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Flash are ready for new start; WPSL-Elite debut will be Saturday

The business side of women's professional soccer continues to be a complicated and often frustrating road to navigate. And yet, the Western New York Flash remain committed to their mission to be a quality professional organization playing at the top level of women's soccer.

That can be a challenging proposition, especially considering that Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) suspended operations over the summer while the league is in a legal dispute with one of the franchise owners.

But the Flash found themselves a new home -- the WPSL-Elite League. That's now the highest level of professional women's soccer in the United States. For many of the players, call the league whatever you want. It's all about getting the opportunity to play and keeping women's pro soccer somewhere on the radar screen.

"For me just because it's called something different doesn't mean it is different," said McCall Zerboni, one of the returning players for the Flash. "We'll still manage ourselves as complete professionals in every manner. This is the exact same thing for us. We're still going to take it as serious and put everything into it that we did last year."

This year opens up at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Sahlen's Stadium in Rochester. They host FC Indiana, part of the eight-team league. The season features 14 games, seven of them at the Rochester stadium.

The Flash have been in the position of entering a new league before. This marks the third league in three years for the organization, which won the semi-pro W-League championship in 2010 before moving to the WPS. In their first year playing with the big girls, the Flash won the championship.

Two leagues. Two titles.

The organization must be doing something right. Even with the change in league and turnover in players, there is momentum building for the Flash.

"We aspire to do things in a very professional manner to help grow the game," Flash coach Aaran Lines said. "We want to be leaders in that. It's exciting to go into a new league and a new format but the goal of this club will always be to challenge for a championship. Whether it pans out that way depends on so many variables. But we're excited. We definitely don't take winning for granted."

The bigger names from last year's Flash team have left as Marta and Caroline Seger are playing professionally in Sweden while Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan are concentrating on their national team training leading up to the London Olympics. In fact most of the top players in women's soccer will forgo playing with a club team this season in favor of full-time training with their respective national teams.

But that doesn't mean a huge drop-off in the caliber of players on the field. There are still national team members in the WPSL-Elite, including Meghan Klingenberg, who signed with the Flash earlier this month. She played for Boston in the WPS last year and has been called up to play on the U.S. Women's National team this spring.

Of the 21 players on the Flash roster, 15 either played in WPS previously or were drafted by a WPS team before the league suspended operations.

For many members of the Flash, it's not just about soccer pedigree, but also about the quality of the team chemistry. The Flash seem to have a good start at creating a fun yet focused atmosphere. Take goalkeeper Brittany Cameron who after practice at Sahlen's Stadium Wednesday afternoon was sporting a pair of oversized glass frames -- an item she found discarded on the grounds from the previous night's Rochester Rhinos game.

"We're joking in the locker room. Playing music loud. People are dancing," Cameron said. "That's what makes a team who we are. It's about our character and how we treat each other off the field. That contributes a big part to the final product on the field. We're trying to have a good time and hopefully that will lighten things up."