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The Week in Women's Football: Chatting with stars of Gold Cup Finals; Tyrone Mears joins USL trailblazers

This week, we look at the new USL Super League, which in early February announced its line-up of eight teams to start the 2024-25 USL inaugural season. It will play a European traditional Fall-Spring season and, very significantly, was awarded Division I status by the U.S. Soccer Federation, which has implications for the women's game in the U.S. and ramifications for the sport of football—men's and women's—globally.

We also look at the results of the third edition of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Women's Champions League for club teams late last year. We also report live from Los Angeles at the one game Preliminary qualification round for six teams to gain three available spots at the W Gold Cup Finals, along with four invitees from CONMEBOL.

USL Super League Launch News

The USL Super League in early February announced their launch plans for their inaugural season later this year with eight teams and we discuss the implications of their designation as a Division I league by the U.S. Soccer Federation. The eight teams are:

  • Brooklyn, N.Y. –The team is affiliated with Brooklyn Football Club and will play its home matches at Maimonides Park in iconic Coney Island.
  • Carolina – Based in Charlotte, N.C., Super League Carolina will play its home matches in American Legion Memorial Stadium. The club has named Philip Poole, a former goalkeeper coach for the U.S. Women's National Team, as head coach. Poole is a native of Newcastle, England but has been in the States for over two decades. He was also a member of the Puerto Rico MNT coaching staff during 2014 World Cup Qualifying. Collegiately, Poole's prior coaching experience includes stints with Wake Forest University as the Associate Head Coach, Assistant Coach with UNC Charlotte men's soccer program and one year with his alma mater, Wingate University.
  • Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas - Along with Fort Lauderdale and Brooklyn, they do not currently have a USL men's Championship (Division 2), League One (Division 3) or League Two (Summer Amateur League or Division 4, formerly known as the Premier Development League or PDL) team.
  • Fort Lauderdale, Fla. – Super League Fort Lauderdale is developing a stadium and on-site training facilities on the campus of Nova Southeastern University. The club has named former professional soccer player Tyrone Mears (41) as head coach. Mears played in England, France and the U.S., including time with Bolton Wanderers, Preston North End, West Ham United, Derby County, Burnley, and West Bromwich Albion in England, Olympique de Marseille in France, and the Seattle Sounders FC, Atlanta United FC and Minnesota United FC in the States. Mears once played for the Jamaica national football team despite not being eligible to do so at the time.
  • Lexington, Ky. – Super League Lexington has named former New Zealand national team player Michelle Rayner, who played in the first WWC in 1991 in China, as women's sporting director and who coached at the University of Kentucky and High Point University in North Carolina. The club appointed Mike Dickey as head coach, who previously led the Jordanian Women's National Team, as head coach in 2017 and 2018. Dickey was an assistant coach with the U.S. U-17 WWC team that finished second in 2008 in New Zealand and was a guest coach for India's WNT in 2019. The club is building a new soccer-specific stadium and state-of-the-art training facilities for its youth and professional teams.
  • Spokane, Wash.: Spokane Zephyr FC –The team will play at ONE Spokane Stadium, a new 5,500-capacity stadium located in the North Bank Arts and Entertainment District. Spokane is entering a team in League 1 on the men's side and the women's W-League as well.
  • Tampa Bay, Fla.: Tampa Bay Sun FC – Tampa Bay Sun FC has named former FIFA referee and TV broadcast analyst Christina Unkel as Club President, and long-time collegiate coach Denise Schilte-Brown as Head Coach. She was the head coach at the University of South Florida since 2007. Schilte-Brown was a Canadian full international and played in the original USL W League and in Germany's Frauen-Bundesliga. The club will play its inaugural season at Blake Stadium, a waterfront venue near Tampa's historic downtown district.
  • Washington, D.C. – Led by an ownership of prominent community and business leaders from the D.C. area, the team is partnering with Major League Soccer's D.C. United.

Last year, we listed the initial eight prospective franchises for the new league (see link: The Week in Women's Football: Exclusive chats with Spokane owner Harnetiaux, USL Commissioner Vandervort - Tribal Football). Two differences from the initial 2023 list are that Brooklyn and Ft. Lauderdale replaced the Arizona teams: Phoenix Rising and FC Tucson, both of which are now listed among eight additional future markets that the league is targeting, including:

  • Chattanooga, Tennessee (which currently has the Chattanooga Red-Wolves in the W-League)
  • Indianapolis, Indiana (which currently has a W-League team, Indy 11, and a USL Championship men's side)
  • Jacksonville, Florida (which plans to also play in the USL Championship within the next year or two, under the name Sporting JAX)
  • Madison, Wisconsin, which has Forward Madison in USL League 1
  • Oakland, California (which currently has the W League Oakland Soul Women)
  • Palm Beach, Florida—the city plans to join the USL Championship in the near future
  • Phoenix, Arizona—has the reigning champion Phoenix Rising USL Championship side playing at a modular stadium just north of Sky Harbor Airport
  • Tucson, Arizona—currently has a team in the USL League 2 semi-pro franchise

In addition, Denver, Colorado last season announced that they were going to explore both leagues for a future women's professional football franchise. Three former U.S. professionals: Heather Mitts, Jill Loyden [who both played for the USWNT] and Renee Washington, who played at LaSalle University and briefly with Sky Blue FC in the NWSL and is a renowned sports reporter in the area, are leading an effort to bring a franchise to Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love last had a professional women's team in 2010 and 2011, the Philadelphia Independence in Women's Professional Soccer, and previously the Philadelphia Charge represented the city for three years in the WUSA from 2001-2003.

Renee Washington 6ABC

Renee Washington is currently with the 6ABC's sports team as a reporter and anchor.

She has previously worked at ESPN and played soccer collegiately and professionally in the region. Photo courtesy of Reneepwash/X (Twitter) and

Note: Michiana Lions FC, who are based in South Bend, Indiana (the home of the University of Notre Dame), joined the USL's semi-professional W League for the summer of 2024 and is run by Shek Borkowski, a long time FC Indiana coach in the old W League, the WPSL and WPSL-Elite, who also coached Haiti's and Puerto Rico's women's national teams in the past; he has posted on social media that they could be exploring a move to the Super League for 2026.

Phoenix Rising explained why they backed out as one of the founding franchises of the Super League in a release to their fans through the media that raised some more questions rather than providing answers:

"As an integral part of our club's ethos, we hold a profound respect and enthusiasm for the development and promotion of women's soccer. The potential it harbors for growth, impact, and the sheer joy it brings to fans and players alike is immeasurable. It is with this spirit and commitment to fostering a thriving environment for the sport that we approached the possibility of joining the USL Women's Super League [for 2023-24].

"While we are celebrating U.S. Soccer's decision today to grant Division One sanctioning to the USL Women's Super League, we have reached the conclusion that now is not the opportune moment for our involvement. Our decision is guided by two primary considerations, central to our club's values and strategic vision.

"Firstly, the foundational stability of any league is paramount for its success and the welfare of its teams and athletes. With stability in mind, we had set a deadline of December 31, 2023, for the USL Super League to receive Division One sanctioning from U.S. Soccer and for us to secure female leadership for our new women's team. [The date of the U.S. Soccer Annual Convention, when the Division I sanctioning was finalized, is traditionally early in the new year and the date had been set for months]. This critical milestone was essential not only for the league's formal recognition but also for ensuring a robust framework that supports the athletes' careers, the teams' development, and the fans' experience.

"Secondly, transparency in communications and announcements is essential for sustaining strong bonds within the soccer community. The initial announcement by the USL Super League regarding Tucson's participation, which coincided with our own initiatives, was made without our advanced knowledge. This development negatively impacted buy-in from potential investors, particularly our prospective lead female investor. We are now focused on finding a successor who shares a deep passion for advancing women's soccer in Phoenix, and we think the USL Super League's Division One sanctioning news today will help."

The second point is unclear as Tucson was originally announced with Phoenix last year—Super League Commissioner Amande Vandervort is a native of Tucson and was in Phoenix last spring the same week of the initial announcement of the teams when this reporter interviewed her at a Phoenix Rising men's game—when Tucson was revealed as an inaugural franchise at that time; the pairing of Tucson with Phoenix was a natural to reduce travel expenses and create a natural rivalry between two cities that are separated by only a 90 minute drive. With both cities, it has been known by insiders for some time that they would not launch in 2025-26.

Phoenix won the USL Championship (men's) last fall and wanted a separate organization for the women's side. Tucson is a smaller city of just over $500,000 and raising funding and sponsorship can be challenging for a city that has professional indoor American football, minor league hockey and occasional visits by Mexican minor league baseball teams that sell out a 10,000 stadium. In fact, FC Tucson dropped back to the summer amateur division 4 league for the 2023 season (where it previously played for seven very successful seasons) after four seasons in the professional Division 3 League 1. The good side of the delay is that both cities will have more time to set a viable financial plan, build an organization and identify coaches, players etc. in order to join the league for season two or three.

The Phoenix release also emphasized that their youth organization had seen 138 women players go onto play in college, with half of them playing at the Division I level and concluded with the following:

"Please understand our decision not to join the league at this time is not a reflection of our support for women's soccer. On the contrary, we are exploring every avenue, diverse leadership, and investors to support and elevate women's soccer, aligning with our club's values and the expectations of our fans and community… We are committed to being part of the sport's growth in a manner that ensures long-term success and sustainability… We look forward to the future of women's soccer and our role in it, with the anticipation of joining forces when the time is right, under the right conditions. Until then, we will continue to champion the sport in every way we can."

We will follow the future plans for women's professional soccer for both Phoenix and Tucson. Currently Phoenix has a USL women's team—FC Arizona—and multiple WPSL teams while FC Tucson has a WPSL franchise.

In a truly earth-shaking decision for soccer in America, the U.S. Soccer Federation in early February granted the Super League Division I standing, the same status as the NWSL has; this is the first time that there have been two Division I leagues in the States in either men's or women's professional soccer. U.S. Soccer President (and former U.S. WNT and NWSL winning head coach in Portland in 2013) Cindy Parlow Cone said: "Congratulations to the USL Super League on receiving its sanctioning as a Division One professional women's soccer league. The USL Super League is looking to grow the women's game and to expand the opportunities for women to compete at the highest professional level. As with all our professional leagues, we look forward to collaborating with the USL Super League and extend our best wishes to the clubs as they gear up for the upcoming season this August."

There were numerous men's leagues that attempted to gain Division I status, plus one women's league in the mid 1990's but all were denied that designation. Division I or Major League status helps the USL Super League market itself as a major league to sponsors and fans, though their player and operational budgets are expected to be much less than in the NWSL, which should attract cities that see the USL as a way to start a team with a much lower expensive entry fee (reportedly a few million dollars, compared to the NWSL where expansion franchises are costing investors over $50 million dollars just to join the league) as well as lower operational costs. I asked NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman last year what she thought about the possibility of two Division I leagues and she seemed pretty non-pulsed and talked about the importance of growing the professional women's game in America.

The same day of the announcement this month by the Super League, the NWSL released a statement that was equally neutral and bordering on an enthusiastic welcome:

"We congratulate the USL in their efforts to launch a professional league. We know the work and investment required. As we have seen from our record attendance, viewership, sponsorship revenue and expansion fees, the NWSL is growing at an exceptional pace, and we're excited about our future. As the most competitive women's league in the world, there are limited roster spots available in the NWSL. More opportunities to compete professionally is a good thing and we're interested to see how a new league might contribute to the continued growth of our game."

Is the NWSL executive office being naïve about the potential damage that a second Division I professional women's league in the market could do to their expansion options, much less the risk of competition for players? NWSL Commissioner Berman is new to soccer and doesn't have the history of the many league wars on the men's side going back decades, as well as the one on the women's side in the mid-1990's and MLS's attempt to compete with WUSA when it started in 2001. A lot of comments were concerned that the new league would compete with the NWSL for fans but there is very little chance of that as the markets are unique—except for D.C. and Brooklyn, where there is overlap with the NWSL's Washington Spirit and NJ/NY Gotham FC. For Washington, the Super League franchise is expected to play in suburban Maryland or Virginia so they should be able to develop a fan base quite independently.

For Brooklyn/New York, the reigning NWSL Champions Gotham FC play across the river in New Jersey so again, the city and metropolitan area is large enough to house two teams. A longer term concern is with signing players, particularly Americans, though many do not see substantial playing time if they are not in the national team pools when drafted. Also, will the Super League target some high-profile foreign talent, that the NWSL could be interested in?

The NWSL should be worried about more competition as European team budgets are expanding and Saudi Arabia's new Women's Premier League have plans to aggressively import talent to grow the game in the nation and the West Asia region and have a multi-billion dollar budget set aside to grew the game there. This year they had five Americans—including a pair playing internationally for Mexico and Pakistan—though they were generally playing low level soccer in Europe or in the UAE (see: The Week in Women's Football: Exploring the Saudi Premier League ambitions and hearing from Maria Khan - Tribal Football). It is in the quest for future franchises that I think the NWSL is being somewhat shortsighted about, particularly if the USL can continue to keep a gap of tens of millions in terms of expansion fees and operational costs.

Some of the requirements U.S. Soccer had for Division I status for women's leagues included:

  • having at least eight teams, with 75% of the teams in larger metropolitan areas (at least 750,000 people)
  • teams must have one majority/principal owner who has at least 35% share of the team, along with a net worth of $145 million at least.

There are other requirements but the above mentioned were the most crucial in the decision. USL Super League Commissioner Amanda Vandervort was quite confident when I talked to her last year that her league would win sanctioning and she absolutely did it when many were quite skeptical. As the former President of the National Soccer Coaches Association in the U.S. and Chief Women's Football Officer at FIFPRO in the Netherlands (from 2019-2021) and a consultant to FIFA and Major League Soccer for years on social media and communications efforts, she has huge credibility among U.S. soccer influencers.

Vandervort said about the historic Division I status: "This is a tremendous moment for the USL Super League and for women's sports. Receiving Division One sanctioning further showcases the work that our ownership groups, our clubs, and the league are doing to create a professional environment for top-level talent to compete. This is a crucial step toward realizing our vision to be a global leader in women's soccer on and off the field. We cannot wait to see our clubs take the field when we kick off in August 2024."

The fact that U.S. Soccer has allowed two professional top level leagues has implications for federations in other nations, who traditionally have one top tier league on the men's and women's side, namely the major question is will the precedent set in the U.S. open the door for entrepreneurs in Europe or other regions to try to compete with the current existing leagues? It would seem to be a steep slope to climb for a new league with the current and long-established organizations of top level professional, minor leagues and amateur leagues, though it only needs one country to do the same as U.S. Soccer did—or for a reinvigorated UEFA Super League attempt on the men's side—to cause true turmoil internationally in the game. This is an issue that we will closely watch as the new Division I Women's Super League starts play at the end of the summer.

2023 CAF Women's Champions League Review

Mamelodi Sundowns won their second CAF Women's Champions League title for Africa in three years of the event—they finished second to Moroccan power FAR in 2022—so have made the gold medal match all three seasons. In the Fall of 2023, after the WWC Finals, they defeated SC Casablanca 3-0 with Botswana international forward Refilwe Tholakele (28) scoring a brace for Sundowns, part of her tournament leading five goals; she joined Mamelodi Sundowns last year after playing for Malabo Kings in 2022 in Equatorial Guinea.

This third edition of the tournament was also significant in that it was the first time it had been held outside of North Africa, with the Ivory Coast cities Korhogo and San Pedro hosting matches, after Egypt in 2021 and Morocco last year.

Sundowns won Group A with three consecutive wins for 9 points over Morocco's SC Casablanca (4 points), JKT Queens of Tanzania (3 points) and host side Athletico Abidjan of Ivory Coast (1 point). Sundowns and SC Casablanca advanced to the semifinals.

In Group B, Ghana's Ampen Darkoa captured the group title with 6 points, having defeated second place FAR of Morocco in the first group game 2-1. FAR also advanced to the last four with six points. AS Mande of Mali was third with 4 points and Equatorial Guinea's Huracanes finished fourth with 1 point.

In the semifinals, Sundowns defeated reigning African champions AS FAR 1-0 while SC Casablanca defeated Ampen Darkoa 3-2 on penalties after a 2-2 tie. FAR captured third place with a 2-0 win over the Ghanian side

Sporting Club Casablanca, despite the loss in the final, has had quite the rapid path to the African Club finals, as they were only a third tier side four years ago. Sporting has wisely used funds to develop women's football from the Royal Moroccan Football Federation in starting women's teams at the U-13, U-15 and U-17 levels. This season, they qualified for the 8 team continental finals after winning the North African regional (Union of North African Football Federation or UNAF) qualifiers over Afak Relizane of Algeria, Wadi Degla of Egypt and ASF Sousse of Tunisia. Sporting were one of five debutants for the finals this year, along with host side Atletico Abidjan, Ghana's Ampem Darkoa, Tanzania's JKT Queens and Huracanes from Equatorial Guinea. Defending champions AS FAR, inaugural winners Mamelodi Sundown's had participated in all three tournaments and AS Mande of Mali appeared in the inaugural final in 2021.

Sundowns, besides winning the all-important African club title, earned about US$400,000 from CAF, but only one-tenth of what the men's champions earn. The total prize money from CAF was a total of $1.1 million, the same as in 2022. In 2021 for the first year of the tournament, there were no team renumerations, so things have improved, but there is a large gap to overcome versus the men.

Sporting Club president Moad Oukacha told BBC Sport Africa that, to grow the women's game on the continent, he would like to see more clubs enter regional qualifiers across the five sub-regions (with West Africa sending two teams from the winners of Group A and B), or even adding a second continental competition like the men's CAF Confederation Cup: "If we increase the number of teams playing in the zone (qualifier), the day we want to increase the number of teams in the final stage we will have more teams prepared."

For the other Moroccan team at the Finals—AS FAR—their long-time captain Ghizlane Chebbak (33), who is also the captain of their hugely successful WWC Finals team last summer that made it to the Round of 16, moved to Levante of Spain during the winter transfer window. This is her first time to play outside of Africa—she spent a short spell in Egypt with Misr Lel Makkasa SC in 2010/11, which was shortened due to the January 25 revolution in the nation. Chebbak spent 12 years at AS FAR, winning 10 league championships, 10 domestic cups and the African Champions League in 2022. She will be a helpful addition as Levante, which is currently tied for 10th place with Villareal on 19 points after 18 games and is only seven points above the relegation zone, occupied by Granada (12 points) in 15th place and Sporting de Huelva (4 points) at the bottom of the 16 team league.

2024 W Gold Cup Finals

Last year we were quite critical of the New Zealand WWC Play in tournament in February of 2023 in which 10 teams played for 3 final spots in the 2023 WWC Finals tournament. Though CONCACAF was the big winner with Haiti and Panama capturing two of the three spots available, along with Portugal of UEFA, the crowd for matches were minimal and in some cases numbered in the hundreds.

In addition, four teams were eliminated after one game, though FIFA later added another game for each team—though one coach told me at the time: "Where's the sense in that [since these teams were already eliminated]?"

There was too much travel around the world involved for the 10 teams to play in front of such small crowds. Was this meant to be a dry run for New Zealand just before the tournament Finals started? A counter argument was that the two tournaments had much different interest levels in the country and indeed the dry run was too late and became a damp sponge. Playoffs are fine for last available spots in tournaments but do them on a home and away basis in order to build up more local awareness, enthusiasm and drama.

On February 17, in a similar way, CONCACAF utilized a play-in format for the final three spots in the 12 team W Gold Cup Finals. Held at the second field [known the Track and Field Stadium] at the L.A. Galaxy of MLS Dignity Health Park complex a triple head of games were staged at the field which has one grandstand on the west side and seats about 2,000 fans. This field has been utilized by the Los Dos (L.A. Galaxy second team) and WPSL sides such as Pali Blues over the years. Again, this format involved a lot of expenses for the three teams leaving after only one game—which were ultimately Guyana, Haiti and Guatemala—but a key difference is that the Los Angeles region has diaspora from all around the world. The teams themselves utilized a lot of American diaspora as well:

  • Dominican Republic included 12 who are playing in the U.S.—most in colleges—with eight from D.R. and four in the Mexican league
  • El Salvador had 11 Americans—a large increase over the past few years—with seven coming from El Salvador, four playing in Mexico and one in Nicaragua.
  • Guatemala had eight playing in the U.S., nine playing in Guatemala and one in Costa Rica
  • Guyana had 13 squad members from Canada (one media member jested that it was really an Ontario Provincial side), with three from the U.S., and five playing in Guyana
  • Haiti had eight on the squad based in from the U.S,, ten with clubs in France and only two from Haiti
  • Puerto Rico had 12 players from the U.S., with five based in Puerto Rico, three in Mexico and one in Antigua and Barbuda

Note: Full rosters for the 15 teams in the Playoffs/ W Gold Cup rosters are at: 24_WGC_Final_Rosters.pdf (

For the final match between Guatemala and El Salvador, the stadium was fully-filled, with an announced crowd of 1,527 fans, though there were dozens more watching from the hills outside the stadium; it was a fascinating and festive environment. If it had been a men's game between the two nations, there would have been more tension and possible aggression among some fans. With women's football, we have thankfully been spared from that around the world and it was a safe and very cool atmosphere.

For the first game between Dominican Republic and Guyana, there were a few hundred fans and maybe double that for the second match between Haiti and Puerto Rico, with the latter having the majority of supporters. The down side was that the demand for tickets to the Guatemala-El Salvador match was so high that people who came to either the first or second game without tickets could not purchase them at the gate or on-line as the website showed that the tournament was sold out, even though there were at least 1,000 seats available at the first two games.

The one game playoff format does produce high stakes and very tense matches—the Haitian players all looked stunned after their surprising 1-0 loss to Puerto Rico when meeting with the few media that were in the mixed zone. CONCACAF could have added another group with the other three teams along with a fourth side either from the Caribbean Football Union (CFU), Central American Football Union (UNCAF) or even a fifth team from CONMEBOL. It should be noted that the coaches of the losing teams still felt that it was good to get the team together for training and an important game.

Guyana's head coach Omar Khan said after the match: "It's been a long week of preparation and we hoped it would be to our advantage…Making the playoffs is still quite an achievement for the team."

Khan had also mentioned that he was missing defender Sydney Cummings (24), who is currently playing with Celtic in Scotland after spending last season with Western United in Australia: "The [international] window starts on Monday [when clubs must release players for national team duty]; it would have been to our advantage if we played in December or January and knowing up front what she could do with the team [Cummings was on the final 23 player roster for the tournament and would have flown over if Guyana had advanced]. It has been a bit confusing but it doesn't take away from the girls who had the opportunity to play here and to train."

This reporter asked coach Khan about future plans moving forward with the team and he said that: "The rest of the year the plans are keeping the team together and transition to a younger team and play friendly matches later this year."

In the first game, Dominican Republic had the bulk of the attacks throughout the game against a Guyana side that clearly struggled to control the ball and string passes together; they could have won by half a dozen goals, but advanced with a single goal in the 55th minute by Kathrynn Gonzalez (23), who played at East Carolina and Marshall Universities. Guyanese goalkeeper Chante Sandiford (33), who lives in Iceland now after years of playing there (she also played in Russia, Norway and WPS in the U.S. and collegiately at Villanova and UCLA) and is getting involved in coaching there, was outstanding during the match for Guyana and prevented a run-away result for Dominican Republic.

Midfielder Lucia Marte De Leon (26) of Dominican Republic told after the match: "This game was difficult in terms of finishing our chances early but we will just recover, eat well and go again against the U.S. [the following Tuesday]."

She plays in London and in Spain. She played for years for Tottenham Hotspur in London (scoring their first ever WSL goal in the top flight in 2020) and is now with Watford after playing in Spain for two and one-half seasons with Madrid CFF on loan and then with Real Betis. She played for Spain at the U-23 level before joining Dominican Republic in 2021.

DR forward Vanessa Kara, who played at Rutgers University in New Jersey and in Finland and one game with Racing Louisville in 2021 and is looking for a club, told after the game: "We are absolutely ecstatic to be moving forward, however it was something we completely believed in and knew was possible. We wanted to find more goals in the game…We have been feeling really confident this whole camp and our tactic was to go for it from the get go."

That tactic worked really well and DR controlled the game really from start to finish. DR will open the finals against the U.S. in Group A, which also includes Argentina and Mexico and will stay in Los Angeles.

In the second game, Puerto Rico pulled off a huge upset with a 1-0 win over 2023 WWC Finalists Haiti. Jill Aguilera of the Chicago Red Stars scored from the penalty spot in the 41st minute but goalkeeper Sydney Martinez, who played at the University of South Florida and last season in Norway with Grand Bodo, was stellar in goal and the player of the match. She saved a penalty from high-scoring Haitian forward Nerila Mondsir (25) of Montpellier in France in the 74th minute, diving to her left to make a clean stop of the kick and finished with a shutout and 15 saves. The last time that the two teams played was in late 2019 in CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying when Haiti defeated Puerto Rico 2-0 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Martinez told after the game: "We have to control the Caribbean. Haiti and Jamaica are special. We have to better the Caribbean and own it so we can belong in other spaces. This win will give us quite a bit of attention."

When asked what the win meant as far as the development of the game in Puerto Rico, she said: "I think we show the world that we may be a small little island but we can compete just as well as the other teams… Seeing us get as far as we are and doing better and better it will push girls and boys on the island to get to where we are and even further."

Her play and the shock win have certainly put her on the watch list as well for agents and clubs and she has been mentioned with Australia's A-League after the tournament, where Western United needs a goalkeeper after Hillary Beal's loan was recalled by the San Diego Wave, after they acquired her from Racing Louisville, who had sent her on loan to the Melbourne area club for the second consecutive season. Currently Martinez is unattached (not with a club) and just training for her national team.

She explained: "I am not with any team. I loved playing in Norway; it was colder than what I preferred to be honest but I loved the league and the girls. If I get to go back, that would be great but I am happy just playing for my island right now and training and waiting for the [international transfer] window to open back up."

Based on her performance here, she will not be for long. With this win, Puerto Rico advanced to Group B to face Brazil, Colombia and Panama in San Diego. was one of four press members who sat in on a bizarre press conference by Haiti coach Frederic Gonclaves (41), who has been with the team since last fall after taking Le Havre into the French top flight at the conclusion of the 2022-23 season. This was the second crucial game that Haiti has lost in his five games, falling to Costa Rica last November for an automatic spot in the W Gold Cup Finals on the line. Haiti had earlier victories over Costa Rica (1-0) and St. Kitts and Nevis (11-0 and 13-0) in the qualifiers.

With one other American and two reporters from Haiti, Gonclaves talked for almost 20 minutes for three questions, including one from Afterwards, on the way to interview the players, I talked with one Haitian reporter and said I had never seen a more verbose coach after a loss. We both came to the conclusion that he was trying to sell us and the federation in order to keep his job.

They were missing a few key players with injuries including Melchie Dumorney of Lyon, but the team really looked out of sync. One CONCACAF coach who was scouting the games said that she did not think Haiti would come back once PR went into the locker room with a 1-0 lead, which is quite rare for a Haitian side to be shutout, particularly against regional competition. Haiti looked dangerous at times but Puerto Rico was outstanding. Based on what I saw, Gonclaves should be jettisoned as soon as possible.

Haiti was such a delight and positive story last summer at the Finals and half of their squad is performing for clubs in Europe. To keep that momentum, they need a coach to reinvigorate them and continue to build on what they have achieved and not slip back into the second or third tier of CONCACAF teams—the region's nations are improving rapidly and Haiti has to bet back to their vibrant goalscoring play of the past. Haiti midfielder Danielle Etienne (23)—who was born in Virginia, plays collegiately at The Citadel in South Carolina after time at Fordham University in New York and began playing for Haiti at the U-17 level in 2017—also stressed the need for the team to continue to play and build, saying that the team had more camps and friendlies played for the rest of the year, which are not usually held in Haiti but likely somewhere in Europe, and that: "This is definitely in no way a time to take a rest and take off—we will definitely be back to camp soon."

When asked about their preparation for Puerto Rico ahead of the match, Etienne said: "In all honesty, I thought we were pretty accurate in terms of what they would do tactically, in terms of looking for those balls behind us and getting in behind us. I think that was something that we did prepare for. It came down to our performance and execution of that tactic did not go as well as it should have. I do think that we were prepared on that end and expecting what they were doing. [In the second half] they tried to play a little more to run the clock down and that was something that we were not necessarily prepared for and that was a time to chase it so they would change their tactic to affect us. To begin the game, we were prepared for what they were doing."

In the last match of the evening, an even game was turned on its head when Guatemala lost midfielder Saviana Gomez with a straight red in the 37th minute (after VAR overturned an initial yellow card) for a foul on Juana Plata near midfield, when El Salvador already led 1-0 from the 19th minute. El Salvador cruised from that point and used a hat-trick from Brenda Ceren (25), who plays in Liga MX Femenil with Atlas of Guadalajara. She has only played at home and in Mexico, but her brother Darwin played in Major League Soccer in the States. She skied a penalty kick over the crossbar in second half stoppage-time with a wonderful chance for a fourth goal. Thus far this season with Atlas, Ceren has scored four times in 24 matches across the 2023-24 Apertura and Clausura Championships.

Brenda Ceren (#10) scored all three goals in El Salvador's 3-0 win over Guatemala in Los Angeles to Qualify for the 12-Team CONCACAF W Gold Cup Finals. (Photo Courtesy of CONCACAF).

El Salvador's win over Guatemala was their eighth consecutive win—all in CONCACAF W-Gold Cup Qualifiers against Honduras, Guatemala, Martinique and Nicaragua—and they now move on to play in Houston, Texas in Group C with Canada, Costa Rica and Paraguay. will continue to cover the CONCACAF Regional Championship with 12 teams, including four guest sides from South America, over the next few weeks (see our tournament preview from last month: The Week in Women's Football: Rating ESPN's top 50; comparing IFFHS rankings - Tribal Football).

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

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Tim Grainey
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Tim Grainey


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