This week, we catch up on some news from the NWSL as their 4 game Fall Series has started in league cities this month and will finish in mid-October; we include some thoughts from some team coaches about what the games mean to themselves and their players. We touch on some interesting player signings for the Fall Series of internationals or Americans with experience abroad and a few more transfers/loan deals from U.S. Soccer/NWSL sides to clubs in other countries. We also discuss that Hope Solo was denied entry to the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame and background on the transitional ownership change in Utah.
NWSL Fall Series for the Verizon Community Shield Begins Play in League Cities
The National Women's Soccer League—together with Verizon telecommunications company—has launched the Verizon Community Shield, a competition for all of the league's nine teams, which are divided into 3 team pods based on location (which will minimize travel as the U.S. is still trying to manage the COVID-19 virus) and will play four matches in total—home and away—against the other two teams in their group. Each of the NWSL's nine clubs will partner with small businesses or programs in their community, and the team with the most points at the end of the Fall Series will be awarded the Verizon Community Shield and the opportunity to present a grant of $25,000 to their community partner, made possible by Verizon. $15,000 and $10,000 awards will be presented to the second and third-place teams, respectively. Teams will identify a small business or organization in their markets to feature and play for throughout the 2020 NWSL Fall Series. With the help of short vignettes, each club will introduce and tell the story of a business they value and support. These vignettes and stories will be highlighted by the league and teams on social media and through other means. Verizon signed a multi-year sponsorship deal with the league this year and also supported the NWSL's 2020 Challenge Cup competition this summer when the league was the first North American sports league to begin play in any sport.
During the Fall Series, there will be a televised NWSL Game of the Week on the CBS Television Network every Saturday in September and on Saturday, October 17, with the CBS Sports Network airing two games on Saturdays in October. CBS All Access will exclusively stream four games in the U.S. and Canada as well as the CBS broadcast coverage. Twitch will stream every game internationally and seven additional games in the U.S. and Canada.
The National Women's Soccer League had to make adjustments to the second weekend of matches due to air quality concerns in the Pacific Northwest region with massive brush and forest fires, particularly just east of the Portland-Salem, Oregon corridor but also in Washington State. The North Carolina Courage versus Houston Dash match was switched from Friday, September 12 to on Saturday September 13 and shown on CBS from Sahlen's Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina, with no fans allowed entry.The originally scheduled match on CBS on Saturday the 13thbetween rival Pacific Northwest sides Portland Thorns FC and OL Reign of Tacoma at Providence Park in downtown Portland was first rescheduled for Tuesday, September15 and then moved to Wednesday September 30, as the fires engulf large parts of the Oregon coast and central part of the state. The game will stream online on Twitch.
Sky Blue FC defeated the Washington Spirit 2-1 in the Fall Series opener on September 5 in suburban Virginia, with Midge Purce scoring a late goal in the second minute of extra time. The Spirit side bounced back the next weekend (again at home) on September 12 with two goals in the final twenty minutes—the winner scored by Jessie Scarpa from forward Crystal Thomas's assist—to overturn a Chicago Red Stars lead. Thomas is a U.S. U-20 and U-23 international who played at the University of Notre Dame, Georgetown and with Medkila of Norway, Valur of Iceland and Perth Glory last winter, after her first season in the league with Washington in 2019.Scarpa is in her first year at Washington after playing with Lidkoping of Sweden's Elitettan (Second Division in 2019) after time at the University of North Carolina and with the U.S. U-20 national team.
Spirit head coach Richie Burke talked with this reporter about the fact that his team was not active in loaning players abroad compared with other NWSL sides such as North Carolina or Houston and he said that there wasn't much demand either way from Spirit players, "We would approve those who wanted to go but they wanted to train and play in our environment. Plus they would have to return for NWSL preseason in the November 2020-January 2021 time frame and teams in Europe (Richie is a native of Liverpool and coached on the men's side in Scotland with Livingston FC in 2012-13) would want them through the Group Stage of the WCL [UEFA Women's Champions League]." He did say that he has one player who may go to a team in Portugal on loan, which has "a dire need." We then talked specifically about the Westfield W-League in Australia, which is changing from a 4 month winter season—which was perfect in allowing NWSL players to be able to go on loan and then return to the States ahead of pre-season training—to an expanded 7-8 month season from December through July. Burke's starting goalkeeper, Aubrey Bledsoe, has had two outstanding W-League season with Sydney FC since arriving them in 2018/19 but with the change in format, he said that, "His players would be there for 2.5 months max and miss the crucial playoffs. The extra money would be nice [for them] but he doesn't see it happening this year [for any of his players]."
Burke also talk about Rose Lavelle's recent move to Manchester City and said that it was the "bane of his existence" dealing with her limitation on playing time which was dictated by U.S. Soccer during the Challenge Cup. Lavelle and other national team players are direct employees of U.S. Soccer rather than the NWSL clubs. Burke said that if it was up to Lavelle, "She would have played with a leg hanging off her and it wasn't their [Spirit] call or decision." During the quarterfinal loss in July's Challenge Cup to Sky Blue FC, he was restricted to only playing Lavelle for 30 minutes. At the time Burke said, "I would have liked to play her from the get-go, to be honest, but she's under minutes restriction from U.S. Soccer. We had no real choice in the matter." He said their focus now, during this unusual year, was on the 2021 season, particularly on deciding what additions he should make to his squad and evaluating his players to determine who can do the job.
The game of the tournament so far was in Cary, North Carolina where the Courage won a 4-3 goal fest over the Houston Dash. Billed as the 2019 Champions (Courage) versus the 2020 Challenge Cup Champions (Dash), Houston led 3-2 late in the match despite playing with 10 after losing Canadian international defender Alyssa Chapman after her second yellow card offense early in the second half (53rd minute). Goals by U.S. international Lynn Williams and Brazilian international Debinha within four minutes (83rd and 86th minutes, respectively) of the end of regulation time propelled the Courage to the win. Debinha led the Courage with 2 goals and earned a penalty for the opening goal by her captain and U.S. national team defender Abby Dahlkemper in the 18th minute. For the Dash, Shea Groom (the MVP of the Challenge Cup championship game win in July over Chicago Red Stars 2-0) continued her rich vein of form with 2 assists on goals by Veronica Latsko and Kristie Mewis.
Even though fans are not allowed to attend these matches (so far), teams are traveling within their 3 team pods for the 4 games unlike the central location event in Utah earlier this summer. The Courage-Dash game drew the fourth highest television audience on CBS to watch an NWSL game with 370,000, just behind the 381,000 who saw the D.C.-Sky Blue game (see above) and both trailed records set during the summer's Challenge Cup series with 653,000 for the Final and 572,000 for the opener.
The win kept the Courage's 819-day home undefeated streak alive. The Courage has not been defeated in NWSL play at Sahlen's Stadium since June 16, 2018 (to Utah 1-0 on a 94th minute goal from Brittany Ratcliffe) with 20 home wins since that loss. Courage head coach Paul Riley said after the match, "I think it was probably a 50/50 game. I think a draw would've been a fair result. They had the first half, we had the second half. Some great goals and some good entertainment. It was not maybe such quality play at times, certainly from our perspective, and hopefully, maybe we can improve that for next week."
Riley admitted in a Conference Call with this reporter on September 10, just prior to the Dash game, that he is really focused during this fall season on preparing for the 2021 season. Riley said, "Championships are based on 24-26 games not 7 [for Chicago and Houston who made the Challenge Cup Final this summer]." He admitted that he had a number of late 'step-outs' for the Fall Series in New Zealand international and team captain Abby Ercig and American internationals Jess McDonald and Kristin Hamilton, because they were not comfortable with the health protocols for incoming teams. Crystal Dunn and Jalene Hinkle also stepped out of playing earlier (all NWSL players will receive their full salaries during this COVID-19 disrupted season, whether or not they decide to play or not). Riley explained, "We are thinking performance rather than results. It is interesting the two teams in our pod we have not met in 2020—[with Orlando not playing at all and the Dash not meeting the Courage in the Challenge Cup Champions Dash in Utah, since North Carolina was eliminated in the Quarterfinals.] Riley finally said, "We are still interested in competing for the Community Cup which will allow the wining team a large grant for a local community project, which is sponsored by telecommunications giant Verizon. Also, players are trying to convince the staff for a squad spot, particularly with an expansion draft coming up for Louisville's entry to the league in 2021." Riley said that it becomes an opportunity for low draft choice to make an impression. (See more thoughts from Paul Riley below).
NWSL Player Signings
Ghanaian international Jennifer Cudjoe signs long term contract with Sky Blue FC/Thailand's Miranda Nild signs short term deal with OL Reign
Midfielder and Ghanaian international midfielder Jennifer Cudjoe and Sky Blue FC have agreed to a multi-year deal following her outstanding performance in this past summer's 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup in Utah. It is Cudjoe's second contract with Sky Blue FC after she earned a short-term contract during the team's open tryouts ahead of the 2020 Challenge Cup. Cudjoe said upon signing the contract, "I am excited to continue my journey with Sky Blue. This is a dream for me, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity they gave me. I want to thank each of my teammates for welcoming me with open arms and helping me grow as a player. I am going to give my all to the Club and work harder to help achieve our goal." While on the short-term contract, she appeared in all six Sky Blue matches and started four during the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup. Cudjoe completed 128 passes in her 368 minutes of play, with an 80.5% pass completion rate. Cudjoe (26) represented Ghana in both the FIFA U-17 and U-20 Women's World Cups. She then went on the play for Ghana's full team, the Black Queens. Cudjoe was also named the Female Footballer of the Year by the Sports Writers Association of Ghana in 2015. Stateside, Cudjoe began her career at Northeastern State University, where she earned the Player of the Year award in 2014. Following college, she played for Asheville City SC in the WPSL and was named to the league's All-Star team three times.
Another international signing a NWSL contract was Thailand international forward Miranda Nild, who agreed to terms with OL Reign through the end of the 2020 season. Nild played in the 2019 Women's World Cup in France and debuted for Thailand in 2017. She won the 2019 Lithuanian A Lyga with Gintra Universitetas following her collegiate career at University of California-Berkeley. Nild was born of the U.S. but qualifies to play for Thailand through her father. The signings of Cudjoe and Nild show that there are internationals that have not been selected through the NWSL College Draft but can bring unique skills and experience to these clubs.
Jamaican and Canadian internationals sign contracts with NWSL Sides—Kizer goes to Norway
For the Houston Dash, their Jamaican international forward Kayla McCoy will not play in the fall NWSL Community Shield series due to a knee injury she suffered during training. The Dash signed fellow Jamaican international Lauren Silver to a short-term contract through the end of the 2020 season. Silver has 24 caps and a goal with the Jamaican Women's National Team; she spent the 2019 season with Norwegian side
Trondheims-Ørn. Silver, who was born in the U.S., has also played in the French,
Scottish and Swedish leagues. The 27-year-old started her professional career as a trialist when the Dash signed her to the 2015 pre-season roster and then went abroad. The Miami native played four seasons with the University of Florida from 2011 to 2014.
Orlando signed another Jamaican international in Daneisha Blackwood, joining her fellow Reggae Girl Konya Plummer on the Pride roster. A graduate of West Florida University, Blackwood last played for Slavia Prague in the Czech First Division. The Pride also signed Canadian Jordyn Listro to a short-term contract. A graduate of the University of South Florida, Listro comes to the Pride following a stint with UD Granadilla Tenerife in Spain's Primera División. A Toronto native, Listro spent 2013-16 at USF, totaling 82 appearances with 75 starts, setting a school record for appearances throughout her collegiate career. Listro is a Canadian youth international who played for Canada in the 2012 U-17 Women's World Cup in Azerbaijan. Both Blackwood and Listro will hold international roster spots for the Pride, and will be eligible to play pending receipt of their P-1 visas, which means that they have to impress during this limited fall season since there are so few international roster spots available in the league (four).
Houston Dash midfielder CeCe Kizer signed a new contract with the Dash through the 2022 season and then went on loan to Kolbotn IL in Norway's Toppserien until the end of 2020, which will allow her to finish the league season in Norway. She was the
13th overall pick in the 2019 NWSL College Draft by Houston after a successful four-year career at the University of Mississippi, where she left as the program's leader in goals with 48 in 83 games. In 2019 she started in two of her 16 appearances with 1 assist for the Dash. Kolbotn current lies in 8th place in the 10 team league, with a 2-46 (W-D-L) record for 10 points. Former Norwegian U-19 international Johanne Fridlund leads the side with 4 goals. Australian defender Nikola Orgill (27) joined the club for this season after 2 years at Canberra United and 5 years in the W-League.
Press and Heath Moves to Manchester United are Confirmed/Hope Solo Denied Entry to the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame
It has been confirmed that Portland Thorns midfielder Tobin Heath and Utah Royals forward Christen Press—both two-time Women's World Cup winners—have transferred to Manchester United in the FA Super League. The NWSL teams retain their rights should they return to the U.S. in the future. Heath has been with Portland since 2013 after playing in WPS and won NWSL Championships in 2013 and 2017; she also was a three time NWSL Best XI selection (2016, 2018, 2019). Heath has appeared in 70 regular-season matches in the NWSL (63 starts), recording 12 goals and 24 assists. Heath was the 2010 Number 1 Overall Draft Choice for the expansion Atlanta Beat in WPS and then was traded to Sky Blue FC for the 2011 season, before the league folded prior to the launch of its fourth year in 2012.She had a short spell in France in 2013-14 with PSG. During her career with the national team, Heath has made 168 appearances, registering 33 goals and 40 assists. Heath won two Olympic Gold medals (2008 and 2012) while Press was an alternate with the 2012 London side and did not receive a medal. Press has 58 goals and 37 assists in 138 international matches.
Both players are picked up by Man United until the end of the 2020-21 season. Coach Craig Harrington of Utah described Press's departure to this reporter on September 11 as a loan agreement and facilitated Press' ability to gain regular play—which just hasn't been possible with the start and stop nature of the NWSL games this season because of the continued high impact of positive COVID-19 cases across the U.S. since February. As national team players, it is essential that they both see regular action
For Press, in her two and a half years with the Royals, she appeared in 25 matches and recorded 10 goals and four assists, good for the second-most in club history (beginning with the 2018 season) for both categories. She spent four seasons with Chicago Red Stars and had 45 goals and 10 assists in 85 NWSL games in total. She sat out the Challenge Cup series because of COVID concerns, but now she seems to have no problem with traveling overseas and quarantining per UK regulations. Her commitment to the NWSL has always been questioned by some and this move, though good for United, recalls her snit when she refused to go to the Houston Dash for the 2018 season after being traded from Chicago. She instead joined a former side in Kopparbergs/Goteborg in Sweden for half a season (telling their press that this was a permanent move) and then leaving midseason for Utah—after initially turning them down in the original Chicago trade talks. She has proceeded to score only 10 goals in two seasons in Utah compared to 11 in 2017 with Chicago for albeit a more defensive side. One coach who wished to remain anonymous once told me when talking about a Nightmare 11 to coach, that if he had Press and goalkeeper Hope Solo on his team, that, "He would just walk away because he would never be able to depend on them showing up or actually caring about their team." He had some other players on that list but that is best for another column—perhaps.
As an aside, Hope Solo was denied entry recently in her first year eligible for the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame. On her goalkeeping record, she should be a shoe-in, but her continual conflict with coaches, teammates, U.S. Soccer officials, media, etc. definitely became a stumbling block. She had the famous meltdown interview after the infamous 4-0 2007 Women's World Cup semifinal blasting by Brazil, in which many interpreted her comments against then USWNT coach Greg Ryan as a slap at 1999 WWC goalkeeping hero Briana Scurry. Ryan benched regular starter Solo for the match because of Scurry's past success against the Marta-led Brazilians but the entire team was overwhelmed by the silky and vibrant play of their opponents. I covered that World Cup and Brazil and Australia were revelations while the Americans seemed out of joint and not in sync through much of the tournament. Solo was sent home separately from the other players and some players ostracized her for months. She also had assault charges filed against her by a family member in 2014 that were later dropped. In France last summer before the U.S. versus Sweden group match, she made allegations on Swedish Television about U.S. head coach Jill Ellis ordering her to delay play in the 2016 Olympic Games Quarterfinal penalty kick loss against the Swedes, though two years before Solo had referred to the Swedish players as 'cowards' after the match. After the U.S. handily defeated Sweden 2-0 in each team's final group game in Le Havre last summer, Ellis was asked about the comments (not by this reporter) and the chill in the room was noticeable (and the question was not really answered). For on field issues, Solo should be in the Hall of Fame for winning 2 Olympic Gold Medals and the 2015 World Cup. Interestingly World Cup winners Shannon Boxx, Lauren (Cheney) Holiday and Kate Markgraf (now the General Manager of the U.S. Women's National Team) were not elected on the first ballot either, which should lead to some reform on the voting standards, currently involving current Hall of Famers, various national team and professional franchise managers, coaches and commissioners as well as members of the media (again not this reporter). Solo even ran for the position of U.S. Soccer Federation President in 2018 (still the thought of what would have happened if she had won—not ever realistic—would be more devastating to the sport than anything COVID-19 threw at it this year). This reporter suspects that she will be enshrined in the next few years, along with the other three ignored this year.
Two-time U.S. Women's World Cup winning forward Alex Morgan (31), who recently gave birth to her first child, has been loaned by Orlando Pride (really U.S. Soccer which controls all national team player contracts) to Tottenham Hotspur in England's FA Super League. Orlando Pride head coach Marc Skinner said about the move in a conference call, "The decision for Alex was pretty simple; it was either a sustained period of growth over a number of games or exposure to four games over a short period of time [if she stayed in Orlando]. It will benefit Orlando and Alex and of course the national team by Alex gaining that experience and playing more games. It was a really simple decision in this period….I know Alex will come back a better player from the experience that she's having over there and that will benefit us going forwards."
This is Morgan's second time playing abroad, having joined Olympique Lyon in France during the 2016-17 season. This loan agreement was a bit of a surprise as Morgan has just recently returned to training with Orlando and her head coach Marc Skinner said in an earlier conference call with media the previous week that he felt that she would play during their four game Fall Series matches. Spurs came in with a late request just before the end of the transfer window and Skinner and Morgan talked and decided that more competitive games would help her return to peak form after the birth of her first child. At Spurs, she will join her Orlando teammates Australian international defender Alanna Kennedy and Canadian international defender Shelina Zadorsky, who are also on loan. Tottenham Hotspur Women gained promotion to the FA WSL in 2019. They finished seventh out of 12 teams in the 2019-20 campaign that was cut short by the pandemic. They have 1 point from their first two matches for the 2020-21 season, tying West Ham Untied at home 1-1 on September 6 and then falling 1-0 to Everton on September 13. They are tied for 8th out of 12 teams at this early stage of the season. In the weeks and months to follow, we will review the teams and progress of this quite interesting and exciting FA WSL season.
The Courage Sends Republic of Ireland international O'Sullivan to Brighton on Short Term Loan/Signs Albanian and Mexican internationals and Americans with experience abroad for the Fall Series.
North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley made a number of roster moves before his Fall Series games; one was the loan of Republic of Ireland international midfielder Denise O'Sullivan to Brighton and Hove Albion of the FA Super League until the end of December 2020. O'Sullivan has been named to the Republic of Ireland's squad participating in the UEFA Women's Euro qualifiers. She will join the team for camp on September 14 ahead of a key match against Germany on September 19 in Essen
Paul Riley also signed Mexican international team defender Ari Romero for the Courage through the end of the 2020 season. Romero, who grew up in Arizona and played at the University of Nebraska, played with the Dash last season and in 2014. She also played with the Washington Spirit before going to Europe to play in Iceland and Norway. She also played in Australia in 2016/17 with Perth Glory and returned to the side to play in 11 games during the recent 2019/20 season.
Two more new signings on short term contracts are Americans Rylee Baisden and Danica Evans for the 2020 NWSL Fall Series. Baisden joins the Courage after being this reporter's pick for one of the revelations of the season last winter in the Westfield W-League. The forward played with the Brisbane Roar in 2019/20, making 10 appearances and scoring three goals. The Pepperdine University graduate tenure overlapped with NC Courage forward Lynn Williams and defender Hailey Harbison; Baisden scored 12 goals in 78 appearances with the Waves based in scenic Malibu, California. Danica Evans played for Sporting de Huelva in Spain this year, where she made four appearances. Before playing in Europe, Evans played for the Orlando Pride for three seasons. The forward had two goals in 26 games in her previous NWSL stint.
The Courage has also signed Albania Women's National Team forward Kristina Maksuti through the 2020 season. Maksuti joins the Courage from MSV Duisberg, a German team in the Frauen Bundesliga, where she played during the 2019-2020 season. Before playing in Germany, Maksuti played in the National Liga A in Switzerland for FF Lugano 1976. She was the leading goal scorer in the league during the 2018-2019 season with 17, tied with Swiss youth international Irina Brutsch of FC Luzern (who played collegiately at East Tennessee State University), Swiss international Fabienne Humm of FC Zurich, American Cara Curtin of FF Lugano (from Sonoma State in California and now with Valencia in Spain) and Swiss international Maeva Sarrasin of Servette. Maksuti has made six appearances for the Albania Women's National Team, including four matches in the Women's World Cup Qualifiers in 2019. The forward attended Fordham University from 2011-2015 where she made 60 appearances and scored 24 goals with 11 assists, fourth all-time among school goal scorers. Maksuti is a dual citizen of the United States and Albania.
Paul Riley talked with this reporter on a conference call on September 10 about Maksuti and Baisden's signings. Riley explained that, "Kristine does not have her International Transfer Certificate yet but they hoped to have it by their first game over the weekend [against Houston but Maksuti did not appear in that match]. Rylee also had to quarantine but will play [she assisted on Lynn Williams game tying goal four minutes after coming on as a substitute in the 79th minute]."
Chicago Red Star's Japanese international Yuki Nagasato goes on loan to Japanese Men's Amateur side.
Japanese international forward Yuki Nagasato is heading to Japan where she'll make history as the first woman playing professionally for Hayabusa Eleven, an amateur men's club which is part of the Kanagawa Prefecture League. Nagasato won the Women's World Cup in 2011 with Japan and joined Chicago in 2017, scoring 8 goals last season (eighth best in the league) and leading the NWSL in assists with 8. She also played in the Westfield W-League in the 2018/19 season with Brisbane Roar and was hugely impactful, scoring 4 times in 11 games. Nagasato's loan ends prior to the 2021 NWSL preseason.
The men's team she is joining plays in an amateur regional league that is several levels below the country's top men's pro soccer league, the J-League. Nagasato said, "I want to get the message out to the girls who are playing soccer with the boys that women can join the men's team and challenge themselves….Honestly speaking, I don't know how well I will be able to play on the men's team, but I will do my best to make the most of my experience. My performance and conditioning are getting better as I get more experienced. This is good timing for me and I'm really looking forward to this challenge." Nagasato said she is looking forward to playing for a team in her hometown of Atsugi, which is located near Yokohama just southwest of Tokyo. Her older brother Genki, a former J-League player who plays for Hayabusa, helped to put the two parties together.
Utah Royals owner Dell Loy Hansen will sell his soccer assets after his inflammatory comments about the Black Lives Matter, movement while another Royals Executive leaves over charges of creating a toxic environment towards women.
Utah Royals owner Dell Loy Hansen, who also owns Real Salt Lake of Major League Soccer and the USL Championship's Real Monarchs, is in the process of selling his franchises after he made negative comments about recent protests in support of Black Lives Matters, including allegations of further racist comments attributed to him. Chief Business Officer Andrew Carroll has also stepped down, after reports of a very toxic and sexist culture in the Utah organizations' front office. Former Royal defender (currently with the Portland Thorns) and two-time World Cup winner Becky Sauerbrunn tweeted, "Anyone else sick of this narrative? That a woman's success can only be defined by what a man deems valuable? It's bullshit. Our accomplishments are worthy of recognition, in and of themselves. Also, if you can't 'sell' excellence, can you actually sell anything?"
Hansen initially joined the RSL ownership group in October 2009 and acquired full ownership of the team from Real Salt Lake founding owner Dave Checketts in January 2013. Well-known Houston Texans American football player JJ Watt has been mentioned as a possible purchaser of the Utah club. He is married to former University of North Carolina star Kealia Ohai Watt, who has played in the NWSL for seven seasons, her first six with the Houston Dash and is now with the Chicago Red Stars after an off-season trade between the two clubs who faced each other in the Challenge Cup Final a few months ago.
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