October 8, 2016
HERE, THERE, EVERYWHERE
Flash coach Paul Riley has directed 9 ex-Albertson Fury players as teenagers who now perform in the NWSL
By Michael Lewis
|Allie Long, one of nine former Albertson Fury players performing in the NWSL, enjoyed an all-star season for the Portland Timbers.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Just about every time you turn around in the National Women's Soccer League, there's a good chance you will find a former member of the Albertson Fury playing.
Let's see, there's striker Crystal Dunn on the Washington Spirit, goalkeeper Michelle Betos, defender Emily Menges and midfielder Allie Long, defenders Becca Moros and Cari Roccaro on the Houston Dynamo, forward Jasmyne Spencer on the Orlando Pride, defender Brittany Taylor on FC Kansas City and midfielder Meredith Speck on the Western New York Flash.
Whew! Now, that's quite a lot from one youth soccer club.
For the record, there are nine players who once toiled for Western New York Flash head coach Paul Riley when he directed the Albertson Fury. Riley hasn't cut ties with the club. Since becoming a head coach in the NWSL, he has become director of football for the Long Island Junior Soccer League club.
Those nine players could very well form the core of an NWSL side.
"It's just fantastic," Riley said earlier this week. "That's what I am most proud about, just the character they've shown. I think the intensity towards practice and what practice means to them and getting better and developing their game to another level; not to be satisfied to be in the professional league, but want to make an impact in the professional league. A lot of them have made an impact."
Of course, the best known player is Dunn, who turned rejection from the United States' 2015 Women's World Cup team into an MVP and Golden Boot season last year. And there's Long, who impressed U.S. women's national coach Jill Ellis so much that she was given the opportunity play in her first major FIFA tournament -- the Rio Olympics -- at the age of 28 this past summer. Long also was a league MVP finalist and was named to the NWSL Best XI.
After directing these players for so many years as teenagers, Riley has gotten to know the strengths and weaknesses of each, which certainly can work in the coach’s favor. Last week the Flash defeated the Portland Thorns in the playoff semifinals, 4-3. He remembered the first time Western New York played Portland this season.
Riley guided the Thorns in 2014 and 2015.
"Emily said, 'All I can hear is you telling them, 'Push it to her left foot, push it to her left foot,' " Riley said with a laugh. "She doesn't have that much of a left foot. It was just funny. We just laughed about it. I have great rapport with the three in Portland. It's just a good banter between the group. The game finishes. At the end of the day we're professionals. We're competitive in the game, we shake hands, hug each other and have a good chat about old times and life goes on. You go onto the next game.
"You never forget though. That's the most important thing. No matter how tough the game is and how competitive the game is, I send them a text a day later or two days later: 'Hey, good job. Keep working, keep doing well.' They'll always be my players to me. Whether they're 13 or whether they're 30, they'll still be the same to me. "
Every player is special to Riley. He cited the example of Spencer, whom the Fury rescued from a lower division LIJSL team. The 5-1 dynamo went onto to star at the University of Maryland and found a place in the NWSL, first with WNY and now with the Orlando Pride. Now 26, Spencer scored four goals in 17 starts over 20 appearances this season.
"It would have been great to coach Jas again," Riley said. "I have a big heart for Jas because she's one of those players that most people wrote off. She came from like a Division 5 team from Bay Shore. We found her in an indoor place at Sport Time in our indoor league. She was like 12, 13. ... Jas has continued her career and has gotten better and better. She just wants to get better. And every time they [Jas and former players] come back they come and train with us, which is fabulous. Jas always comes back, always trains, coaches with me through the winter in the offseason. It's a privilege to have them still around. It's good that they talk to the younger players. They're great role models for the club."
The Albertson Fury soccer factory is far from finished churning out players.
Among those who could be playing professionally next year include University of Virginia senior defender-midfielder Krystina Iordanou and Hofstra University senior midfielder Jill Mulholland. Then there's Clemson University junior midfielder-forward Shannon Horgan and Quinnipiac University sophomore defender Caroline DeBonis, among others.
"It's a good group coming out this year," Riley said. "It's a good age group for our club. There might be a couple of others, too. We'll see what happens.
"It's unbelievable really. I'm really proud of them for sure. The pipeline is still going. I love to see them play in college. I try to make as many college games as I can. Hopefully, maybe we can put them all on one team one day. That would be really fabulous."