We review the Westfield W-League 2017/18 Regular Season, which saw Melbourne City and Sydney FC repeat as semifinalists from last season, while Newcastle Jets and Brisbane Roar made the playoffs this season, replacing Perth Glory and Canberra United who made the Grand Final and semifinals respectively in 2016/17.
We also profile a group in the States that is helping women players start a playing career in Europe. We present the 12 teams for this summer's U-20 Women's World Cup in France with the CONMEBOL qualifiers now completed, and talk about a high profile friendly earlier this month between the top league champion clubs of Colombia and Spain.
Westfield W-League Season Update
The story of the season had to be Newcastle Jets making the playoffs for the first since the 2008/09 season, after missing out for eight consecutive seasons. Another surprise was that last season's Grand Finalists Perth Glory fell out of the playoff hunt in the final half of the season with two ties and four losses in their last six games.
The W-League staged 25 of their 54 matches as double headers with their A-League namesakes, which were an unqualified success as far as attendance was concerned. The average regular season attendance was 2,139 from a total of 116,290. The doubleheaders averaged 3,504 compared to 944 for the stand alone matches. The highest attendances were the 8,449 at Western Sydney for the derby with Sydney FC, followed by two large Melbourne Victory crowds, with 6,045 versus Sydney and 5,533 against Newcastle, all three of which were games before an A-League match. Some of the doubleheaders did seem to have a lot of empty seats, but the concept has proven a great way to publicize the women's game and expose more people to the game. When possible, the W-League should continue with the doubleheaders, as well as their weekly matches on Fox TV.
We review the season so far in order of the current table placement.
Brisbane Roar(9-1-2—28 points—First)
The Roar won its third Premiership title, tying Canberra United for most W-League regular season titles. Twenty-three-year-old Australian Allira Toby led the team with 5 goals—three more than she had scored in two previous seasons with Brisbane and Adelaide—with Matilda winger Haley Raso (Portland Thorns) contributing 4 goals. This experienced team relied on veterans Katrina Gorry (Vegalta Sendai of Japan), Claire Polkinghorne (ex-INCA Kobe in Japan and Portland Thorns in the NWSL) and Tameka Butt (Klepp of Norway last season and third all-time in the league in scoring with 49 goals) who combined for only 5 goals but provided veteran leadership that was key to taking the Premiership crown. Portland Thorns and U.S. international defender Carson Pickett was very solid in the back, helping the Roar lead the league in team defense, surrendering only 12 goals all season, 3 fewer than next best Melbourne City; while their 21 goals scored put the Roar fifth in the league. Australian international goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold led the league with six shutouts, taking her to 20 all-time in seven W-League seasons across four different clubs.
Sydney FC (8-1-3—25 points—Second)
The Sky Blues have made the playoffs all 10 years of the W-League—the only team in the league to accomplish that feat. Australian international midfielder Kylie Ledbrooke had 5 goals (2 from the penalty spot) as did veteran international forward Lisa DeVanna, while Australian youth international Remy Siemsen had 4. Chloe Logarzo (Alvadsnes of Norway last season) chipped in three late season goals while Caitlin Foord (whose rights were traded to Portland from Sky Blue FC through Seattle and who is expected to return to the States after two seasons away from the NWSL, including time in Japan with Vegalta Sendai) added two tallies. Sydney tied for the league scoring lead with Newcastle with 26 goals and was third best on defense with only 16 goals allowed.
Newcastle Jets—(6-2-4—20 points—Joint Third)
The Jets made the playoffs for the first time since the W-League's first year 2008/09. They tied for the league lead in scoring with 26 goals but let in 21—tied for fifth in team defense with Western Sydney. American import Katie Stengel—who was recently picked up by Utah Stars in the Boston Breakers dispersal draft, was second in the league in scoring with 10 goals, with American Arin Gilliland of Chicago Red Stars (5goals) and Australian international Emily van Egmond (4 goals) also lethal in front of goal. Longtime Jet Tara Andrews—an original from the first season and a former top goal scorer in the U.S. based W-League (now defunct) with the Colorado Pride in 2015—was limited in her appearances, but will relish the playoff berth after so many misses with her hometown side. Newcastle finished third despite being tied with Melbourne City for points and goal difference, but will play second place Sydney FC in the battle of New South Wales teams because they scored six more goals than did the two-time reigning champions from Victoria State.
Note: On February 10, Tara Andrews scored her first goal of the season in the semifinal versus Sydney FC in the 92nd minute to tie the game 2-2, fighting back from a 2-0 half time deficit and losing veteran defender Hannah Brewer to a red card when she pulled down Lisa De Vanna outside the box on a breakaway to end the half. De Vanna scored the winner for Sydney in front of 2,512 in the 97th minute after U.S. international defender Emily Sonnett dribbled unchallenged for over 25 meters from her own half before feeding De Vanna, who scored the winner to send Sydney FC into their fifth Grand Final in 10 seasons of the Westfield W-League.
Melbourne City(6-2-4—20 points—Joint Third)
Melbourne City's vast array of NWSL loanees and former players needed a 3-0 road victory in the last game over Newcastle Jets—who they ended up tied with on points—to secure a third consecutive playoff spot in their third year in the league, and have a chance to capture their third title—a first for the W-League—which would be consecutive titles as well.
Wales international Jess Fishlock led the team with 5 goals while fellow Seattle Reign and Australian international forward Larissa Crummer was second with three and English international Jodie Taylor had one goal after her mid-season introduction from Arsenal as part of her move to Seattle for 2018. Australian international forward Kyah Simon, who has five goals combined from the Women's World Cup Finals of 2011 and 2015, scored two goals this season in her first year with City and is expected to be back in the NWSL after missing last season; her rights were recently acquired in the Boston Breaker dispersal draft by the Houston Dash.
Canberra United (3-0-4--9 points—Fifth)
Canberra United missed the playoffs for only the second time in their history, after also finishing in fifth place in 20112/13, despite being loaded with talent. English international defender Laura Bassett scored once while Norwegian international forward Elise Thornes had 6, after joining during the season. All-time W-League scoring leader Michelle Heyman added five this season, taking her to 62 total W-League goals.
Perth Glory (4-2-6—14 points—Sixth)
The wheels fell off of the cart for the Glory in the second half of the season as they careened out of a top 2 league position to finish sixth, with only two ties and four losses in their final six games. Perth lost in the Grand Final to Melbourne City last season and have made two Grand Finals in the previous three seasons so this season has to be an extreme letdown. All-World Australian international forward Sam Kerr (Chicago Red Stars) led the league goals to 13 for her second consecutive league scoring championship, after scoring 17 last season with Sky Blue in the NWSL, while little known American and Orlando Pride loanee Rachel Hill scored nine to finish third. Scoring was never the problem for Perth, though Kerr and Hill combined for 22 of the teams 25 goals (third best in the league), with another coming from an Adelaide own goal, but they surrendered 27 in 12 games. The priority next season will be to strengthen their defense.
Melbourne Victory(3-2-7—11 points—Joint Seventh)
Melbourne Victory have missed the playoffs again for the third straight season—their longest run of playoff misses since the league's first two seasons. English international and former Boston Breaker forward Natasha Dowie—who surprisingly was the only 2017 Breaker who was not selected by any of the other nine NWSL teams in the recent league wide dispersal draft—has scored six goals this season. As a team, Melbourne only scored 15 (tied with Adelaide for second worst in the league) and surrendered 19 for fourth best in the league—a credible performance by the backline. Korean Republic import Jeon Ga Eul only scored once but was a solid addition and is reported to be a target for NWSL sides this season.
Western Sydney Wanderers (3-2-7—13 points—Joint Seventh)
Western Sydney Wanderers will miss the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year and they remain the only team besides Adelaide to never make the playoffs. They went with three lesser known imports from Europe but needed more scoring as they accounted for only three goals between them, which contributed to the side scoring only 13 on the season—the lowest total of all 9 W-League sides. Former Dutch international forward Marlous Piette of the Netherlands and Israeli international midfielder Lee Falkon both scored their first and only goals of the season in Round 8 on December 15, while Dutch defender Maruschka Waldus scored in the season's final match last week in a 4-1 loss to Sydney FC.
Lee Falkon, whose mother is American, enjoyed her first season playing in Australia after playing professionally in Germany and Denmark. In an interview with Tribal Football.com before her last match, she said that she found that the W-League had a different style of play from Germany, where it is: "more disciplined, with ball possession, more compact defending and building the game slowly. You're not going forward as fast as you can as in Australia, which is much more physical, much more running and [has] more box-to-box play."
For Israel, Falkon has seen improvement throughout the women's game, such as the recent launch of a youth academy that fields a team in the top league. She feels that, for the Israeli league to thrive, they should strive to compensate the players sufficiently to allow them to not have to work full-time jobs. She actually felt that Australia is a good model for Israel to follow, with a now 10-year-old league that has allowed the national team programs to develop and build in strength. More internationals in the league would help: "make the level of play higher," and almost all the teams have a couple of imports, mostly from North and South America including Brazilians Raissa, Zizi and Adailma at Maccabi Kiryat, Canadian former 2012 U-20 Women's World Cup player international Christable Oduro (ex-University of Memphis) with Ironi Nir Ramat Hasharon FC and American Dana Schwartz (ex-Vanderbilt University) with ASA Tel Aviv University (Falkon's former club). Defender Zizi once played for Zorky in Russia in 2014.
At the national team level, Falkon felt that "More friendly matches are very important. We have to practice playing against the highest level." Even though the results will not come initially, "What we do need to get to this level is to play them to see what we are lacking."
Falkon also holds an American passport as her mother was born in Philadelphia. "One of my goals is to go to the U.S. [to play in NWSL] if not this year, then in the future."
Adelaide United(3-1-8--10 points—Ninth)
For Adelaide, NWSL loanees Danielle Colaprico, Alyssa Mautz, Katie Naughton (all Chicago Red Stars) and Makenzie Doniak (North Carolina Courage) all had strong seasons, with Doniak leading the side with 7 goals—fourth highest in the league—5 more than second place Katie Naughton with 2. Goal scoring was the big issue for Adelaide this year with only 15 in twelve games, ahead of only Western Sydney, who had 13 goals—last year the Reds were second in the league with 31, albeit 10 coming in one game in a 10-2 dismantling of Western Sydney. Adelaide still has never made the playoffs but were optimistic after improvements the last few seasons. Australian youth international Adrianna Jones, who scored 9 goals last year for Adelaide and 13 for Zhuhai Suoka Guangdong Football Club in China earlier this year, had one goal in a season hampered by injury. Longtime Reds defender Jenna McCormick scored the winner in an end of season 2-1 win over Melbourne Victory, her first of the year. She has played with the Reds for six seasons and with Medkila of Norway last season; she also plays another type of football in the Women's Australian Football League (Aussie Rules) with the Adelaide Crows, which will begin its second year of play soon.
British ex-pat runs soccer camps to help American women players start a career in Europe
Simon Deeley runs Pro Soccer Consulting (PSC) which organizes soccer tours, individualized coaching and pro soccer tryouts for men and women. Based in Southern California, they uniquely have been running women's pro camps since 2015 to help players find a European club. A player pays $300 for a 3 day tryout—usually college graduates—in December Deeley had 25 players in a Southern California camp as well as 25 in one held in Florida. He said that he is not looking to place National Team caliber players—many of whom have agents—but the next tier of player who wants to continue their careers. Professional coaches from abroad actually coach the players during the three day events, so that they get to know them as individuals and not just from watching them in the stands. Initially he worked with clubs in Sweden's top two women's leagues, which have always been attractive to North Americans for the high quality of play, long history of support for women's football, prevalence of English speakers and not requiring the 75% threshold of caps from recent internationals for those players from non-European Union nations. Though he still has some former camp players in the second tier Elitistan in Sweden, Iceland has become the top priority, which he feels is "perfect for the player just of out college." Iceland's top two leagues also have a shorter season than the 9 month Swedish league. From his two camps in December of 2017, he is looking to place 9-10 players in Iceland's top two leagues for the 2018 season. For further information, contact [email protected].
Courtney Strode was one of the first Americans through his camp and as a 16 year old was spotted by Martin Sjogren, the then Linkopings coach who is now Norway's women's national team coach. He told her to come back when she turned 18—she could not sign as a non-EU player until that age. She trained with Linkopings but played for two years with Vajxo in Sweden, which ran away with the Elitettan (Second Division) title in 2017 and were promoted to the Damallsvenskan. Strode has signed for KIF Orebro—who were relegated in 2017 and so she will again playing the second division for 2018—along with fellow American forward Hanna Terry, who played for two seasons with the Portland Thorns in the NWSL and has been in Sweden since 2016, and Canadian goalkeeper Nora Abolins (ex-Western Kentucky University and the University of Detroit-Mercy), who was with Orebro last season in the Damallsvenskan after a transfer from second division Ostersund; Abolins is also in her third year in Sweden.
Strode completely bypassed college soccer because her goal was to play professionally. This is still a rare occurrence in the American game, with Lindsey Horan (ex-Paris St. Germain and now Portland Thorns) and Mallory Pugh (Washington Spirit) the notable exceptions. One college was interested in Strobe but when they saw her play, they wanted a post-up forward. She explained her decision emphatically: "I knew that I wanted to do it. I didn't want to do another job while I was playing—soccer is my job. The advantages to playing in Europe are definitely the longer season. In Europe, you play 9-10 months compared to 4-5 months in NWSL. The leagues are better established there." Strobe said that for an American considering going abroad to play, her advice would be: "Someone has to make a lifestyle commitment to sacrifice as a professional. [Putting up with] Cold crappy weather (she is from the San Diego area), you have to really want it and push through the bumps in the road."
Strode would like to play later in her career at France, Germany and England. One club in the U.K. talked to her but she has never played for the national team and did not qualify for an exemption, though she has been in a U-20 U.S. national team camp late last year. She said that: "It would be an honor to play for them [the U.S.]." She stated that she does intend to complete her college education after she finishes playing professionally, maybe in tandem with assistant coaching.
CONMEBOL Sends Brazil and Paraguay to this summer's U-20 Women's World Cup in France.
All 16 finalists are now set for this summer's U-20 Women's World Cup in France. From CONCACAF, we previously reported that Mexico (as champions), the United States and surprising Haiti went through in qualifying last month in Trinidad and Tobago, with the hosts falling at the group stage and Canada losing to Haiti in the third place match. Haiti is the first Caribbean Football Union side to ever make the U-20 Finals. (http://www.tribalfootball.com/articles/the-week-in-women-s-football-boston-breakers-cease-operations-uswnt-destroys-denmark-haiti-make-history-with-u20-world-cup-qualification-4217824)
From South America, powerhouse Brazil and surprising Paraguay moved on to France form the 10 nation CONMEBOL qualifiers also last month, with Brazil going through the final round of the top two teams from each of the first round, 5 team groups. In the crucial game of the final round, Paraguay defeated Colombia 4-2, a bit of surprise as at the senior level, Colombia has made the last two Women's World Cups and advanced to the knockout stage in Canada with some inspiring play. Colombia finished in fourth in their lone U-20 FIFA finals in Germany in 2010, losing the third place match to Korea Republic 1-0. Brazil swept through all 3 games in the final group round with 8-1, 5-0 and 4-0 wins over Paraguay, Venezuela and Colombia respectively. Venezuela finishing the final group with three defeats was a surprise as well; Venezuela made the 2016 U-20 Finals in Papua New Guinea and in the last two editions of the U-17 Women's World Cup, has finished in fourth place.
Paraguay has appeared in three of the five previous U-17 Women's World Cups, falling at the group stages in 2008 in New Zealand, 2014 in Costa Rica and 2016 in Jordan. In eight previous editions of the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup, Paraguay made the finals only once, in 2014 in Canada, defeating Costa Rica 2-1 for their only win.
In the First Round of 2018 CONMEBOL Qualifying Play held in Ecuador, in Group A Paraguay won the group undefeated with 12 points and Colombia second on 9—with Paraguay defeating Colombia 6-1 in their meeting—and Ecuador, Argentina and Peru all tied with 3 points. Group B was closer has Brazil won with 12 points, while Venezuela pipped Chile with 7 points to 6—with the crucial result being a 1-0 victory over the Chileans—and Uruguay finished fourth with 3 points with Bolivia last on 1 point.
In France, the 16 finalists are: from Asia will be Japan, China PR and Korea DPR, while Nigeria and Ghana advance from CAF. New Zealand is the Oceania qualifier, Mexico, the U.S. and Haiti will contend for CONCACAF, Brazil and Paraguay will represent CONMEBOL and UEFA will send England, Germany, Netherlands, and Spain, with France advancing as host. The tournament will run from August 5 through August 24 in four venues in the North of France.
Champions of Spain and Colombia meet at the Club Level
Atletico Madrid of Spain tied Santa Fe of Colombia 1-1 in a high profile club international friendly on February 1. Both teams are reigning champions—Santa Fe of the Colombian Liga Aguila Femenina and Atletico Madrid of the Iberdrola League. The teams intend to play a rematch later in the year in Colombia. The game was set to be broadcast by Fox Sports in Colombia and beIN LaLiga in Spain. These games, though costly to participate in with travel costs, are important for the growth of the women's game, particularly as we are still waiting on FIFA to launch a women's club World Cup.
Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.
Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey