly everything right, making deft draft selections (Kelly Lindsey, Carey Dorn), incisive adjustments (giving Christina Bell a more prominent role, bringing in Dianne Alagich and then Gina Oceguera to bolster his back line) and getting the more balanced contributions from his roster than any coach in the league.
DEFENDER OF THE YEAR: Doris Fitschen, Philadelphia Charge.
The German defender's importance is best illustrated by the Charge's record when she was unavailable: 1-6-2.
Fitschen has long been one of the world's premier defenders, but her play for Philadelphia-and the leadership she provided the club- was revelatory. If not for a fractured wrist that kept her out of the Charge's final four games and the semifinal at Atlanta, Philly might be taking on Bay Area in Foxboro this week.
No question the Beat would have found it far more difficult to overcome its 2-0 deficit had Fitschen been on the field.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Kelly Lindsey, Bay Area CyberRays.
Everybody, when you come down to it, was a rookie in the WUSA in 2001, but we're limiting this to players who were part of college programs last fall.
Lindsey, overshadowed by bigger-name teammates while at Notre Dame, was the rock in the middle of the CyberRays' back line, a critical component of their success and among the WUSA's best defensive players.
She's played 90 minutes in 19 of the Rays' 22 matches-Bay Area went 0-2-1 when she wasn't on the field-teaming with outside backs Brandi Chastain and Thori Bryan to lead the league's second-best defensive unit.
Scott French is a senior editor at Soccer America magazine.