This week we examine in detail a number of moves by Australian W-League players to European clubs and announce the new head coach of Canberra United for the 2020/21 season. We also look at some news from the summer United Women's Soccer League in North America.
Australia—More Players Sign for Clubs in Europe
Australia is seeing an increasing number of player moves to European leagues ahead of the 2020-21 season launches. This trend by Australians to go to Europe has been to the expense of the NWSL, with the number of players bound for Europe going from 40% last year to over 90% for 2020-21 (Alanna Kennedy of Orlando is the only Australian currently on the books of an NWSL club, and she is rumored to be headed to Europe as well, particularly since her club missed the NWSL Challenge Cup due to multiple positive COVID-19 tests just ahead of leaving Florida for the Utah tournament in late June). When Sam Kerr left the Chicago Red Stars and the NWSL after the 2019 season finished to join Chelsea in England, one reason she gave was that she was moving to a league with less extensive [coast –to-coast] travel, which would help extend her playing career.
The FA WSL is still a prime location and new Aussie signings include Ella Mastrantonio going to Bristol City WFC (the same club Matilda midfielder Chloe Logarzo joined last winter). Mastrantonio (28) had a short stint with the Matildas in 2008 and finished a strong W-League season with 2019/20 surprise packet Western Sydney Wanderers, who made the playoffs for the first time in their eighth season in the league. Bristol is coached by Australian Tanya Oxtoby, who played with Mastrantonio at Perth. Mastrantonio has played over 100 games in the W-League. Mastrantonio said: "It's an honour, privilege and a dream come true to sign for such a prestigious club as Bristol City and coming to one of, if not the best, league in the world. I'm so excited to be able to work with Tanya again after spending my formative years as a footballer together in Western Australia and to now be working with each other in the WSL is just incredible. Women's football is absolutely skyrocketing in Europe, and especially the U.K., so what better way to challenge yourself to become a better person and player than playing with and coming up against the best of the best."
We previously discussed Steph Catley recent move from the Portland Thorns to Arsenal. Catley has been a stalwart of the Westfield Matildas since making her debut in 2012. In the eight years since, the defender has made 82 appearances for the national team including at two FIFA Women's World Cups and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. At club level, Catley has won five Westfield W-League Championships and two Westfield W-League Premierships (regular season titles). She has also played for the Portland Thorns, Orlando Pride and Reign FC in the American National Women's Soccer League. We profiled Arsenal last month ahead of their 2019-20 Women's Champions League Quarterfinal match against Paris St. Germain on August 22 (see: https://www.tribalfootball.com/articles/the-week-in-women-s-football-arsenal-lowdown-w-league-season-change-la-possible-nwsl-expansion-site-4333122).
Since that article, Arsenal has a new goalkeeper coming into the mix in Matilda starter Lydia Williams, who signed a one year deal, joining Catley and Caitlin Foord at the Gunners. Head coach Joe Montemurro, another Australian head coach in the FA Super League, said: "This is another really important signing for us. With the wealth of experience that Lydia brings, she can help the younger players that we've got, but more importantly she's a big game player that will be solid and really contribute to the group." Williams, who made her Westfield Matildas debut in 2005, has made almost 90 appearances for the national team, including being a part of four FIFA Women's World Cup tournaments. She also has won 4 W-League titles, three with Melbourne City and one in 2011/12 with Canberra United. She had a brief stint in Sweden with Pitea in 2012 but mostly has played in the U.S. (the last three years with the Tacoma/Seattle Reign, though she only played in one game last season due to injury), and she has an American mother, though the goalkeeper was born in Australia.
Another Matilda goalkeeper—MacKenzie Arnold—is also London-bound, signing with West Ham United for the 2020-21 campaign. Arnold played with Brisbane Roar the last three seasons after stints with Perth Glory (3 years), Western Sydney Wanderers (1 year) and Canberra United (1 season). Capped 24 times, she started with Arna-Bjornar in Norway's Toppserien in her first stint abroad in 2018. She joined the Chicago Red Stars after the France WWC last summer but did not see any game time.
Winger Hayley Raso has extended her deal at Everton, staying through the 2020/21 season. She had signed with the Blues in January of this year from Brisbane Roar but due to injury, international call-ups and then the early shutdown of the FA WSL season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she has not played in any matches yet with the Liverpool-based club. She played previously with the Portland Thorns and the Washington Spirit in the NWSL. She explained how bizarre it was that in six months since signing with the Blues, she has not been able to play with the club and been isolating in Brisbane, "It's really crazy, I don't think anyone could have imagined it would turn out this way. I was supposed to go to Everton in January and ended up being not able to go as we went into camp [with the Westfield Matildas]. Then I was supposed to go after the Matildas game [against China] but broke my nose and I had to have the operation. Then finally third time lucky I went over [to England] and everything got called off [due to the Coronavirus]."
In moves to other countries within Western Europe, forward Kyah Simon joined PSV Eindhoven of the Netherlands' Eredivisie Vrouwen league. It is her first time playing in Europe after five years in the NWSL in America with the Boston Breakers and the Houston Dash, totaling 10 goals and 8 assists in 66 games. Simon discussed her move to the Dutch league, having seen the city and stadium when Australia played the Netherlands in a pre-World Cup friendly in Eindhoven last summer, "I am excited to be part of PSV. The atmosphere, facilities and club appeal to me. I had been open to a new challenge for a while. Europe and the Netherlands in particular breathes football. PSV is a club with an illustrious history. I was looking for all that." Simon has won three Westfield W-League championships (two with City and one with Brisbane Roar in 2010/11 and two Premierships, scoring 48 goals in 106 regular season matches, with 4 in the 2019/20 regular season and a brace in the 5-1 semifinal defeat of surprising playoff debutants Western Sydney Wanderers last season. Simon has 92 caps for the full national team, including at three FIFA Women's World Cups and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Simon (29) joins fellow Matilda Amy Harrison, who played last season for the Washington Spirit in the NWSL around Women's World Cup duty in France, at PSV. The Dutch side had never won the Eredivisie league title before topping the table this season, leading with a 7 point lead over Ajax in the shortened 2019-20 season in late February that was subsequently cancelled after 12 rounds; PSV had finished third in three of the four previous campaigns. The Netherlands is certainly becoming a massive attraction to international players as their national team won the European Championships in 2017 as host before enthusiastic crowds and then finished second to America in the 2019 Women's World Cup. Simon's move to PSV was a bit of a surprise as initial reports indicated that she was headed towards the much more established Damallsvenskan in Sweden.
Australian youth international Angie Beard is leaving Melbourne Victory to join Icelandic club KR Reykjavik in the Urvalsdeild Kvenna/Pepsi Max League. Beard won the Premiership in 2018/19 with the Victory and had played with the club for three seasons after three previous years at Brisbane Roar The very dependable and no-nonsense back first played for Victory in 2017/18 and totaled 36 games for Melbourne and 65 W-League matches in all during the regular season. Laura Hughes of Canberra United is also summering with Trottur Reykjavik in the Pepsi Max League. New Zealand international Betsy Hassett joined the Icelandic league side Stjarnan for 2020, after two seasons with KR Reykjavik. Hassett originally played collegiately at the University of California-Berkeley and for clubs in Norway, Germany and with Manchester City in 2014 in their first season in the top flight; she has represented her country in 3 Women's World Cup and 2 at the U-20 level.
In Sweden, midfielder Elise Kellond-Knight suffered an ACL injury in her first match with Kristianstads DFF, having joined the exodus from the NWSL; she played with Tacoma Reign (now OL Reign) and the Washington Spirit last season in her first year in the NWSL.
Forward Emily Gielnik (28) has also moved to the Swedish Damallsvenskan, signing with the small village club Vittsjo, who surprised everyone by finishing third last season and just missing a UEFA Women's Champions League spot for 2020/21, with their club record highest regular season finish ever. Gielnik signed on July 16 and joined the club at the end of the month. Gielnik (28) had returned to Australia after a short time with Bayern Munich in Germany, where she saw action in only 6 matches with no goals. She made her Matildas debut in 2012 and has 37 appearances with 8 goals, making the 2019 Women's World Cup squad after a narrow miss for both the 2015 Finals in Canada and for the 2016 Olympic Games Finals in Brazil. She scored in the crucial 3-2 win over Brazil in the first round last summer in France after the Matildas lost their opening game to Italy 2-1, in one of the shocks of the tournament.
Melbourne Victory announced this month that Natasha Dowie was not returning to the W-League for the 2020/21 season. The former English international was extremely popular in Australia, including flawlessly handling multiple guest announcing spots on Fox Sports W-League telecasts. Dowie is off to Italy to play with AC Milan after 5 seasons with Melbourne. Victory Head Coach Jeff Hopkins said, "On behalf of everyone at Melbourne Victory we would like to thank Natasha for her contribution to our club, both on and off the pitch. Tash has been one of the competition's best strikers, she's been a fantastic captain, and there's no doubt the high standards she demands of herself and her teammates has helped us grow as a side. We want to wish Tash all the best for the next chapter of her career."
Dowie said about leaving the club she served so well for so long, "The experience [of playing football with Melbourne Victory] has changed my life in so many positive ways; Melbourne has become my second home. I can't say enough about Melbourne Victory as a club. It's something that you will never understand until you have been a part of it. It truly is a family club from the top all the way through. It has been an honour to play for this club and an even bigger achievement to captain it….Thank you to the W-League and everyone who makes the league possible, all the support you have given me over the years has meant so much to me. I hope the league keeps going from strength to strength. I will be supporting from a distance."
This season's Westfield W-League joint Golden Boot winner, Dowie leaves having scored 34 goals in 59 appearances for the club across 5 seasons. She also played with the Boston Breakers in the NWSL for two seasons, a half season with Linkoping in Sweden and one year with Valerenga in Norway, as well as a number of clubs at home. She is best known for her time with Liverpool, where she won two FA WSL titles. A short time after she announced that she wouldn't be back to Melbourne this winter came the news that AC Milan had signed the well-traveled striker, along with Dutch goalkeeper Selena Babb from Sporting Club de Huelva in Spain. Babb played with CFF Olimpia Cluj in the Women's Champions League in 2018-19. Milan also picked up defender Laura Agard, who is a former French international and played at Olympique Lyon as well as most recently in Italy with Fiorentina.
Matilda defender Jenna McCormick (26) is going to Spain to join Real Betis in her third stint in Europe. McCormick has over 80 W-League appearances with Adelaide (4 seasons), Canberra (2 seasons), Brisbane (1 season) and Melbourne Victory (last season). She won a league title in Iceland with Starjan and then returned to Europe the next season with Medkila of Norway. McCormick also played in the Women's Australian Football League and won Grand Final titles with the Adelaide Crows in 2017 and 2019. TribalFootball.com interviewed McCormick while she was at Brisbane Roar in 2018/19 about her amazing two professional sport career. (see: https://www.tribalfootball.com/articles/the-week-in-women-s-football-interview-with-two-sport-star-mccormick-australia-creates-indigenous-pathways-gold-cup-review-4256088)
She took a sabbatical from the AFLW ahead of this season to concentrate on football (soccer) and made the national team for the first time in November. Jenna signed for two seasons, which is a solid length contract within many European leagues, in which one year or one year plus an option year are more common contract lengths.
Matilda midfielder Aivi Luik (35) is going back to Spain and will play with McCormick's and Betis' crosstown rivals in the Primera Iberdrola—Sevilla. Luik told Sevilla's website, "Sevilla gives me the opportunity to play again in one of the best leagues in the world. Coming to Sevilla means the honour of playing for a club with a lot of history and it means playing with a team with the potential for a lot of success….I want to help encourage professionalism and hard work and a good winning mentality. I think those are really important to the success of the team." Luik has experience playing in Denmark, Iceland, England, Norway, Sweden, the Ukraine, Canada and the U.S., where she went to college. She previously played with Levante in the Spanish top flight two seasons ago. Luik played a key role in Melbourne City's W-League premiership-championship double and won 5 titles in total—4 with City and 1 with the Roar.
I have known Luik since 2006 when she was an instrumental cog in the FC Indiana side while professional women's soccer was trying to restart in the States. I talked to her after the Matildas defeated Jamaica 4-1 (when Sam Kerr—now of Chelsea—scored all 4 goals) in Grenoble at last summer's Women's World Cup. She signed a one year contract; Spain's Primera Division 2020-21 season is due to start in September. Congratulations to Aivi Luik for moving back to the Spanish league, which has increased in quality in recent years and is a key destination market for top internationals, rivaling England, France and Germany.
Note: Alex Chidiac has been with Atlético Madrid since 2018.
Laura (Alleway) Brock signed with French first division side EA Guingamp and was drawn in the 2019-20 Coupe de France Feminine semifinals against Olympique Lyonnais, who Australian defender Ellie Carpenter just recently joined from the Portland Thorns. Lyon won the match 1-0 on August 2 while PSG defeated Bordeaux 2-1, with the two giants facing off for the Cup on August 9. After a 0-0 tie, Lyon won on penalties to retain the Cup for the second consecutive season, eight out of the last nine finals (losing to PSG 1-0 in 2018), and 11th overall (with 2 coming when the club was known as FC Lyon in 2003 and 2004, just before becoming the women's section of the men's club Olympique Lyonnais). Brock (30) has 60 caps with the Matildas and played 5 seasons (across two stints) for the Melbourne Victory—totaling 46 appearances with her most recent W-League side—along with 5 years at the Brisbane Roar and 2 with Melbourne City FC, winning two Grand Finals at City and one with the Roar. She had a short stint with Lincoln Ladies in England in 2012 and played in 11 games for the Orlando Pride during the NWSL in the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
Victory head coach Jeff Hopkins said about Brock's move to France, "On behalf of everyone at Melbourne Victory, we'd like to congratulate Laura on signing with En Avant Guingamp. She's a very driven and professional player who provided us with valuable experience on and off the pitch, especially in our premiership season. We wish Laura all the best for the next chapter in her career in France and she is always welcome back at Melbourne Victory."
Note: Emma Checker (FC Fleury 91) made the move to France earlier this summer.
Norway's Toppserein is also a large draw for Australians. Tameka Yallop returned for her fourth consecutive season with Klepp IL. Young Australian goalkeeper Teagan Micah (22), who played at UCLA in the States and was selected to the WWC team in France last summer, but has not yet been capped, signed with Anja-Bjornar in March while Karly Roestbakken (19) joined LSK Kvinner ahead of this season—her father played Division 2 ball in Norway, where he was born. Clare Polkinghorne and Katrina Gorry both signed with Avaldsnes IL in January, adding Europe to their overseas resumé after having previously played in both Japan and America. Two New Zealanders are also in the league with national team goalkeeper Victoria Esson in her second season with Avaldsnes. Esson played at Texas Tech University and was their first import from abroad and was on the Football Ferns squad for last summer's Women's World Cup in France. C.J. Bott will be playing with Valerenga for the upcoming season, moving from Vittsjo in neighboring Sweden.
Former U.S. Soccer Development and Melbourne Victory W-League Head Coach Vicki Linton is the new Canberra United Head Coach.
Vicki Linton takes over the reins at Canberra United from former Matilda player Heather Garriock, who departed McKellar Park after three years in charge as she was unable to guide the former 2 time W-League Champions to the playoffs during her stint with the club. Linton has spent the past three years with the U.S. Soccer Federation's Development Academy. She was also an assistant with the Matildas, going to the 2015 World Cup and has also been head coach of the Junior Matildas. Linton guided Melbourne Victory to their first finals series in 2011 and was at the helm for two years at the W-League powerhouse.
UWS Soccer Stadium Showcase Results
In the 2020 United Women Soccer Stadium Showcase, with Detroit City FC the host side, was held with empty stands at Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck, MI (Detroit) on July 24 and 26, though fans could watch via live-streaming. Detroit City FC is an expansion side but defeated the experienced Lansing United 2-1 in the semifinal, who had won 2 UWS regular season conference crowns. Le Rouge (Detroit City) netted their first home goal in club history in the 21st minute from Lilian Lucas. The University of Illinois midfielder took one touch to her left, and rocketed her effort towards the far post for the 1-0 advantage.
The Lansing United Hoops from the Michigan State Capital City finally pulled level in the 53rd minute off a corner kick. A flicked on header from Grace Philpotts (DePaul University in Chicago) slowly bounced towards the far post and found twine, squaring the game at one apiece. Kenna White (Bowling Green State University in Ohio) scored the winner in the 83rd minute. Lansing United was without star center back Zoe Morse, who joined the Chicago Red Stars after they drafted her in the second round of the 2020 NWSL College Draft. Detroit City reversed the result from their first ever game in a warm up match, a 3-1 loss to Midwest United FC on July 17th. Le Rouge grabbed a 1-0 lead early in the second half, but gave up three unanswered goals to drop their inaugural match. Forward Tori Singstock (25), who tied the program record with 43 goals in 52 games at NAIA small college school Indiana Institute of Technology (Fort Wayne), netted the first goal in DCFC women's history.
Over 60 players attended an indoor training try-out session with Detroit City in January. They have players with international experience in defender Meyah Romero (Trinidad & Tobago) and forward Sydney Schembri (ex-Xavier University in Ohio and Malta). Romero was born in T&T but raised in New York, going to college there and played with her native country's national team during their Olympic Games Qualifying campaign in 2019. Schembri was asked to play for Malta—where her grandfather was born before emigrating to the States—in 2019 and went to the European island nation in 2020 where her new team played Switzerland and Turkey in home internationals, tying the powerful Swiss 2-2, and made her debut in the last 10 minutes before her side lost later in the week to Turkey 2-1. Schembri was not brought in for the March EURO Qualifiers, including a 2-1 home win against Georgia on March 5 and a 3-2 setback to Bosnia-Herzegovina, again at home, just before the COVID-19 shutdown of play throughout the continent. Malta has 4 points from 7 games in the 6 team group, tied with Israel with 4 (though having only played 6 matches) and well behind leaders Italy (18 points from 6 games) and close chasers Denmark (15 points from 5 games) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (15 points from 7 games).
In the other semifinal, Midwest United FC blasted Livonia City FC 9-0 with Stephanie Curry (University of Toledo) scoring four goals. Livonia City FC is an expansion UWS League 2 side. These two clubs have already met once in 2020, with Midwest United besting Livonia City 4-0 on July 11th. Midwest United (formerly Grand Rapids FC Women) is coming off a third straight UWS season reaching the UWS Midwest Conference Final. Their previous two seasons in the league netted a UWS championship in their 2017 inaugural season, following it up with a trip to the UWS semifinals in 2018. The 2017 UWS champions posted a similar 4-0 scoreline against Corktown AFC on July 8th, and the aforementioned 3-1 victory over Detroit City FC on July 17th.
Lansing United put in a dominating performance on July 26, picking up a 3-0 victory over Livonia City FC (UWS-2) to claim third-place in the United Women's Soccer Stadium Showcase.
Two second half goals propelled Midwest United FC to a 3-1 victory over host club Detroit City FC, claiming the United Women's Soccer (UWS) Keyworth Showcase title later that same day. Stephanie Curry netted the eventual game-winner after the break, her fifth goal of the Showcase.
Midwest United celebrates their Keyworth Showcase win over Detroit City FC on July 26. Photo Courtesy: United Women's Soccer League.
United Women's Soccer became the first U.S. national league to return to play after COVID-19 with the new UWS League Two in the Southeast Conference on June 20th. This was a week before the launch of the NWSL Challenge Cup in Utah but the UWS has very low visibility in the market and as a semiprofessional league, did not receive the attention from fans, the media and sponsors that the NWSL did. The inaugural season for UWS League Two kicked off with host team Unity FC's 4-1 victory over the Orlando FC Royals. With over 1,000 live-stream views for the game on MyCujoo, a sense of normalcy returned to supporters in the soccer community. Yet, the reality of a surge of COVID-19 cases in Florida prevailed, and the league then decided that it was best to suspend the remainder of the season. Although UWS League Two member teams in the Southeast were following safety guidelines, the current situation in Florida made it nearly impossible to mitigate the risk for teams. The teams, in conjunction with league leadership, agreed that the suspension of the season is the best decision to ensure the safety of the players, their families, and the community as a whole. UWS League Two is looking to return stronger in 2021 when the conditions deem safe to do so.
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