This week we present the second part of our 2021 NWSL Regular Season review, looking at the four teams who missed the playoffs and news from the two expansion franchises for 2022 in California. We also have a brief summary of the first round of the playoffs.
Note: Part One of the NWSL 2021 Season Review is available at: The Week in Women's Football: 2021 NWSL Regular Season review - Part One - Tribal Football.
2021 NWSL REGULAR SEASON END OF SEASON REVIEW — PART TWO
NWSL 2021 Regular Season Update (in team order per the standings as of October 31.)
Houston Dash (9-5-10, 32 points, Seventh)
Houston had their playoff fate in their own control as they played the last NWSL 2021 regular season match at D.C. United's Audi Field in front of 4,342; a win would allow them to jump past the North Carolina Courage into sixth place. A 1-0 loss from rookie star Trinity Rodman's goal gave D.C. a 1-0 win. The Houston Dash has still never made the playoffs since entering the league in 2014, though they did win the 2020 Challenge Cup held in Utah at the peak of the COVID pandemic.
England international Rachel Daly finished second in the race for the Golden Boot with 9 goals in only 15 games—having been called into the Great Britain team for this past summer's Olympic Games Finals. She was tied on 9 goals with Midge Purce of Gotham FC and Bethany Balcer of OL Reign. Other Dash goal scoring leaders included Americans Veronica Latsko, who added three goals, as did midfielder Cristie Mewis and Shea Groom, who plays as a deep-lying attacker, while defender Katie Naughton also chipped in three tallies.
A nice story here was that Christine Nairn announced late in the season that she was retiring from the sport and joining the Houston Fire Department. Nairn had represented the United States on both the junior and senior levels, including helping the under-20 national team win gold at the 2008 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Chile. She explained in her Instagram post, "26 years. 26 years of playing a sport that has allowed a girl from Bowie, Maryland to fulfill her dreams of playing professionally, traveling the world, and make memories with teammates, friends, and family that will last a lifetime. With a heavy heart, I'm announcing my retirement from professional soccer on September 19th," Nairn was celebrated prior to kickoff of the Dash exhibition match against Tigres of Mexico, which the Dash won 5-1 (see; The Week in Women's Football: Kristina Maksuti interview; Paul Riley fired; Indoor Pro Soccer; - Tribal Football).
Dash head coach James Clarkson said about Nairn, "Christine is the epitome of what it means to be a professional in our sport, and it has been an honor to coach her over the last three years. She is one of the best players to have played in the NWSL and has played a massive role in helping build this league into what it is today. On behalf of everyone at our club, I wish her all the best in her retirement."
Nairn (30) is an original member of the NWSL, starting her professional career as the seventh overall pick in the inaugural College Draft in 2013. She has played in 167 NWSL matches across all competitions over the last eight seasons, including 155 regular-season contests for Seattle Reign FC (now OL Reign), the Washington Spirit, the Orlando Pride and the Houston Dash. Her 155 appearances rank fourth in league history. Nairn became the first player in NWSL history to reach 150 appearances on Oct. 12, 2109 against Utah Royals FC. She retires as one of just seven players in league history to record at least 20 goals and 20 assists. The Maryland native joined the Dash in a trade with Orlando on February 26, 2019 and has made 35 appearances in all competitions and 27 in league play for the team, scoring one goal.
Nairn made two international appearances for the United States Women's National Team and scored the game-winning goal in a friendly against Canada on July 22, 2009. Prior to these appearances she played for the US U-16, U-17, U-18, and U-20 national teams. She also was a part of the 2010 CONCACAF U-20 team that defeated Mexico by 1-0 in the final, winning the tournament for the US. She played collegiately at Penn State University.
Orlando Pride (7-7-10, 28 points, Eighth)
The Orlando Pride is another team that needs a head coach as interim Becky Burleigh has said that she does not want to be considered for the position permanently after retiring earlier this year from a long collegiate coaching career. She helped stabilize a difficult situation when Marc Skinner left for Man United this summer while the team was sliding down the table, after going undefeated in their first six games (with four wins). Two points gained from 6 games from the end of June through the month of July and then a five match losing streak from September 26 through the end of the season on October 29 put any hopes of a playoff spot in the hamper.
Particularly during the Olympics Games, former American international (and former Canadian youth international) Sydney Leroux was the offense, finishing with 8 goals in and 2 assists in 23 games, while Alex Morgan added five in 12 matches, Brazil's Marta had four in 14 matches and mid-season acquisition Jodie Taylor of England added three goals in 13 games. American Erika Tymrak—so important in FC Kansas City's two title seasons in 2014 and 2015—had two tallies in 20 games, primarily as a substitute, and also won a Grand Final in the A-League Women in 2016-2017 with Melbourne City.
Orlando's last win of the season summed up the season—a 3-1 win at home against Racing Louisville on September 11—with Leroux opening the scoring in the 30th minute, getting her own rebound before firing into the goal from the top of the box. Marta scored in the 34th-minute and then Leroux set up Alex Morgan for a 65th-minute final goal. In the end, Orlando scored on half of their six shots while Racing had double the number of shots.
Depending on the new coach that is brought in, this club could see massive changes; New Zealand international Ali Riley should return though English imports defender Amy Turner (30) from Manchester United and midfielder Jade Moore (31)—moving over from Atletico Madrid in Spain after four seasons with Reading in the WSL, and who did not play at all in the regular season due to a knee injury in the preseason Challenge Cup tournament—could be moving on.
It seems a little surreal that Alex Morgan, Marta, goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, et al. have missed the playoffs since 2017. With strong fan support and a great infrastructure, this team must do better in 2022, particularly with two high-charging and motivated expansion teams coming in from California.
Racing Louisville FC (5-7-12, 21 points, Ninth)
This is another team that had to make a coaching change midseason, ditching Northern Ireland native Christy Holly for still fully unexplained reasons, only that it was for "a breach of team rules," though his disrespectful treatment of players has been posited by media reports. Racing lost 6 out of 7 league games with one tie from late August through early October, immediately after winning their home invitation international tournament by defeating Bayern Munich of Germany in the final. This poor string of results in the process cost them any chance of a playoff berth. Racing is another team needing a final determination on an interim coach: Mario Sanchez, who played minor league soccer in the U.S. and coached men's soccer at University of Nevada Las Vegas and Southern Illinois State University at Edwardsville before joining Louisville City FC's USL team on the youth side, probably will not be the long-term answer.
Danish international Nadia Nadim's injury in the 3-1 loss to Orlando on September 11 was a difficult blow to the side. She was named to the NWSL's Team of the Month for August. Nadim tallied three goals for third on the team in only 8 games.
Young striker Ebony Salmon of England was an absolute revelation with 6 goals in 19 matches and should be paired with Nadim again up top in 2022. CeCeKizer (21) had 5 goals in 22 games and is a real rising star; she had a reserve role for the Houston Dash since 2019 and was loaned to Kolbotn of Norway in 2020 where she had 3 goals in 5 games. Former Chicago Red Stars and Japanese Women's World Cup Winner Yuki Nagasato and U.S. international Savannah McCaskill each had 2 goals and are definite keepers for 2022. Sweden U-17 and U-19 international Freja Olofsson (23) played in all but two regular season games after moving from Orebro at home.
In defense, rookie and U.S. full international Emily Fox (ex-University of North Carolina) had a strong season and played in 23 games. England's Gemma Bonner (30) only played in 12 games after signing in April because she was not able to join the team until June because of delays due to COVID; she played for WSL power Manchester City for the past three seasons.
English international Gemma Bonner in practice with Racing Louisville FC against her teammate and former Japanese international and 2011 Women's World Cup winner Yuki Nagasato. Photo courtesy EM Dash Photography and Racing Louisville FC.
The pieces are there for the club to challenge for a playoff spot in 2022. This team will be okay on the field, combined with the addition of stable leadership and direction and the continued support of an amazing fan base. Nadim and Bonner playing a full season in Louisville will also be a huge asset for the side.
Off the field, Racing has been stellar all season and the late award of the 2021 NWSL Championship Game was just reward for finishing second in the league in attendance in their first year, with an average of 6,610 fans a game behind Portland Thorns' 14,391 average per game, according to Soccer Stadium Digest. We would expect both figures to increase in 2022 as COVID should have less effect on sports attendances in the U.S.
The club recently announced a landmark agreement for a National Women's Soccer League club, partnering with Kentucky Fertility Institute to provide players a modern health benefit. The Kentucky Fertility Institute will begin offering complimentary fertility preservation services including egg freezing, embryo freezing and long-term storage. The partnership gives Racing's players the flexibility to start a family with minimal interruption to their careers on the pitch, either via surrogacy or personal use upon retirement. Club President Brad Estes said, "From Day 1, Racing Louisville has been about raising the bar in women's soccer. From facilities to nutrition to general day-to-day support, we are committed to giving these athletes everything they need to succeed and enjoy life. We are very proud to announce this groundbreaking partnership with Kentucky Fertility Institute."
Brynn Sebring, Racing Louisville FC's director of player experience added, "Women's professional athletes have long been burdened with an excruciating choice of continuing their finite careers or taking time off—sometimes retiring—to start a family. With the Kentucky Fertility Institute's help, Racing Louisville has effectively eliminated the financial burden of an alternate solution, allowing our athletes a choice few other players have."
While egg freezing requires an athlete to go at least two weeks without training, the process can be completed during the offseason. Racing's agreement also covers cryo-storage fees for players who use preservation services but are later out of contract with the club. Dr. Robert Hunter, the founder of the Kentucky Fertility Institute said, "Professional athletes shouldn't have to choose between their careers and their plans for a family. We know this is a priority for Racing's players and appreciate the club's support in making these services accessible." It will be interesting to see if other teams or the league in general provides similar services, which then could be quickly added by clubs abroad as a benefit for their players.
Kansas City NWSL (3-7-14, 16 points, 10th place)
Kansas City desperately needs a change in their coach and a roster overhaul. They just weren't good enough in 2021 and if the planned Division 2 leagues were around and had promotion-relegation, they would have been set for the drop by the end of the first month. They are moving to MLSSporting Kansas City's impressive Children's Mercy Park next year. There is talk then that, "Huw Williams can build a team in his image on the larger field." He shouldn't be given the chance but dispatched—just because he made it through the year without being fired for misdeeds like coaches in Tacoma, North Carolina, Louisville and D.C. doesn't mean he shouldn't be judged on results. The team did improve somewhat late in the season, particularly at home, where they had three ties and a win in their last seven games, which was lauded as a sure sign that things will get better next season, but it seems to be a "The growth potential from zero is unlimited" situation and this team needs massive gutting.
A high point late in the season was the October 10 game against Portland where former Thorns goalkeeper Adrianna Franch (traded in midseason) recorded her second clean sheet with Kansas City in a 0-0 draw against the NWSL leaders. Canadian international midfielder Desiree Scott and Scottish international captain Rachel Scott both made their 100th NWSL regular season appearance in the match in front of 5,438 fans.
Franch is a new mid-season transfer to build around along with holdovers Scott, Corsie and American midfielder Hallie Mace. American forward Darien Jenkins had three goals and Argentinian forward Mariana Larroquette had two while Portuguese international Jessica Silva (26) was active but no goals in 14 games is not good enough; they all could be given a second season to show their undoubted quality, with Silva having experience of playing in France, Spain, Sweden and Portugal. The team only scored 15 goals in 14 games, with the Washington Spirit still retaining the all-time league record for fewest goals in a season with 12 in 2018.
A sign of the talent that Kansas City had was that four players were called up by their country to play over the September FIFA international window. Mariana Larroquette (Argentina) and Chloe Logarzo (Australia) were called up for international friendlies while Rachel Corsie (Scotland) and Jéssica Silva (Portugal) were called in for UEFA qualifiers for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup.
On September 1, the club loaned forward Michele Vasconcelos to Sevilla FC Femenino of the Spanish Primera División. The loan will continue through June of 2022. Vasconcelos played in all four 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup matches for Kansas City, including the match played at Children's Mercy Park on April 26, where she scored the first home goal in KC NWSL history. Vasconcelos made 10 appearances for Kansas City in the regular season, tallying 446 minutes.
Off the field, there has been a lot of good news, and not just the move into the MLS's team home for 2022, mirroring what Portland, Houston, Orlando and D.C. (somewhat for the latter—see last week's column) has done in their markets. The team has announced that they will have their own training site and plans to build their own stadium downtown. The training facility, costing $15 million, should be completed in 2022. The 17,000-square-foot facility will include two grass fields, a world-class locker room, weight room and cardio rooms, plus multiple outdoor spaces and rooms for meetings.
Crowds should be up substantially next year in the larger Children's Mercy Park stadium over their 4,861 average in 2021, which was sixth in the league (5,528 per game average) in unofficial figures from Soccer Stadium Digest, but still higher than FC Kansas City drew in five seasons in the market, and they won two league titles. Kansas City has spent its inaugural season sharing Legends Field with the Kansas City Monarchs, KC's independent baseball team. KC NWSL is just one of two teams in the NWSL to not play in a soccer-specific stadium, along with the OL Reign, which also plays in a baseball stadium in Tacoma. The days of the professional women's soccer team bouncing around small facilities across the Kansas City area seem to be in the past. It began at Shawnee Mission District Stadium, a high school stadium in Overland Park, Kansas, then played at UMKC's Durwood Soccer Stadium before moving to Sporting Kansas City's training facility at Swope Soccer Village.
After a season in Children's Mercy Park, the club plans to have their first soccer stadium purpose-built for a National Women's Soccer League team. With final designs still in development, the estimated $70-million project will be entirely privately financed through the team's ownership group, with the team signing a 50-year lease for a 7 acre site on the east end of the Berkley Riverfront in Kansas City, Missouri. Port of Kansas City President and CEO Jon Stephens said, "The goals for reclaiming our long-neglected riverfront have been bold but clear: develop a connected, accessible, vibrant and diverse neighborhood. Anchoring a dynamic facility such as this on the downtown riverfront, and connecting it to the heart of our city with the KC Streetcar, trails and greenspace not only solidifies our commitment, but also proves that there is no better place for our community and the world to gather."
At the last regular season game at the end of October, the club revealed its new name and branding and will be known as the Kansas City Current. Its crest "taps into Kansas City pride with two stars representing Kansas and Missouri, and a familiar 'KC' re-imagined in a vertical format. The vertical format communicates the upward momentum of the team and the support of the women and Kansas Citizens who have built the foundation. The crest and team colors are an evolution of the inaugural season's colors with Teal and Heartland Red carrying over to the permanent crest. Teal, a fan favorite from day one, signifies optimism, hope and inclusion, and Heartland Red represents the team's location in the heart of the country. Storm, an intense deep blue, is a grounding color symbolic of strength, determination and power." Kansas City Current was selected from hundreds of suggestions provided by stakeholders and fans through round tables, one-on-one discussions, Founding Member surveys and an in-stadium survey at the team's first match.
Kansas City Current Badge Description—Courtesy Kansas City Current
NWSL 2021 First Round Playoff Matches
On October 7, the playoff matches between the third and sixth place regular season finishers and fourth versus fifth were decided by a single goal in front of large crowds. In Washington D.C.'s Audi Field, with a crowd of 5,379 cheering them on, the third place Washington Spirit defeated sixth place North Carolina Courage 1-0 on a late goal in overtime (113th minute) from Ashley Hatch, who led the league in goals in the regular season with 10. Hatch followed up on a rebound from a Trinity Rodman shot, the outstanding rookie for the Spirit. The win kept the semifinal participants from being the same as in 2019, the last time the full regular season was held in the NWSL—with Washington now replacing the Courage.
Also on October 7, the Chicago Red Stars defeated NY/NJ Gotham FC 1-0 in front of 7,027 fans in suburban Bridgeview, Illinois, with U.S. 2019 WWC winner Mallory Pugh scoring the winner just after the hour mark.
The semifinals will see NWSL Shield winners Portland Thorns hosting the Red Stars and OL Reign in Tacoma against the visiting Spirit.
NWSL EXPANSION TEAM NEWS
Angel City FC
Angel City, a 2022 expansion team based in Los Angeles, has announced that the players will receive a percentage of the team's ticketing revenue called the ACFC Fan-Fueled Player Fund. The source could provide thousands of dollars above their salaries in additional revenue for players, if they opt into a NIL (Name, Image and Likeness) social media scheme to receive the bonus—allowing their name, image and likeness to be used on the team's social media channels. One per cent of the club's net ticketing revenue will be evenly distributed among the playing roster. Over 11,000 season tickets have been sold to date, so this additional player revenue source could be significant.
Julie Uhrman, Angel City co-founder and president, explained, "Every pillar of Angel City is steeped in our purpose to create higher expectations on and off the field, and that includes using our platform to drive support of women's sports and player compensation. This fund essentially gives our fans the power to effect real change alongside us. Not only is Angel City going to create an incredible atmosphere for our fans and build an exciting, diverse, and exceptional team, but we are going to make every seat count to benefit each of our players directly. We hope to see other teams across all sports consider adopting the model, especially in women's sports." This program will be quite interesting to monitor and to see how the Club utilizes the players' likeliness's differently from other clubs or even how players currently do it themselves.
Angel City FC also signed a sponsorship deal with Klarna, the leading global bank, payments and shopping service, as a Founding Partner. The multi-year deal marks Klarna's first official partnership with a sports organization globally, introducing the brand's all-in-one shopping platform to new audiences and offering fans an innovative way to shop, pay and support their favorite teams. Additionally, Klarna has been integrated as a payment partner on ACFC's online store.
According to a press release from the team, "Both Klarna and ACFC are known for pushing the boundaries in their respective worlds, which is why it was a natural fit to partner. Klarna is challenging outdated traditional credit and payments industry models that had lost sight of evolving consumer needs. There are now over 90 million global customers spanning 20 markets choosing Klarna as a better way to shop and pay. At the same time, ACFC—an upstart soccer franchise with a majority-women-led ownership group and front office—is flipping the traditional sports model on its head with its history-making leadership."
"As an expansion of their give-back programs, Klarna and ACFC will work together to support planet health initiatives by helping to create green spaces in areas where that is currently lacking. ACFC's disruptive partnership model reallocates 10% of all sponsorship funds towards community programs, while Give One powered by Klarna is committing 1% of all funding rounds to planet health initiatives focusing on climate action, biodiversity, and human development. In addition to their give back program, Klarna has also added a carbon tracker app to empower consumers with better info on their purchases."
Angel City FC has been a ground-breaking organization so far with their sports and media star-driven ownership group and innovative approach to marketing women's football in the U.S. We are excited to see what else they have planned for their first season and we will cover their efforts closely, including reporting on-site from some key matches in 2022.
San Diego will be called the Wave F.C.
The NWSL's 12th and newest franchise will be called San Diego Wave Fútbol Club. The Wave name was registered by a planned women's gridiron football team in 2019 that never took the field. The name draws on the city's "pristine and powerful coastline and diverse cultural heritage," according to a team press release. The front office spent several months conducting research and connecting with the community to find a name that resonates with the city. It was clear the ocean is a way of life for San Diegans, and waves reflect the heartbeat of the city. Wave FC will be the first NWSL franchise to use the Spanish translation, Fútbol, in its name. Former Manchester United head coach Casey Stoney—the first head coach in the Wave's history—said, "This is an exciting next step in our process to the team's kickoff next season.
Having spent some time now in San Diego, I believe our name strikes the perfect balance between representing this beautiful city and how we want to be a relentless force on the pitch. Wave FC will be a source of city pride for the community on and off the field of play."
The team will begin play at its temporary home, 6,000 seat Torero Stadium on the campus of the University of San Diego in spring 2022, which has held a Women's College Cup, a WUSA team and women's national team exhibition matches.
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 yours copy today.
Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey
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