This week, we look at results from the four games of the 2022/23 A-League Women playoffs, with Sydney FC winning their fourth league title by blasting expansion side Western United 4-0 in the Grand Final.
We also present part 2 of our A-League Women 2022/23 regular season review for Australia, focusing on Western Sydney Wanderers, Adelaide United, Newcastle Jets and Wellington Phoenix as well as at future plans for the league from the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) and team sources.
For part 1 of our 2022/23 regular season review including the top seven finishers—Sydney FC, the three Melbourne sides, Canberra, Perth and Western Sydney—see: The Week in Women's Football: A-League regular season review; Sydney pip Western Utd - Tribal Football. We also look in depth at Kansas City Current's firing of head coach Matt Potter after only three games, but it was not for player treatment issues. His replacement, Caroline Sjoblom—who just joined the club this season as an assistant from Sweden—took over and has won her first three matches—one in the Challenge Cup.
2022-23 A-League Women Playoffs
In the first round of the 2022-23 A-League playoffs in mid-April, there were two matches involving the top four teams. On April 15, in the Elimination Final, third place Melbourne City was the designated host of the derby versus fourth place Melbourne Victory. The two teams met last year in the semifinal stage with the two-time reigning champions Victory winning "away" 3-1. This year, during the regular season, Victory tied City (2-2) and defeated their Victoria state rivals 2-0 on March 12, part of their seven-game undefeated run to clinch the last playoff spot, but only their second win during those seven games.
In an amazing game on April 15, Victory defeated City 4-1 on penalties after a 3-3 tie. Melina Ayers scored a second half hat-trick for the Victory, with the first goal coming in the 53rd minute from the penalty spot. By the 72nd minute, she had given her side a 3-1 lead with 18 minutes left in the game. City fought back as Rhianna Policina (26) scored her second goal of the match in the 79th minute before New Zealand international Hannah Wilkinson scored in the 97th minute to send the game into overtime, where the match stayed deadlocked through the additional 30 minutes, before being decided through penalty kicks.
Ayers now has 12 goals in the regular season and playoffs, with five coming in Victory's last three games. Policina finished with 10 goals in the regular season and the Elimination Final while Wilkinson had six goals in 2022/23, including one each in City's last three games. City is out of the playoffs while MV moved on to play Sydney on April 22.
The star of the game was definitely Melbourne Victory goalkeeper Casey Dumont, who made outstanding saves throughout the match, with none more important than when she saved a Holly McNamara penalty in the 88th minute when her side still led 3-2. In extra time, Dumont made two brilliant stops on Leticia McKenna and Rhianna Pollicina to keep the game tied. Then, in the penalty kick shootout, the real surprise was that Casey Dumont took the first kick for Melbourne Victory; City keeper/assistant coach and Matilda legend Melissa Barbieri dived to her right side while Dumont slotted the ball into the lower left side. Dumont then immediately stopped City's New Zealand international defender Katie Bowen and, on City's third kick, Wilkinson hit the crossbar and the ball bounced away, after which Alana Murphy scored Victory's winning spot-kick.
Dumont told Network 10 said after the game: "We practised it all week, that I was going to take (a penalty) for the team. Being a goalkeeper I kind of know where to pick the spots—and it also builds my momentum into the penalty shots as well. You've got to have the confidence because, if you don't believe in yourself, it's not going to happen. The girls asked (me to shoot first), and I was like: 'Yeah, no worries, I'll do it'. We practised during the week as well, that always the first person that steps up sets the momentum. So I was like: 'I'll happily do that for the team if needed'… You've just got to back yourself and do it. The team is behind you so it doesn't matter; you've just got to do it."
Dumont, a registered nurse, was given permission by the club after the season to play in the AFLW (Aussie Rules Football) for Hawthorn of Melbourne during the off-season. She is under contract with Victory for one more season.
On April 16, in the second semifinal, Premiership winners Sydney FC faced long-time league leaders Western United, who were an expansion franchise this season. Sydney won the regular season title by one point (40 points vs. 39 points). Sydney defeated Western 3-0 on March 4 at home while Western United won the first match between the sides 2-0 on January 10. However, Western United did what they had done all season—upset the form book by defeating Sydney FC 1-0 on Hannah Keane's 26th minute goal. American Hillary Beal kept the shutout, her sixth in 2022/23 in 19 regular season and playoff games. Western advanced directly to the Grand Final. (For more on Keane, see: The Week in Women's Football: A-League Preview PII - plus Matildas update - Tribal Football).
The Sky Blues had 26 shots to eight, 12 shots on target compared to Western's three. Head coach Mark Torcaso said: "I didn't expect them to have that many shots on target against us but we defended extremely well. We knew it would be tough—they probably have the best front line in the league. For us it was about sticking to our task and get a sucker-punch goal and we got one, and defended well today." So Western is through directly to the Grand Final in two weeks time, where they will play either Sydney FC again or Melbourne Victory (see below).
Torcaso used a core of players from his former club in the Victoria Women's State League Calder United—including Alana Cerne, sisters Adriana and Melissa Taranto, Emma Robers, Julia Sardo, Aleks Sinclair, Natasha Dakic, Alyssa Dall'Oste, Stacey Papadopoulos, Raquel Deralas and Harriet Withers, who all arrived from the National Premier Leagues outfit into professional soccer. This was a team with 12 players who had never experienced the A-Leagues before the season.
Toscano put together a team structure for his new professional side that was consistent and predictable; he explained after the playoff win over Sydney: "We might not be overly entertaining in the way that we play but we're definitely going to give a fight and we're going to work hard for each other every game and literally just fight right to the end of every minute… Our staff have put together a really good program for them throughout the year, they've worked extremely hard since day dot."
Matilda Angie Beard was an inspired pickup as an outside back after the season started, plus veterans Hannah Keane and Chloe Logarzo, though the latter didn't play much through injuries but brought a senior presence. Beard went out early in the Sydney playoff match with an ankle injury but the team hoped that she would be back in two weeks time for the Grand Final.
On April 22 in the Preliminary Final, Sydney FC defeated Melbourne Victory 1-0 in the Harbor City to make the Grand Finals for the sixth consecutive season. Sydney will play in the Grand Final on April 30 at home game against Western United, which will be their tenth Grand Final, with three wins and six defeats in their past editions. Melbourne Victory goalkeeper Casey Dumont was again outstanding in goal with six saves while facing 25 Sydney shots (to only four for the Victory), but could not hold onto a long shot by Sarah Hunter in the 89th minute as American Madison Haley reacted quickly to score the winner. Haley has scored nine goals this season. For Sydney, it was their third win over Melbourne Victory this season; on January 25, Sydney defeated MV away (6-2). after winning the first game at home on November 25 (2-0).
For the Grand Final on April 30, there was some controversy before the game as the APL sold the rights to the Grand Final to Destination New South Wales to coordinate and promote the match, with the hope that it would set a new Grand Final record attendance for the league, surpassing the 6,127 that watched the 2018/19 match. Western United technically should have hosted as they won the semi-final over Sydney, but then you could argue that Sydney won the Premiership over Western United. Western United midfielder Emma Robers said: "Especially being the new club, it would have been unbelievable to have a home Grand Final as a new team that's come into the competition and have all our family and friends there [and] continue to build this fan base that we're trying so hard to build. So, I think that is a big element of that; it's disappointing that it's not at home. I understand the financial side of it and the decision that went into that. But it's hard."
Sydney FC powered to its fourth league title (tying for the most league crowns all-time with Melbourne City) in the league's 15 years with a 4-0 win in front of a Women's Grand Final record crowd of 9,519 fans at CommBank Stadium. They won the Premiership (regular season title) and Championship for the first time since Melbourne City in 2019/20 and this was the Sky Blue's second double, after the 2009 season. American Madison Haley scored twice and was named the Player of the Match while captain Natalie Tobin scored once in her 100th game. Matilda forward Princess Ibini scored from the penalty spot.
Haley's father is a NFL Football Hall of Famer and won the Super Bowl five times (for the San Francisco 49ers the Dallas Cowboys) and Haley (who played at Stanford University and won two national championships) now has a professional sport's ring of her own to show her family. Former A-Lague player and long-time television analyst Andy Harper said on Network 10: "You can't coach against a gene pool and her father is a five-time Super Bowl winner. This is freakish, God-given athletic talent."
Sydney head coach Anton Juric said that, when asked if he thought that this was the A-League Women's best side, that it was: "for other people to judge" but that: "For me, this is the best team ever, as in a squad and continuous." Western United were hampered by missing Matildas Chloe Logarzo and Angie Beard—the later was injured in the semifinal—but head coach Mark Torcaso was surprising upbeat about what his team had accomplished this season, saying: "It has been unbelievable, a brilliant ride… Some girls out there had never been exposed to an A-League environment before, so having them be exposed to a full season of football. Some haven't even stopped: they've literally gone from an NPL season to playing an A-League season so I take a huge amount of enthusiasm going into next season because some of these girls have just outshone what I believed that they could do."
He explained what he planned to do in the A-League off-season, which was very different from coaching state league football in New South Wales: "For myself, this is the first time I've been exposed to this environment and it's been intense. Six or seven months of every morning waking up to go to training compared to going to your normal job. For me, it's been absolutely mental. So (what's next is) having a good break, switching off, going to watch a lot of NPL Victoria games, because it is the central part of the world when it comes to football. For the players, it will be lots of rest and relax[ation], a few girls will go back to play in the NPL, either here in New South Wales or Victoria. They will obviously prepare themselves for a coming season."
Regular Season Review—Part 2
Adelaide United (5-3-10—18 points—Tied for Eighth)
Goalscoring was a problem all season as the Reds only scored 16 goals, tied for worst in the league with the Wanderers and the Roar. They allowed 29 goals for the seventh best defense in the league. The Reds scored twice against Melbourne Victory away in a 2-2 draw in Round 15; the two dropped points probably cost them any remaining hope of making the playoffs. After that game, their 13th, they only had 9 goals, with the Victory match only their second multi-goal game of the season and they had been shutout in five matches.
It didn't help that their A-League veteran (in her sixth year with the club) and leading-scorer this season (with four goals) Chelsie Dawber's loan spell ended and in March parent club Chicago Red Stars loaned her for the 2023 season to Swedish side Norrkoping. Last season's A-League Women Golden Boot Winner Fiona Worts scored only three times all season.
Katie Bowler (20) and Emilia Murray (18) each scored a goal as Adelaide overturned a two-goal deficit to salvage a 2-2 draw against second-bottom Newcastle Jets at home on March 16 in front of a season high crowed of 2,292, a good sign as the city is hosting WWC games this summer—four in the first round and a Round of 16 match—but the point gained did not stop last season's semi-finalists Reds from being officially eliminated from the Liberty A-League finals race.
Bowler (20) is on a scholarship contract this season, having spent the last campaign at Adelaide City of the NPLW, where she scored 10 goals in 16 appearances. Former A-League midfielder and star Teresa Polias (for years captain of Sydney FC) had a clear message for the Reds that she expressed as an analyst on Network 10's telecast of the Newcastle game. "If you're Adelaide, you're signing her now—multi-year deal." Bowler and Murray both finished with two goals and are bright lights for the future for the club.
Adelaide needs a reset for next season, but not being able to call on their American talisman Mallory Weber—who tore an ACL during the 2022 NWSL season—was a setback and they need to radically increase their scoring in order to be successful next season.
Brisbane Roar (4-6-8—18 points—Tied for Eighth)
Brisbane Roar missed the playoffs for only the fifth time in 15 seasons but for the second year in succession. Late hopes of a last ditch run to the playoffs were scuttled by a league ruling that reversed their 2-0 win over Western United on March 11 (with two goals by American forward Shea Connors) due to Ayesha Norrie playing despite being suspended for yellow card accumulation. The club appealed the points deduction but it was denied by the league. A 3-1 loss to Western Sydney on March 19 officially ended their playoff chances and they were missing Norrie as well as Matilda Katrina Gorry, who returned to her Swedish club Vittsjo.
The Roar allowed 31 goals, the second highest team total in the league. Goalscoring was an issue as they had only 16 all season, tied for the lowest in the league with Adelaide and Western Sydney. American Shea Connors had 6 goals and Larissa Crummer had 4 goals this season and was called into Australia's camp for the Matildas trip to play England and Scotland in April. Connors was in her third season with the club and scored 17 times in 23 games in the NPLW last season with APIA Leichhardt. Katrina Gorry added three goals in ten games.
Newcastle Jets—(4-2-12—14 points—Tenth)
The Newcastle Jets signed Newcastle native and forward Renee Pountney (22) to finish the season after playing in the States at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska; she appeared in two matches with the Jets to end the season. She previously played in nine matches across two seasons with the Jets, beginning in 2018/19, and scored her first ever A-League Women goal in 2019/20. She played youth football with Emerging Jets teams.
The Jets also signed midfielder Emily Roach (20) for the rest of the season, joining from Canberra United. She appeared in five matches with the Jets to end the season. Head coach Gary Van Egmond—himself a mid-season replacement for Ash Wilson, who didn't finish her third season because of poor results—said: "Emily is a highly talented young midfielder who we believe will add a lot of quality to our squad. We are confident we can help further develop her game and we look forward to seeing her thrive at the club."
Newcastle's 2-2 tie against Adelaide on March 17 was disappointing as they were up 2-0 within the first thirty minutes but gave up two goals in the second half to the Reds. In the game, Lucy Jonhson (23) became the first player from Tasmania to score in the A-League Women, in her second season with the Jets.
Lauren Allen led the side with five goals while American Sarah Griffith (23) had four goals in 11 games before returning to her parent club the Chicago Red Stars in the States. Newcastle Jets native Tara Andrews (29) added four goals. Andrews has announced that she is retiring from professional football. Andrews first started playing for the club in 2009 and holds the club's all-time scoring record with 45 goals. She won two caps with the Matildas and played a year in the USL W-League a decade ago with the Colorado Pride.
Goalkeeper Claire Coelho (26) is also retiring after this season. She made 48 appearances for the Jets and also played in one game for Sydney FC in 2016/17. This season she played in four games.
Gary Van Egmond was confirmed as the permanent Women's head coach for next season. Newcastle Jets Executive Chairman Shane Mattiske said: "Moving to confirm Gary Van Egmond as our Women's Head Coach for next season is a critical decision as we focus on finishing this season strongly and, importantly, as we look to the next year where we have a strong commitment to build a highly competitive Women's team. The 2023/24 season will step up another level for Women's football with it coming immediately after the FIFA Women's World Cup on home soil and the expansion of the A-League Women's competition in a number of teams and length… Gary's experience and connection to the Newcastle Jets is unquestionable. He is absolutely committed to the elevation of Women's football in the region and nationally and we know he will give his all to bring success to this club in the Women's A-League."
Van Egmond stressed that the Jets long-term will continue to develop their women's side through their very successful Academy, which has long been a source of players for the senior side: "Eventually the model for our club will be to promote from within and I look forward to when this will occur." Van Egmond is the father of Matilda Emily, who is in her second season with the San Diego Wave in the NWSL and has also played in England, Denmark and Germany. Note: Newcastle bid to host 2023 WWC games but was not selected, in part we think because it was a second city in New South Wales and Sydney is a central site for the tournament.
The Jets four wins was their highest total in four seasons, since winning five in 2018/19. Van Egmond won a title coaching the men's Jets early in the A-League's existence and is a very good coach. The team needs to bring in more goalscoring talent for next season and seems to be on the right path to improvement, but losing Tara Andrews is a setback, and they will need to replace her inspirational play, dedication and goals.
Wellington Phoenix (3-4-11—13 points—Eleventh)
The Phoenix surpassed their year one total of wins (two) and points (seven), though they did play four more games. Their defense was solid with 30 goals allowed, tied for eighth in the league with Canberra. For next season, they need to continue to boost their front line as they only scored 20 goals in 18 games—again eighth best in the league. The big story was their attendance during their first season of playing in New Zealand after COVID forced them to play in suburban Sydney last season. They led the league with a total of over 21,700 fans and an average of 2,419 fans a game, well above the league average this season of 1,240. The Nix drew 5,213 for their first home match of the season and first game ever in New Zealand, a 4-1 defeat.
Five of their eight home matches were doubleheaders with the men's team. A crowd of 2, 574 fans saw their March 4 1-1 tie versus Brisbane—not far behind what the national team drew in three exhibitions in Hamilton and Auckland (around 3,775 for each match) the previous month around the FIFA Intercontinental Playoffs for three last Women's World Cup spots this summer. A 1-0 win over Sydney away on March 11 gave them 9 points in 14 games, eclipsing their 8-point total in the same number of games last season. Again, Wellington has been a plus for the A-League and been competitive, plus their crowds have been tremendous in their first season in which they could host games in New Zealand, after playing all their home games in Wollongong in New South Wales last season.
New Zealand international Emily Clegg (17), a U-17 international who was called up for the Football Ferns full side for the April games against Iceland (1-1) and Nigeria (0-3) in Turkey, led the team with four goals, while U-20 New Zealand international defender Marisa van der Meer (21) had three goals—she played last season for Melbourne City.
The Nix ended the season with a shocking 2-2 late comeback deadlock against Melbourne Victory at home, with Ava Pritchard (20) scoring her third goal of the season in the 75th minute. Then midfielder Grace Wisnewski (20) scored nine minutes into second half injury time to potentially cost the Victory a playoff spot, but the Victory still ended up qualifying. Wisnewski finished with two goals, along with Football Ferns veteran Football Ferns midfielder Betsy Hassett (32). Twenty-year-old goalkeeper Brianna Edwards, who has played at the full international level for New Zealand this year, played in 17 games and had three shutouts, while last year's starter Lily Alfeld was hindered by a back injury.
A-League Women Future and Expansion
A-League Women will have an expansion side joining the league for the third consecutive season in 2023/24 with the Central Coast Mariners (in New South Wales, see: The Week in Women's Football: A-League Preview PII - plus Matildas update - Tribal Football) coming aboard. Emily Husband was named as the team's head coach as the Mariners make their return to the women's league after not playing since the 2009 season, making the playoffs in their second year in the league before folding. She has coached in the state league NPLW with Sydney University, winning the coach of the year award in 2022 as her side won both the Premiership (regular season) title at the State League and Reserve levels.
She hopes to replicate what Western United's coach Mark Torcaso did this season, utilizing a number of NPL system players—many from Melbourne local powerhouse Calder United (see above): "I think building it with internationals in there, three in [the] spine and sort of complementing that with good players from not just the NPL in New South Wales but across the country; There's a lot of players that sort of get overlooked and I think there's a lot of potential out there to build a really, really strong team. We want to be competitive from the very beginning and ultimately, I want to build a squad around players that are ready to compete and want to be part of that process."
Sydney University could provide a solid base, as they have won the regular season title in 2022, 2020 and 2019 in recent years and the Grand Final in 2018.
Future League Plans
With twelve teams, the league will expand to 22 regular season games in 2023/24—with a full home and away schedule for each team—an increase of four games from 2022/23, after a regular season of 14 games in 2021/22, 12 for the nine previous seasons and a 10-game slate per team for the first four seasons of the league.
Canberra United has been an independent women's side since 2008/09 but the A-League is adding a men's expansion franchise to the capital city for 2024/25, for 13 top-tier men's franchises. At that point, the only team that will not have a men's-women's pairing will be Macarthur Bulls of suburban Sydney, who entered the A-League league in 2020/21. Auckland, New Zealand is favored to take both leagues to 14 teams (assuming Macarthur joins the A-League Women at some point). Sources in New Zealand have said that a men's side would likely start first in order to provide a larger fan base, before adding a A-League Women's side, as was done quite successfully in Wellington.
Next season will also see an important change in the number of playoff sides, as the league expands the post-season to six teams (it has always involved four teams in its 15 seasons to date) with the top two league finishers earning a bye in the first round, as the NWSL has done with its six-team format. One of the A-League Women's goals is to extend the length of the season, with 2023/24 possibly starting in October and running to the end of April or even May.
There is currently an effort underway to launch a second division professional men's league. There are bids from 32 state league franchises, including successful sides such as: Canberra Croatia, APIA Leichardt and Sydney Olympic in New South Wales, Gold Coast United (a previous incarnation of which played in the A-League from 2009-2012) and Adelaide City. The second division will be run by Football Australia (FA) and will eventually pare the bidders to 10 to 16 teams in order to target a March-September season in 2024. On the women's side, there are plans for a FFA-run Women's Australian Cup, including NPLW teams, with an intended launch for the 2024/25 season.
When asked if a second professional division is being planned for the women, The Manager—Women's Professional Game—A-Leagues Emilia Skopal said: "For the A-League Women, it is still quite a young average age—women in their 20's [and as always, a number of teenagers played prominent roles in 2022/23, as in seasons past]— and there is not necessarily the scope and the talent pool to stretch to a second division for the women just yet; maybe 5 years, 10 years down the track."
Another important long-term goal for A-League Women is to have players move to 12-month, fully professional contract, which could reduce the gap in the calendar with the NPL leagues at the state level, who typically run from 6-8 months currently. The increased salary costs to clubs could be offset to some extent by a regular funding source from transfers abroad, as the global transfer market rapidly expands for women's soccer.
Kansas City Current Fires Their Head Coach After Three Regular Season Matches
Second-year head coach Matt Potter was released from his job after only three games into the 2023 regular season on April 19 with a 0-3 record. Assistant Coach Caroline Sjöblom took over as Interim Head Coach on the same day, which coincided with their first Challenge Cup match in Houston on April 19, which the Current won 2-0. Four days later, they won their first regular season match at home over the Orlando Pride, again by a 2-0 scoreline. Then, in their third match at home in front of a great home crowd of 9.409, the club again won 2-0 thanks to Brazilian midfielder Debinha's two goals versus a very good Gotham FC team who sat on 9 points in the playoff sports entering the game, after four regular season matches.
Potter was named head coach of the Current in January of 2022. Last season, he led Kansas City to a fifth-place regular season finish in the NWSL with a 10-6-6 (W-T-L record) and won two playoff matches to qualify for the NWSL Championship match, where they lost to the Portland Thorns (2-0).
Sjöblom had a successful playing career that included a Finnish Cup Championship and an appearance in the Swedish Cup. After retiring as a player, she earned her UEFA Pro Coaching license in 2018 and was named Sweden's U-19 National Team head coach in 2020. In 2022, she took the U-19 side into the European Championship Finals for the first time since 2015 and the team finished in third place. She also coached at clubs in Sweden, including taking Stockholm giant AIK Women into the Damallsvenskan in 2020 from the second tier Elitettan with a record 72 points from 26 matches, with 24 wins.
There were a multitude of questions about the decision as last season—Potter's first—the Current went through their first five games without a win (one tie and four losses) but ended up in the championship game at the end of the season. A press release the day of the coaching change said that he was released because it was "related to issues around his leadership and employment responsibilities". General Manager Camille (Levin) Ashton was quoted in the release as saying: "We watch the play on the pitch, we keep a pulse on the locker room, and we are constantly evaluating ways to improve our club. Through our ongoing process of continuous improvement, we believe now is the right time for this change."
It set off alarm bells as so many NWSL coaches have been released since 2021 for abusive and other inappropriate behavior towards players and staff. Some members of the media immediately assumed that this case was another example, which seems to be the default reason after multiple firings for cause over the past two years. A professional coach asked me later that day if the club made the move simply because of its record of three losses—a 1-0 loss to open the season on March 25 at North Carolina followed by heavy defeats to the Portland Thorns (4-1) at home and Chicago Red Stars (4-2) away, scoring only three times while allowing nine.
Matt Potter is well known in the U.S. and was a youth coach for years at Sereno SC in the Phoenix area where I live; he is widely known as a teacher and not a screamer and is spoken of highly by a number of former players. He was head coach at Washington State University, the University of Oklahoma and with the U.S. U-23 national team. In addition, the team had a massive injury situation to start the season, with Brazilian international midfielder Debinha, American midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo, U.S. international and two-time Women's World Cup winner Morgan Gautrat, new signing Swedish international Hanna Glas and U.S. forward Kristen Hamilton all out with injuries, while American defender Elizabeth Ball went out injured in the first game. That list doesn't include Canadian international Desiree Scott, French international forward Claire Lavogez and U.S. international and 2019 WWC winning midfielder Sam Mewis, who continue to recover from long-term injuries. DiBernardo and Debinha have since returned to play.
Kansas City General Manager Camille (Levin) Ashton conducted a Friday afternoon press conference two days after Potter was fired, with a large crowd on the call. Ashton, a former professional player and Stanford University College Cup winner in 2011, who played in the NWSL, Sweden, Italy and Norway (who I have known for years), did a quite admirable job handling at times a difficult media. She emphasized that the League and the NWSLPA were not going to investigate this case so it really became a club decision.
She said that the decision to fire Potter was not related to any players issues and indeed that players were not involved in it, but: "We believe the decision was in their best interest."
She said that there are HR regulations to follow so they couldn't disclose a lot but that it came down to a lack of partnership and a break-down in communication between "Potter"—the one time she used his name was just with his last name—and management and ownership. She said that the club's 0-3 regular season start "put stress on everyone and [they] was frustrated with it. It was a lack of collaboration and partnership." She emphasized again that it was not a situation regarding Potter's relationship with his players. She then said: "As you're all aware, we started the season 0-3 as a club. We were frustrated with the losses and the start of the season. Ultimately, that was then met with a lack of collaboration and partnership that we would otherwise expect from our head coach with management and ownership." It was simply an internal staffing decision.
This reporter changed the focus to the news conference to interim head coach Caroline Sjöblom, who won her first game hours after taking over as interim head coach. I asked Ashton: "When Caroline was brought on as an assistant coach to start the 2023 season, she had a strong coaching background in Scandinavia—the second assistant brought in from Sweden as American Jackie Bachteler was hired in San Diego (Bachteler was a coach, including time spent as a head coach, for over a decade in Sweden and for a short time in Cyprus) and, will she be considered for the permeant position and, if so, what are the signposts that she needs to hit?"
Ashton responded: "We believe in her, and it's important that the players believe in her, which we've seen so far in the short amount of time," Ashton added: "We will just continue to evaluate. And I will be around and transparent and available to the players as we kind of move forward here and make sure that we are moving in the right direction as an organization… We are really fortunate to have Caroline with us and we generally believe in her ability and her leadership to step in seamlessly right now in this role as interim head coach. She has a fantastic resume has been a head coach for youth national teams as well as in Scandinavia. We believe in her right now and we will evaluate as we continue this season."
She later again emphasized that this was Caroline's team now.
Another question that was asked of Ashton was if Potter's firing had anything to do with the charges made by the mother of 2023 third-round Current draft selection from Washington State University, Mykiaa Minniss, who said that the Current had treated her daughter poorly during the pre-season camp in terms of communication on her status on the team and by not covering expenses. Minniss had to pay for her own flight to preseason camp in Florida and for her meals for the first week. She then was waived with no explanation from anyone in the organization. She then went to the Orlando Pride to tryout but left soon after and was considering giving up the game permanently. Ashton responded: "I and the organization are sorry to hear that she has been dealing with the things that came to light. We certainly were not aware of that, and we hope, genuinely, that she's doing okay, most importantly. We honestly aren't aware of any violations of the CBA and believe that we treat every player equally within this organization, regardless of whether they are contracted or not."
The NWSLPA is investigating this case. Per the NWSL collective bargaining agreement, NWSL teams are required to provide housing and either a per diem or meals to trialists who participate in preseason training camps. Draft picks fall under this provision if they have not signed a standard player agreement. The same section does not address travel costs for trialists. Another section does address relocation expenses, but the language specifically calls out "newly-signed and relocating players," which would not include a trialist.
NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman was alerted to the Minniss situation while flying to KC for their home regular season opener at the end of March and said: "We share a commitment in that we all take this really seriously. We want to understand what happened in this circumstance. We're incredibly sad that was her experience, and we want to see how we can improve in the future and learn from this."
My take on the Minniss situation, besides the fact of how terribly sad it is for her and that these cases are still happening as the league enters its second decade, is that it is not a Current issue to fix but one that the NWSL needs to set standards for throughout the league and monitor that teams are following them, and that includes the draft. I have followed the NWSL draft since year one in 2013 and attended it live on some occasions. There have been multiple problems with the draft over the year including:
- Players who are drafted have gone to Europe to avoid playing for particularly teams, even when it was not a surprise to at least some in the media, and it was clear that they had no intention of playing in the NWSL. The drafting team would lose their rights to the player after a year so, in essence, they wasted a draft pick—not the best example of due diligence. Others would go abroad to try to return in a few years at a higher salary.
- Teams have done poor scouting of players, prioritizing players with U.S. youth national teams or those from schools affiliated with the SEC, Pac-12 or ACC, missing out on late-bloomers or those from smaller schools/conferences. Certainly this year we saw teams shy away from drafting players who might be tied up with another country's national team this summer during the WWC. (see: The Week in Women's Football: NWSL Draft review; Angel City sign 'generational talent' Alyssa Thompson - Tribal Football
- In general, teams were not doing diligent scouting and vetting of the annual 150-250 + players over the past few post-COVID seasons who have registered over the past few years, nor in the years before, many times because of budget restrictions on scouting. For a draft that you can sign up for only a day or two before the draft, that does a disservice to the players and the teams in their scouting and that should be changed as well.
Turning to training camps, over the years players have described numerous situations to me in which non-roster players, who could at times include draft choices, were brought into pre-season camps and encouraged to stick around through the 6-9 weeks of pre-season, not make the team but then steered to play in a semiprofessional team nearby—WPSL, W-League, UWS—which are technically amateur leagues in order to field high school and college players and most teams primarily reimburse expenses only. The Chicago Red Stars use to park players—particularly those from Chicagoland—with their Red Eleven/ Red Stars Reserve team in the WPSL for years.
I think NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman has been drinking out of a firehose in her one year on the job, dealing with the mass player abuse by coaches and staff, developing a cooperative relationship with the NWSLPA, expansion and marketing issues among other issues. She has taken on these tasks while being new to the sport and done some strong work.
The draft/training camp issues need to be dealt with ahead of next year by developing protocols and standards along with follow-up procedures with teams in terms of how they are handling non-roster players as well as scouting for the draft. Improvement here will boost the image of the league, particularly among young players and prospects and perhaps prevent some young talent in going abroad in the future, who can help advance the sport professionally in their own country.
Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham is on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.
Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey