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The Week in Women's Football: Future of the W-League; UWS preview; Mexico squad for Cyprus Cup;

This week we discuss the attendance figures for the recent Westfield W-League season in Australia and weigh in on suggestions to improve the league in the future. We also look at the teams set for the United Women's Soccer League's (UWS) fourth season this summer and look at the Mexican Women's League Closing Championship season to date and the squad for the Cyprus Cup



2018/19 W-League Attendance Review and Thoughts on the League's Future

The Westfield W-League attracted its second highest regular season attendance total and average in 2018/19, with a total of 93,414 fans attending 52 matches (with attendance figures not available for two games) for an average of 1,796 per game. These figures surpass every regular season in league history except for 2017/18 when 115,479 (average 2,139) went to the games. Last year's figure accounted for 24 double headers with Hyundai A-League men's side, which has increased from (2) in the first year of 2008/09 and bottomed out at only one in 2012/13. In 2018/19, there were 15 doubleheaders, almost identical to the number from two seasons ago (16), and still the third highest number of A-League doubleheaders ever.It becomes a little difficult to really pinpoint the attendance figures for these doubleheaders as some of the announced figures certainly are far above the actual attendance at the start of the women's game and sometimes even at the end, thus seemingly skewing the numbers inordinately high.

Four clubs averaged more than 2,000 fans for their home games this season, led by Sydney FC (2,543) and followed by Melbourne City (2,297), Melbourne Victory (2,205) and Brisbane Roar (2,204). Perth Glory (1,141) and Adelaide United (898) had the lowest averages.

2018/19 was probably the most competitive and interesting W-League season in its 11 years in operation and there can be no doubt as to the high quality and importance of the league. Players and local media have weighed in on future suggestions for the league. This reporter followed the planning of the national league for a few years ahead of its launch in 2008/09 and then for each of its eleven seasons and will provide thoughts on some of these suggestions, with the overall feeling that the W-League has been a huge success in developing the game in Australia, being a vital entity not only for Australian players and the growth of the national teams program but also by attracting younger foreign players (mostly from America) and some international stars as well.

One idea is to expand the league calendar by playing three or four rounds of games per season, rather than each other team twice in four cases, with four clubs being scheduled only once during the season. This would effectively turn the Westfield W-League into a full 20-26 game season, expanding it from 3 months to half a calendar year. Rather than being held during the Scandinavian and NWSL off-seasons, it would then compete with these leagues for players while also increasing player costs. This should certainly be a future goal. Tom Sermanni told this reporter during the 2007 Women's World Cup in China that the goal at the time was to start the national league with at least one round of games, just to get it started. Over a decade later, it still has similar number of games per team per season (12, up from 10 during the first four years).

Another suggestion is to expand the number of franchises. The league has been pretty stable in its history with 8 teams starting in 2008/09; when Central Coast Mariners dropped out after two seasons, the league operated with 7 teams in seasons three and four, then added Western Sydney Wanderers in 2012/13 and Melbourne City in 2015/16 to take it to its current total of nine. With two clubs in Melbourne and Sydney, that probably is a maximum number for those cities and adding a second club in another city is probably is not an option in the other current markets. The question is where else they could go, especially since W-League sides typically tie-in with A-League clubs, except for Canberra United, which has been an admirable aberration as an independent women's team in a city without an A-League, though the topic does comes up every few years. Central Coast Mariners (in Gosford in New South Wales) could be a target again and possibly other cities such as Darwin in the Northwest Territories, Hobart in Tasmania,Fremantle in the West and on the Gold Coast—though their A-League team folded after three traumatic years with low attendances from 2009-2012, but Canberra played China in two exhibitions during the season there. Another option, a reach though it may be, is to look outside the country for clubs. The Wellington Phoenix has been a member of the A-League for years but as a member of another confederation in Oceania, the Asian Football Confederation has challenged their license but has granted the club a short-term exemption. One option is for the W-League to add one or two sides from New Zealand—Wellington and Auckland would be the largest cities—or an aggregate side of New Zealand internationals and prospects. This certainly would add to the travel and logistic expenses for all clubs. A full time national team playing in leagues has seen mixed results on the men's sides (Team America in NASL in 1993 saw some national team players not wanting to leave their clubs, including the New York Cosmos, and after a bright spot finished last in the table, but that was in the days when qualifying for a World Cup out of CONCACAF was a low possibility—the U.S. did not qualify for a men's World Cup from 1950 through 1990). Another option is if the Oceania Football Confederation were to support a team comprised of top players from island nations—Fiji, Tahiti, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, etc.—who could play the other W-league sides, even if they just play on the road for all their games, like Antigua and Barbuda did in the USL men's minor leagues in 2013, after two years of competing home and away, with the home games in St. John's—in 2013 the homeless club lost all 26 games that season. Far-fetched that it may be, the OFC could help increase the number of teams in the W-League while also helping to develop the game throughout the region; their players--who appear with their national team only for OFC tournaments and occasional regional tournaments—could be scouted in a league setting by other clubs in Australia or abroad. Another option is to have a squad play a series of exhibitions against W-League sides in one round, which could count in the standings. Veracruz played every NASL team in 1973 and those matches counted in the 9 team league's results. Last year's OFC Nations Cup had some wonderfully competitive matches among the 7 island nations on display in New Caledonia, but New Zealand—despite a coaching crisis and bringing in former U.S. and Australian national team coach Tom Sermanni to stabilize the team just a few weeks before the tournament—romped to the title and was streets ahead of the island nations—including 43 goals for and 0 goals allowed in five games—and as a result made the WWC and captured the 2020 Olympic spot. If you can get through politics, the OFC/New Zealand options are worth exploring for the future growth of the Westfield W-League.

Another issue for the W-League is the idea of moving to a full time professional set-up. Australian international midfielder Teresa Polias (28) captained Sydney FC to its third Westfield W-League title last month and also works full-time as an elementary school teacher in Sydney. During the post-match awards ceremony after their Grand Final win, she thanked family, friends and fans for their support and then thanked the players' various non-football workplaces for continuing to accommodate their sporting careers. A number of W-League players who don't play abroad have to work full time jobs and typically play state football league in the off-season. Polias later explained in an interview: "Although a lot of players are full-time now playing professionally, a lot of us aren't. Realistically, it's going to take a long time for that to phase out. It's not just 'oh, the pay has improved, you can stop working now, you'll be renumerated for what you've missed.' It's not easy to just drop out of work. It's going to take a while to hit that level where you don't have to work or give other things up."

Thanks to an agreement between the Australian Football Association and the Player's Union made in 2017, W-League players now earn a minimum of AU$10,000 and that minimum is expected to rise to roughly AU$12,200 next season (excluding scholarship holders).The average pay rate has jumped from around AU$6,900 to AU$15,500 in the last year. The CBA also included various other benefits, including a maternity policy, income protection insurance, health insurance, minimum medical standards, and multi-year contracts.

Polias believes that the Australian Football Federation and league officials have an obligation to improve this financially precarious situation for some players, which affects the competition as a whole: "Without those players, you don't have a league. You don't have enough depth. You need those players. With that extra workload, yes, you get more demands from the club, you get paid more and that's great, that's what we want. But the flip-side is if you're not getting that extra sleep [or gym work, nutrition, or recovery time], in the long run it could potentially do harm. Some clubs train during the day, so what do you do if you're working?"

Her Matildas' and Sydney FC teammate Caitlyn Foord (who plays professionally in the States with the Portland Thorns), took a slightly different tack to Polais' "It's tough at the moment because if it [the W-League] goes fully professional and goes longer than a home and away series, then that might conflict with other leagues overseas, which is more of an income for some players. So where does the line get drawn before it overlaps and [the W-League] is not as good and we're losing players? It's hard finding that balance."

These are all important question that should be considered when thinking about what the next decade of Australian women's football could or should look like. Whatever happens on the professional contract side, one thing that should be kept is the clubs' willingness and reputation for playing teenagers. Some of this has been by necessity over the years but it has created some wonderful young talent for the Australian national teams programs and some treasured memories. Mindy Barbieri of the Melbourne Victory scored two goals as a 15 year old during the 2015/16 season and as an 18-year-old this past season, completed her fourth campaign and plays for the U-20 national team. This season, Brisbane Roar forward India Paige Riley scored her first goal on her 17th birthday and her interview after the game was uplifting for her enthusiasm, Libby Copus-Brown (21) of the Newcastle Jets arguably scored the goal of the season in her first tally in five seasons with the club and 18-year-old Ellie Carpenter of Canberra United and the Portland Thorns has used the league as a stepping stone to the NWSL and should be a starter in France this summer. These are just a few examples of many over the years; Brisbane Roar made the semifinals this season with a number of teenagers in their side. After their 2-1 loss to Sydney FC in the playoffs, Roar captain Clare Polkinghorne (Houston Dash in the NWSL season) said that the number of youth players that the side used this season was a positive but that Sydney had too many chances to score in the game (18 shots versus 9 for the Roar): "We had so many debutants and a lot of teenagers that played and came on and did a really good job for us so full credit to them, they worked hard and did a really good job for us but [we] fell short [tonight].

The league, if it becomes fully professional, could even mandate a few juniors on rosters—to continue to showcase great stories with teenage success, which ultimately helps with national team program development. Another idea is a youth squad with three or four senior players (either AU internationals or imports) but distributing the young players now through the sides—many from a clubs academies—has worked well to date.

All in all, the Westfield W-League has some decisions to make as they plot the growth and development of their national league, but there are so many positives to build on as the league approaches the dozen season mark in 2019/20 this winter.



UWS Teams set for 2019

The United Women's Soccer (Amateur Summer) League in the United States and Canada has set its fourth season lineup:

West Conference

Calgary Foothills WFC

Colorado Pride

LA Galaxy OC

Queen City United

Santa Clarita Blue Heat

Queen City United is an expansion team from the Western Province of Saskatchewan, while the other sides are all returning from 2018.

Midwest Conference

AFC Ann Arbor

Detroit Sun

Grand Rapids FC

Indiana Union

Lansing United

Michigan Legends

Indiana Union is the former Indiana Premier club and will play in Westfield, in the Indianapolis metropolitan area, while Ann Arbor United is a new franchise for 2019.

On June 23, the Detroit Sun will host the Union at Corner Ballpark, formerly the site of the Old Tiger Stadium, the historic home of the Detroit Tigers of Major League Baseball from 1912 to 2000, near downtown Detroit. There currently is a redeveloped baseball community baseball complex at the site.

East Conference

Connecticut Fusion

Inferno Rush FC

Long Island Rough Riders

New England Mutiny

New Jersey Copa FC

Rochester Lady Landers

Syracuse Development Academy

Worcester Smiles

In the East Conference, of the 8 clubs for the 2019 season, the Syracuse Development Academy is the only expansion franchise this season. The Inferno Rush of Lancaster, Pennsylvania were league title runners-up last season, falling to the Houston Aces 1-0.

Southwest Conference

ASA El Paso

FC Austin Elite

Houston Aces

San Antonio Athenians SC

The San Antonio Athenians are a new franchise for 2019, joining holdover sides, including the 2018 UWS champions Houston Aces and clubs in Austin and El Paso, on the border with Ciudad Juarez of Mexico.



2019 Liga MX Femenil update and Mexico's Squad for the Cyprus Club

In Group 1 so far this second half of the split season in the Liga MX Femenil, the 2019/20 Apertura (Opening) Champions America are well placed to defend their title in the Clausura (Closing) season as they are one point behind leaders Pachuca with one game in hand. Pumas UNAM is a point behind America in third. Puebla, who joined the league this year, is on 13 points in fourth, three points ahead of Toluca. The top three teams made the Apertura playoffs last season, while Toluca was the other playoff team from Group 1 last winter. Pachuca won the first Liga MX Femenil title—the May 2017 Cup as the league's initial introduction among 12 of the sixteen teams that played in 2017/18. Guadalajara defeated Pachuca 3-2 on aggregate for the 2017-18 Apertura title.

In Group 2, Tigres and Monterrey are tied at the top with 20 points, with Atlas third with 18 and Guadalajara fourth with 17. The top four all the made the playoffs for the Opening Championship, with Leon again in 5th,but only 3 points out of a playoff berth. Tigres won the 2017-18 Clausura title in exciting fashion over city rival Monterrey on penalties after a 4-4 aggregate tie across the two legs in front of 51,211 in Monterrey, still the highest ever crowd to view a women's club match anywhere in the world.

Katy Martinez of UANL Tigres and Lizabeth Angeles of Pachuca lead the table of goalscorers in the closing championship with 5 goals. Tied for third with 4 goals are Lizbeth Jacqueline Ovalle of UANL, Tigres Mexican national team veteran Monica Ocampo of Pachuca, along with two of her Pachuca clubmates: Ana Paola Lopez and Sanjuana De Jesus Munoz, along with Diana Victoria Gonzalez of Club America, Joana Robles and Claudia Ibarra—both of Atlas—and Norma Gaitan of Cruz Azul.

Martinez, Ovalle, Ocampo, Robles and Ibarra were all named to Mexico's squad for the Cyprus Cup this month (see below).

UANL has the best offense in the league with 26 goals, while Puebla F.C. has only allowed 4, while scoring only 5 goals.

Group 1

#

Team

MP

W

D

L

F

A

D

P

1

Pachuca

9

6

2

1

20

5

+15

20

2

América

8

6

1

1

12

5

+7

19

3

Pumas UNAM

9

6

0

3

12

7

+5

18

4

Puebla

9

3

4

2

5

4

+1

13

5

Toluca

9

3

1

5

8

13

-5

10

6

Cruz Azul

9

2

3

4

13

14

-1

9

7

Veracruz

9

2

2

5

7

15

-8

8

8

Tijuana

9

2

2

5

4

13

-9

8

9

Lobos BUAP

9

1

3

5

7

12

-5

6

Group 2

#

Team

MP

W

D

L

F

A

D

P

1

Tigres UANL

9

6

2

1

26

8

+18

20

2

Monterrey

8

6

2

0

21

8

+13

20

3

Atlas

9

6

0

3

19

9

+10

18

4

Guadalajara

9

5

2

2

8

5

+3

17

5

León

9

4

2

3

10

9

+1

14

6

Santos Laguna

9

3

2

4

10

13

-3

11

7

Morelia

9

1

3

5

11

19

-8

6

8

Querétaro

9

1

1

7

9

28

-19

4

9

Necaxa

9

0

2

7

5

20

-15

2

Mexico's National Team Attends Cyprus Cup

The majority of Mexico's twenty players for the 2019 Cyprus Cup team, selected by head coach Chris Cuellar, are based in Mexico in the Liga MX Femenil (11), with 3 from U.S. colleges, 3 based in Spain and 3 in Iceland. Italy thrashed Mexico 5-0 on February 27 but then rebounded with a 2-1 win over Thailand on March 1, with two goals by Veronica Charlyn Corral of Levante of Spain. Both opponents had qualified for WWC 2019. Next up in the tournament is Hungary and a placement game this week.


Mexico Side for the 2019 Cyprus Cup Tournament

Bernal Rodríguez Rebeca—Monterrey
Corral Ang Verónica Charlyn—Levante UD (Spain)
Delgado Alvarado Alexia Fernanda—Arizona State University (U.S.)
Espinosa Arce Daniela—América
Godínez Herrera Alejandría—Pachuca
Iturbide Ibarra Adriana—Atlas
López Fuentes Jimena—Texas A&M University (U.S.)
Martínez Abad Katty—Tigres de la U.A.N.L
Mayor Gutiérrez Sandra Stephany—Thor/KA (Iceland)
Nieto Castillo Karla Paola—Pachuca
Ocampo Medina Mónica—Pachuca
Ovalle Muñoz Lizbeth Jacqueline—Tigres de la U.A.N.L
Palacios Hernández Kiana Angélica—Real Sociedad (Spain)
Rangel Hernández Lydia Nayeli—Tigres de la U.A.N.L
Robles Partida Joana—Atlas
Robles Salas Vaitiare Kenti—Atlético de Madrid (Spain)
Rodríguez Cubero Kimberly Vanessa—Oklahoma State University (U.S.)
Romero Téllez Arianna Jeannette—Valur (Iceland)
Santiago Cisneros Aurora Cecilia—América
Sierra García Bianca Elissa—Thor/KA (Iceland)



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

Tim Grainey
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Tim Grainey

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