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New-look Flash open new season

They’ve won three championships in three different leagues. As the volatility of women’s professional soccer continues, the Western New York Flash have consistently done one thing – win.

They won the W-League title in 2010, the WPS title in 2011 and the WPSL-Elite title in 2012.

This year, welcome to the inaugural season of the National Women’s Soccer League.

“That’s not confusing at all, right?” Flash coach Aaran Lines said.

It doesn’t matter where they’re playing or what the business model circumstances are. The Flash view every season as another opportunity to focus on winning.

They begin their inaugural season in NWSL today when they travel to New Jersey to play Sky Blue FC. They travel to the Washington Spirit on April 20 before opening at Rochester’s Sahlen’s Stadium on April 27 against the Boston Breakers.

“The pieces are a bit different but we’re approaching the season with the same mentality that we’ve had the last three seasons,” Lines said. “We’re going to go after our goal to finish in a playoff spot and once you’re in there, anything can happen. It’s about being well prepared.”

Among the new pieces is one of the biggest stars in women’s sports as Rochester native Abby Wambach joins the Flash this season. The 2012 FIFA Player of the Year is second all-time in international goals with her 155 tallies, trailing only Mia Hamm by three.

The Flash have six national team members on the roster. Along with Wambach is Carli Lloyd, who scored two goals in the 2012 Olympic gold medal game. Lloyd is currently sidelined with a shoulder injury.

Canadian national team players Bryanna McCarthy and Jodi-Ann Robinson join the Flash along with Mexican national players Veronica Perez and Pamela Tajonar.

This isn’t just a new league. It’s a new approach to women’s professional soccer. The NWSL is being administered by U.S. Soccer. The national governing body is subsidizing the salaries of 24 U.S. Women’s National Team Players while the Canadian Soccer Association and the Federation of Mexican Football are doing the same for 16 national players from their respective countries.

While the stabilizing affect of U.S. Soccer and the national governing bodies subsidizing salaries is seen as crucial for the success of women’s professional soccer in North America, it does change the game just a bit. Those national team players were assigned to their NWSL clubs. And while having Wambach and Lloyd on your squad are pretty good gets, it does mean a different type of integration for the team.

“You don’t just bring players to a club, tell them to play and you win,” Lines said. “Anyone who’s coached at any level knows that it’s one thing having players. Then you have to form them as a group, playing in a system and you have to have a game plan. You’ve got to have a competent staff.

“This year’s a little bit different. We were given players. We’ve got to integrate those players whereas in previous years, I selected everyone. This is a bit of a unique situation.”

But the unique situation opens up opportunity for the continued growth of women’s soccer and another possibility that there’s a spot on the professional sports landscape for the sport.

“I feel positive with the way things have been handled,” Lines said. “U.S. Soccer’s support and involvement is something that wasn’t as apparent in the WPS. So to have their absolute full support now is the only way the game can be sustained.

“Obviously they’re not going to get everything right in the first year. There’s going to be a learning curve, and they’ll adjust and make things better in the second year.”