The Week In Women's Football:Bev Yanez joins Man City, Alex Morgan moves to Lyon
At the halfway point of the Westfield W-League 2016/17 season, with seven of the fourteen rounds completed, Canberra United and Perth Glory are joint leaders while reigning champions Melbourne City sits in third—tied with Sydney FC—and in the throes of a two game losing streak, having fallen on December 18 away to Western Sydney Wanderers 2-1 after losing their first ever game the week before at home to Canberra by the same scoreline. Canberra United signed Japanese international Yukari Kinga in the offseason to help solidify their backline while they lead the league in goalscoring with 16 in 6 games. Australian international Ashleigh Sykes and U-20 international Nickoletta Flannery (17-years-old) are joint team leaders with 3 goals. The team announced this week that they had signed Australian international forward Lisa De Vanna for the rest of the season. De Vanna has been a key force for three World Cup teams for the Matildas, scoring 40 goals in 117 internationals. De Vanna, who has scored 33 goals in 75 Westfield W-League appearances, will be turning out for a competition-record fifth club after time with her hometown side Perth Glory, Brisbane Roar, Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City. American forward Jasmyne Spencer (Orlando Pride) joined Canberra this season after two productive years with Sydney FC, where she scored 12 times in 27 appearances. Canberra also has Australian international forward Michelle Heyman, the all-time W-League scoring leaders with 57, who has two goals this season, as does Ellie Brush (who played two years with the Houston Dash, but was released two months ago and has two caps for Australia) and American import Stephanie Ochs (Houston Dash). Canberra is attempting to win their third league crown; their titles in 2011/12 and 2014/15 leave them tied with Sydney FC and Brisbane Roar with two titles in the 8 previous seasons of the W-League
Perth Glory has surprised many this season, acquiring more points (13) than they did all last season (11), when they finished in eighth—second from the bottom. Sam Kerr (Sky Blue FC) is healthy again and leads the entire league with 5 goals, with Rosie Sutton chipping in 3 tallies and American midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo (Chicago Red Stars) contributing 2. Perth looks on track to make the playoffs for only the third time in their history, returning to their 2014/15 form when they won the Premiership and lost the Grand Final to Canberra.
It wasn't realistic that Melbourne City would go two consecutive seasons undefeated, but their two recent consecutive losses does seem to create a mini-crisis for the club that set standards last season that were never before seen down under—their first—when they won the Premiership and Grand Final and set records at the gate. De Vanna and Scottish international Kim Little (Arsenal) did not return but Beverly Goebel (see below) was a recent acquisition on loan from the Seattle Reign, along with U.S. international Erika Tymrak (FC Kansas City and ex-Bayern Munich). Both Americans have scored once while midfielder and Welsh international Jess Fishlock (Seattle Reign) leads the team with 3 goals. Long-time W-League forward and Australian youth international Marianna Tabain has two tallies.
Sydney FC currently holds the last playoff spot with Brisbane Roar two points out and Newcastle and Western Sydney 5 points back. Newcastle Jets have been led by Chicago Red Stars loanee Jen Hoy, who has scored four times. Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United are at the bottom of the table and seemingly out of the playoff picture. English international Natasha Dowie has picked up where she left off last season with the original Melbourne side with 4 goals and the team recently added New Zealand international midfielder Kristy Yallop, who spent last season with Mallbackens in Sweden. Adelaide has three Chicago Red Star imports this season, Mexican/American forward Sofia Huerta, midfielder Danielle Colaprico and defender Katie Naughton. Brazilian international defender Monica came on loan from Orlando Pride but missed the last game while away on international duty for Brazil's annual end of season tournament.
Bev Yanez Joins Melbourne City on loan
Seattle Reign forward Beverly Yanez is going to Australia for the first time to join the reigning champions Melbourne City. She will join up with Reign teammates Lauren Barnes and Jess Fishlock, both veterans of the league. Equalizer Soccer talked to Yanez recently and she said that the Reign started slowly in 2016 and, though a strong end of season run (3 wins and a tie in 5 matches after the Olympic Games break), they ended the campaign 2 points shy of fourth place Western New York and a playoff spot: “Overall it was not the best season and different from the last two seasons," when the Reign won the Regular Season Titles and finished runners-up in the Final, both times losing narrowly to FC Kansas City (in 2014 at home). Yanez emphasized that the team still had a positive spirit, a great coaching staff, and ended the season on a good note.
Traditionally Yanez has coached in the NWSL off-season but was looking to play this winter: “So I can get more touches on the ball, as much as possible." She discussed the idea in general of players going abroad rather than playing in NWSL and praised the American league. She described her trips abroad to play in Finland and Japan as: “I didn't have a choice. At home [after WPS folded, which she played in for two seasons] it was only semi-pro opportunities." She went to Japan with Sky Blue FC as a guest player after the league had technically gone into mothballs because the short tour had already been booked. When she was offered a chance to stay INAC Leonessa Kobe, she saw it as: “An opportunity to play a new style of soccer with consistent playing time. I'm not sure if the league was here at the time, if I would have stayed." She played in Japan for the 2013 season even though NWSL had launched after the 2012 Olympics because: “I was becoming better in some key aspects of the game; I just had to stay." She said that players should make their own choice in terms of going abroad or staying at home to play in NWSL, but if they go overseas: “They want to find a style of soccer that benefits them as a play and a cultural fit as well."
Surprisingly, Yanez has never been called into the U.S. National Team at any level. She said: “I am respectful for where the national team is headed. There are so many great players and it is a tough job to pick and choose." She would be very thankful for the chance at a national team shirt (she does not qualify for any other countries through parentage) but her priority has been performing well for her club: “I've had an amazing and fun career." Yanez will be a huge addition to City, having to replace Kim Little—who recently left Seattle to return to Arsenal. In her NWSL career, she has 17 goals and 8 assists in 61 NWSL games over 3 seasons.
Morgan Joins Lyon for the Conclusion of the 2016/17 Season
Alex Morgan has agreed to join French club Olympique Lyonnais on loan from Orlando Pride until the end of Lyon's 2016/17 season, which could last as long as the Champions League Final on June 1 in Cardiff, Wales. Morgan reportedly requested the loan of her NWSL side so she could play abroad (her first time). In addition to her Olympic Gold medal in 2012 and Women's World Cup title in 2015, Morgan has won U.S. Professional League titles in the WPS (Western New York Flash) in 2011 and NWSL (Portland Thorns) in 2013 At the club level, the opportunity to play in the final rounds of the UEFA Women's Champions League as Lyon defends its 2015-16 title, is a huge attraction to such an accomplished player. Lyon is also in contention for the French League (having won 10 titles in succession) and cup (5 wins in a row). Interestingly, Lyon sits second in the league after falling to Paris St. Germain last weekend 1-0, on a goal from French international Marie Delie in front of 1,858 fans in Paris. This was Lyon's first league defeat for almost three seasons and second loss in seven years, which speaks to the gulf in standards between Lyon, PSG and the remaining ten sides. In their previous 9 league games, they had scored 52 games with only 3 against. Another reflection of that gap is that Morgan will earn almost $30,000 a month, far more than any of her teammates.
This move should be beneficial for player and club though Morgan continually struggles with injuries, but her impact at the gate and in the club house should be strong. She only scored 4 goals and 1 assist last year in 15 starts for the expansion Pride while juggling Olympic Games and other national team duties, but as an early acquisition by trade with Portland after the club was introduced late last year, she significantly impacted the visibility of the side in a city which hosted 1994 World Cup games but has always lagged in soccer support until joining MLS in 2015 with Kaka of Brazil as their mainline player. Orlando City SC averaged more than 31,000 fans a game, second in the league only to the 2016 Champions Seattle Sounders (42,636). Morgan had a similar effect on the side that was second in the league in average attendance with 8,785, behind only her former home of Portland (16,945). There were reports that Morgan's husband, Orlando City SC midfielder Servando Carrasco midfielder, would be offered a reserve contract with the French side's men's team but that has not transpired as of yet.
If Lyon advances past Wolfsburg and then the winner of Fortuna Hjorring vs. Manchester City in the semifinals, she could face Bayern Munich and fellow American defender Gina Lewandowski, who received one national team cap last season. Bayern must defeat Paris St. Germain in the quarterfinals and then the winner of Barcelona vs. Rosengard to make the European final.
The key question in the U.S. is whether Morgan's departure is an indication that the discussions between U.S. Soccer and the National Team's Players Association for a new contract is not anywhere near a resolution. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires at the end of the month, but it could be renewed temporarily until a new contract is reached, a new CBA could be signed within the next 10 days (unlikely) or the players could strike, which could substantially dent the goodwill which the 2015 World Cup Championship team built, as well as possibly impact the Federation-run NWSL. Morgan's salary could attract more national team players abroad, as well as much lower paid Americans who further their career and income in Eastern Europe, as we have seen in recent weeks ). Alex Morgan's brief move to France may in hindsight be seen as a significant benchmark in the development of the women's game, particularly if she decides to quite NWSL at some point for a more permanent move to Europe.
Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribalfootball. 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