This week we have an in-depth look at Iceland's top women's division league as it has entered the second half of the season, including some of their full internationals from around the world. We also look at the news that former Arsenal head coach Laura Harvey is leaving her U.S. women's national team coach position to rejoin the NWSL and the Reign—her original side in the league. We also have news that long-time Canadian international midfielder Diana Matheson is retiring from the game, but wants to help her country establish NWSL teams or even a Canadian professional league.
Former Arsenal head coach Laura Harvey returns to the Reign from the U.S. WNT U-20 side
Laura Harvey, who coached Arsenal in England before joining the Seattle Reign for their inaugural season in 2013—guiding the Reign to two league titles (2014 and 2015) before joining the Utah Royals for two seasons—has resigned her position as U.S. Women's National Team U-20 head coach to return to the NWSL and the Reign franchise as of July 15. She will finish as an assistant at the Olympic Games for the U.S. this summer. She began her national team position in January of 2020 and the team qualified for the 2020 WWC U-20 World Cup after winning CONCACAF qualifying in early March 2020, after defeating Mexico, 4-1. COVID-19 put pad to the FIFA U-20 WWC later in the year. Harvey went 53-26-35 (W-T-L) in 110 regular-season games from 2013-2017 for the Reign and, including her time with the Utah Royals is 72-38-52, including playoff games.
In three seasons at Arsenal, Harvey led the team to three consecutive league titles, two Continental Cups (league Cup) and one FA Women's Cup, being named FAWSL coach of the year in 2011.
Harvey takes over from former PSG and Olympique Lyon coach Farid Benstiti, who succeeded now U.S. Women's National Team head coach Vlako Andonovski when he joined the national team setup in late 2019; Andonovski had coached the FC Kansas City sides which defeated Seattle in both championship games while Harvey coached in Seattle and then succeeded Harvey as Reign head coach. Benstiti lasted eight games into his first full season in charge and the team always seemed disjointed while his press conferences were close to useless due to his English skills and just non-directional process. Harvey is a strong choice to right the Reign ship—the team sits ninth in the ten team league with 10 points out of 30 possible—as she has coached influential leaders in Wales international Jess Fishlock and American defender Lauren Barnes in Seattle; both of whom are still at the club. She should do an excellent job in integrating the three new Olympique Lyon of French loanees into the side: French internationals Sarah Bouhaddi and Eugenie Le Sommer and German international Dzenifer Marozsan of Germany.
Harvey explained her move to Jeff Kassouf of The Equalizer in the U.S., "When I took this role with U.S. Soccer, I was in a position where I really wanted to see what international soccer was about again, having been involved in it a long time ago with England. I was really lucky to get this opportunity with U.S. Soccer, and it was really good timing for me. I felt like I needed it. I'd been a head coach in the professional game for like 14 years and I think one of the things that you don't appreciate when you are a head coach for that long is how sort of stuck in your ways you are a little bit. And it's fine to be that way, but I felt that for me personally just taking a little step back and going, okay, you know, evaluating where I felt I was as a coach, evaluating the things that I've done and the pathway I've been on, and then being in U.S. Soccer, the greatest part about that is the players that you get to work with from the U-20 perspective, seeing the bright future that this country has was eye-opening for me."
Harvey is just one of six women who have held permanent positions as head coaches in the NWSL over its first nine seasons. Casey Stoney is the seventh, having been appointed last week to guide San Diego when it joins the league next season (see last week's column: The Week in Women's Football: Big offseason moves; San Diego appoint Stoney; Spokane joins W-League - Tribal Football). Of the 11 NWSL head coaches now in position for next season, eight are from England, one is from Northern Ireland, one from Wales and one American.
Iceland—Update from the beginning of the second half of the league season
We look at Iceland's Urvalsdeild women league for the 2021 season ,which includes more imports than we saw last season, when the league started later in 2020 because of COVID-19, but began this year early in May as is typical.
As we enter the second half of the regular season—with the 10 league teams playing 10 of their 18 matches—Valur (7-2-1 W-D-L for 23 points) and Breidablik (7-0-3 for 21 points) are again the top two sides battling for the league crown, with Selfoss (5-2-3 for 17 points), Throttur Reykjavik (4-3-3 for 15 points), IBV (4-1-5 for 13 points) and Stjarnan (4-1-5 for 13 points) still hoping to move up the table during the second half of the season. Valur (2019) and Breidablik (2018 and 2020) have won the last three league crowns and lead in all-time titles (11 versus 18), with KR (now in the second tier 1. Deild Women's league) third with six titles. At the bottom of the league, the two promoted sides from 2020—Tindastoll (2-2-6 for 8 points) and Keflavik (2-3-5 for 9 points) are fighting the drop straight back down a division—along with surprising Fylkir (2-3-5 for 9 points), who finished third last season but were 21 points behind league winners Breidablik and 19 points behind second place Valur.
Four of the top seven leading scorers are American imports. The top two are Iceland full internationals: Agla Albertsdottir (21) of Breidablik—who has won two league crowns in four seasons at Breidablik and one with Stjarnan in 2016—and Elin Jensen of Valur, both with 8 goals—the latter has been with the club since 2010 and played collegiately at Florida State University. Four of the next five top scorers are all Americans: Delaney Pridham (IBV and ex-Santa Clara University) and Breanna Lovera (Selfoss and ex-Northwestern University) with 7 goals and Tiffany McCarty (Breidablik and ex-Florida State University), Katherine Cousins (ex-University of Tennessee) and 18-year-old Iceland U-17 international Olof Kristindottir—both of Throttur—with six each.
The top two sides did not use any imports in 2020 but that has changed this year. Leaders Valur have an all-domestic side except for three recent North American college graduates who are all forwards. American Mary Vignola (ex-University of Tennessee), who played last season at Throttur, where she scored 6 times in 12 games, American Cyera Hintzen (ex-University of Texas) and Canadian Clarissa Larisey (who was a second team All-American player at the University of Memphis). Larisey had an interesting start to her professional career, signing with Valur in May as she told CANWNT News. With her senior college season being delayed from the fall of 2020 to the spring of 2021, she signed professional forms after the University of Memphis lost in the final of their American Athletic Conference tournament. With a reduced field from 64 to 48 because of COVID, she didn't think they would qualify for the College Cup playoffs, assumed that her college career was over and that she could safely sign with Valur. She explained, "The odds of us making it [to the playoffs] were very, very slim. Especially with COVID, there were even less teams going into the NCAA tournament. My coaches and I both agreed we probably won't [qualify], so I signed my contract and then it was too late for me to go back and have one last ride together. It was unfortunate, but it is what it is." Memphis was narrowly selected (there were a few very questionable selections this year by the College Cup selection committee) but Larisey couldn't play in the 1-0 upset loss to Utah Valley University of Oren, Utah—who play in the Western Athletic Conference—because you have to have amateur status to play collegiate soccer in the U.S. Larissey scored 34 times with 10 assists in 73 games across four years for the Memphis Tigers, and was a 2019 NCAA Division I Women's All-America Second Team selection and AAC Player of the Tournament in 2018 when they won the conference title.
Larissa is yet another North American who had a strong collegiate career but wasn't selected in the 2021 NWSL draft, which was limited to four rounds with only 40 players selected in total. As an international player for NWSL purposes, her chances of selection and making a team were quite low, except for as she said, "Unless you're on the national team or very well-known. I put my name in there just to see if I had the opportunity to [get drafted]. It was tough watching it and not getting chosen, but in the end it did fuel my fire [to play professionally in Europe]. Larissey feels that Canada either needs to have a team in the NWSL or its own league, as it has the 3 year old Canadian Premier Soccer League on the men's side. She said, "If we had Canadian teams that play in the NWSL, there wouldn't be as much international blockage for other players around the world. It is such a good league, a lot of the best athletes play there. It would be nice to have a team in Canada and be closer to home….If I get to play pro at home, close to the family and with them coming to watch me, that would just be amazing." Many followers of the game in North America would like to see one or more Canadian-based NWSL teams in the league, particularly since there are typically 9-10 Canadian national team pool players every season that the CSA pays their salaries for, but efforts seem to always fall short—primarily focused on the Vancouver Whitecaps—and there doesn't seem to be much momentum there at the present time—see more discussion on this issue below on the Diana Matheson story.
With a six month contract at Valur, Larissey hopes to attract the attention of Canadian national women's team head coach Bev Priestmen, "Hopefully Canada's radar is going to be wide enough to come over to Iceland; being able to play and have good minutes and good statistics can hopefully get the Canadian national team to look my way." If Valur hangs on and wins the title, that will certainly help to boost interest in her not only from the Canadian National Team coaches but also higher profile teams in European leagues with longer seasons.
Second place Breidablik also has three forwards as imports, led by American Tiffany McCarty (30), who has six goals in 10 games and moved from Selfoss last season; she played six NWSL seasons and had a year in Norway in 2017 with Medkila. Fellow American Taylor Ziemer has three goals in six games and played in the Netherlands with ADO Den Haag in 2018-19, scoring 5 times in 21 games. She played first at the University of Virginia before finishing at Texas A&M University and was a U.S. youth international. The third forward import is Belgium full international Chloe Van de Velde (24).
Selfoss is third and has two European goalkeeper imports along with an American midfielder and forward. Goalkeeper Benedicte Haland of Norway (23) played one game with Bristol City in the WSL last season after time with Sandviken and Arna-Bjornar at home. She has been capped at the U-17 and U-19 level. German goalkeeper Anke Preuss (28) has played since 2016 with Hellas Verona in Italy, Sunderland and Liverpool in the WSL, Vittsjo in Sweden and now Selfoss. She has not been capped at the senior level but was on the German side that finished second at the 2012 FIFA U-20 WWC in Japan, losing to the U.S. 1-0 in the Final.
Midfielder Caity Heap (26) of the U.S. has two goals in 10 games for Selfoss. She appeared in 19 games across two seasons for the Houston Dash in 2016 and 2017 before moving to Mallbacken in the Swedish second tier in 2018 and then Sparta Prague in the Czech Republic in 2019. Fellow American forward Brenna Lovera (24) has 7 goals in 8 games this year. She played at IBV in Iceland in 2019, scoring 6 goals in 9 games, before moving to Boavista in Portugal for part of the 2020-21 season. She played collegiately at Northwestern University in Chicago.
Throttur Reykjavik is coached by UK native head coach Nick Chamberlain, who has consolidated Throttur Reykjavik well in their second season in the top flight with some new imports and they currently sit fourth in the table. In defense, he has a full international from Switzerland in Lorena Baumann (24), who has won the Swiss League five times—2013-14, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2017-18 and 2018-19. She was also capped at the U-20 and U-17 level. Chamberlain also has a trio of young Americans in their first year in Iceland; midfielder Katherine Cousins (24) has 6 goals in 10 games and has been capped at US U-20 and U-18 levels and played at University of Tennessee. Forward Shea Moyer (22) has 2 goals in 10 games and played at Penn State University and is another player who registered for the NWSL draft earlier this year but was not drafted. Forward Shaelan Murison has 3 goals in 8 games and played at the University of California-Santa Barbara.
IBV, tied for fifth, has a variety of international imports, including one from Trinidad and Tobago, one from Slovenia, four from Latvia, a German and two Americans. Defender Liana Kayla-Marie Hinds (26) of Trinidad and Tobago played at Sundsvall in Sweden in 2019 and has been capped by T & T at the U-17 and full level. Defender Kristina Erman of Slovenia (28) is playing for the first time in Iceland after playing in 2020 with Arna-Bjornar in Norway, two years with PSV and two with Twente in the Netherlands, as well as previously in Serie Ain Italy.
Defender Eliza Spruntule of Latvia (28) is in her second year at IBV and won 5 league titles at home in Rigas and was capped at the full and U-19 levels. She is joined by two full internationals and an U-19 international from Latvia:
Midfielder Viktorija Zaicikova (20) in her first year.
Forward Olga Sevcova (28) in her second season
Forward Lana Osiniva Latvia (18) in her first year at IBV and an U-19 international; she won a title at home with Rigas in 2020
Midfielder Hanna Kallmaier Germany (27) is in her second year at IBV after a year at Swedish second division Elitettan side Kvarnsveden and played in the second division at home. She has been capped at the U-17 and played collegiately at the University of Kansas in the States. American defender Antoinette Williams (23) has one goal in 9 games. Forward Delaney Pridham is the second American on the side and has 7 goals in 10 games in her first year at the club; she played at home at Santa Clara University.
One local player to watch in the future is IBV's 18-year-old goalkeeper Auour Scheving, who has played 9 games in 2021 and is in her second season at the club after three years in Valur, winning the title in 2019. Scheving has been capped at U-17 and U-19 level.
Stjarnan in tied for fifth and has two full internationals from abroad as well as one American joining from Iceland's second division. Goalkeeper Chante Sandiford of Guyana played in Russia and Iceland, along with a season in Norway with Avaldsnes in 2018. She won a Russian league title with Zorkiy in 2012-13. This year with Stjarnan she has played in 8 games. Born in New York, she played at Villanova and UCLA in college and has been capped at the full level with Guyana. American goalkeeper Naya Regina Lipkens (St. John's University) has appeared in one Pepsi Max Deild Kvenna match this season after appearing in 3 matches for Lengiudeild Kvenna (second tier) side Viking Reykjavik this year—who are currently in fourth place in the ten team league and seven points out of a promotion spot, behind second place FH—who trail leaders KR by two points.
Midfielder Betsy Hassett (30) has 3 goals in 9 games; she has over 100 caps for New Zealand and is on the 2020 Olympic Games squad. She is in her second season at the club after three years with KF. Hassett has played for her country in the 2011, 2015 and 2019 Women's World Cup and, at the club level in the Netherlands (Ajax), Germany (Werder Bremen and SC Sand), Norway (Amazon Grimstad), England (Manchester City in 2014) and at the University of California-Berkeley in the United States.
Seventh place Thor/KA (3-3-4 for 12 points) had imports from England, Costa Rica and the States last season. This year they draw a full international from Uganda as well as one Canadian and one American import. Forward Sandra Nabweteme of Uganda (24) is in her first season in the country and has scored 3 goals in 7 games. She played collegiately in the States at the Southwestern Oklahoma State University. Her mother had played top level women's football in Uganda
Canadian midfielder Miranda Smith (25) played at TPS in Finland in 2020. American forward Colleen Kennedy (24) played at Sandviken in the Elitettan in Sweden in 2020 and collegiately at the University of Mobile in Alabama. Kennedy won NAIA All-American Third-Team and Honorable Mention honors in two separate seasons during her collegiate career. She graduated from the University of Mobile following the 2018-2019 academic year and explained that, "After graduating. I spent a year coaching, training, and preparing for professional trials."
Thor's three new imports—American Colleen Kennedy on the left, Canadian Miranda Smith in the middle and Ugandan full international Sandra Nabweteme on the right—take a break during a Thor/KA practice. Photo courtesy: Thor/KA of Iceland/Swift Sports of Uganda.
Keflavik—promoted from division 2 at the end of the 2020 season—is currently in eighth place and has international goalkeeper Tiffany Darunee Sornpao of Thailand, who grew up in Minnesota in the States; she has played in 9 games this season and was selected for the WWC in 2019 in France by Thailand. Midfielder Celine Rumpt (24) of Germany joined the side from Frankfurt in July of 2020.
The club has two Americans including midfielder Abby Carchio, who won a league title in Lithuania with Gintra Universitetas last season and played in the qualifications round of the WCL in 2020-21; she previously played at Brown University and finished with 16 goals and 17 assists in four seasons. Fellow midfielder Aerial Chavarin has 4 goals in 8 games this season and played 3 games in 35 minutes with the Chicago Red Stars in the Fall Series in 2020 after finishing at Yale University.
Ninth place Fylkir has one import this season in American midfielder Shannon Simon, who has one goal in nine games in 2021 and won a league title and the Cup with Aland United in Finland in 2020, scoring once in 18 games. She played at the University of Washington from 2014-2017
Tenth place Tindastoll also was promoted to the top division for 2021 and has Jamaican international defender Bond-Flasza of Jamaica, who has played all 10 games this season. She played the last two seasons in the Dutch league with PSV. She was raised in the U.S. and played in the 2019 Women's World Cup for Jamaica. American forward Jacqueline Altschuld (26) won the 1. Deild Women title in 2020 with Tindastoll and has been at the club for three seasons. She played with Medkila in Norway in 2017 and collegiately at the University of San Diego. She has been an assistant coach the University of California-San Diego since the 2019 season. Fellow American forward Murielle Tiernan (26) is also in her third season at Tindastoll, with one goal in nine games this season. She played 8 games with Hammarby in Sweden in 2017 and collegiately at Virginia Tech University.
Canadian international Diana Matheson Retires from the Game at 37, but Plans to bring Women's Professional Soccer to Canada
Injuries kept Canadian international and Kansas City NWSL midfielder out of her fourth Women's World Cup team in France in 2019 and her fourth Olympic Games team this summer and she has retired from the game with 206 national team caps. She is returning to Toronto to start an MBA program at Queens University but also wants to work on trying to land NWSL franchises in Canada—particularly in Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver which a decade ago had vibrant W-League franchises—and eventually a Canadian professional league, ala the men's Canadian Premier Soccer League, which is in its third season in 2020 in eight markets, with one more side in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan set to join in 2023 when it has a soccer specific stadium.
Matheson explained, "It's a bit typically Canadian. We don't do a lot of sports leagues on our own really well; we do lean on the U.S. for a lot of things." Her goal would be a Canadian League that would be at least six months in length and with salaries. She said in an interview with The Athletic, "Being a women's soccer player in Canada is like trying to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Not many people get to attempt it. It's like a one-at-a-time type thing. There's not a bridge there. You need the right conditions to do it. You need a lot of luck and privilege and be in the right spot at the right time. And then you can't develop late. You have to have a huge amount of skill off the bat and you can't learn as you go on….Like right now, if you're a kid in Canada, once you graduate the youth system or university, you either retire or you go play in another country for the rest of your career. And I think we can change that."
She told Forbes.com, "I think there's money out there. I think there's a lot of businesses looking to invest in equity and diversity, so that's one avenue. I think too there [are] different revenue models you can look at. Women's sport is really exciting because of being innovative. We're not just following traditional ownership models, like with Angel City [new franchise in the NWSL for Los Angeles in 2022], or they're not just following traditional revenue models in sports. Bums on seats, ticket sales, is not the number one source of revenue in women's sports, so you don't build a league and you don't build a team around that. You've got three or four other sources—your sponsorship, your academies, your merchandise—you've got a number of other things you want to monetize before that. I think women's sports can look at what E-sports is doing and that industry. E-sports is not making money because it's selling tickets to things. There's a lot of creative things we can do, especially if you're starting from scratch. You can be really innovative."
She played collegiately at Princeton University and joined Norwegian club Team Strømmen (now LSK Kvinner) for two years as a 24-year-old in 2008. She explained to me how much she learned from that experience. "I loved to play internationally. I think it's a great experience for any player to go to Europe and play. It's a different of play, especially the players now that are going to these big clubs. The tradition of playing somewhere like, you know, a Manchester United or a Barcelona, that's pretty cool. I wish those options had been around earlier in my career, I would have loved to go. At the same time, do I want to see more Canadians go to Europe? Not necessarily, because I would love to see more Canadians stay at home. Once we have [the] NWSL and our own league as an option, I think we can start to have more Canadians playing at home which is what we need as well. The Canadians go to Europe and the United States because they have to, right? So, yes I want to see Canadians continue to go and experience that culture, experience the big clubs, play at the highest level but at the same time, I want more and more Canadians playing in Canada too."
All credit to Matheson for studying this need with vision and insight. This is an important effort and she certainly has the pedigree and reputation within not just Canada but also North America to get business leaders, soccer administrators and other key constituents together for this effort, which will help the growth of the game in a country where more youth play soccer than traditional fan favorite sport ice hockey. Above we heard from Valur-based Canadian Clarissa Larisey, who wants to have a Canadian professional league or team to play in in the future; this time there finally might be the momentum to drive the effort to fruition, either with a Canadian League through the CSA or NWSL teams or both. Tom Sermanni, then coach of Australia's women's national team, told me in China in 2007 at the Women's World Cup that it was important for Australia to get a women's league started—even with a short season of one round. That league just finished its thirteenth season after starting in 2008/09 and though the W-League is still a short season of only 12 regular season games, it has helped to develop Australian women's players further and sent a number to clubs abroad. A six month league in Canada would be great to see, but even a 2-3 month effort is a start and things look positive for that to happen soon, hopefully by the next WWC in 2023, hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women's football. Get yours copy today.
Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey