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The Week in Women's Football: Interview with Houston GM Ching; New Zealand & Mexico league reviews;

This week, Tribal Football.com talked exclusively to Brian Ching, the General Manager of the Houston Dash of the NWSL, about the club's new head coach, James Clarkson, who was introduced last week. We also review the 2018 league seasons in New Zealand and Mexico after the Championship Finals Games (for Mexico it is the Opening Championship for the 2018-19 season).



Houston Dash Hires James Clarkson as their Head Coach for the 2019 season

The Houston Dash hired James Clarkson as their new coach for the 2019 season on December 11. The former director of the Houston Dynamo (MLS) Academy said: "I watched the team all of last season, I had a huge interest in it. I thought (former coach Vera Pauw) did a fantastic job. She laid down a fantastic foundation that I'm fortunate enough to be able to inherit….The squad is strong, they are a great group of players and they want to win. In talking to them, they are really focused on that and they can't wait to get started, just like myself." Clarkson most recently served as the team's Director of Project Development. He also worked as the head coach of the Dynamo's Premier Development League (amateur men's league) affiliate Brazos Valley Bombers and has been associated with the franchise in coaching roles for over a decade. Last season's coach, Vera Pauw—the former coach of the national women's teams of Scotland, the Netherlands, Russia and South Africa—did not renew her contract at the end of the 2018 season, choosing to return to her home country of the Netherlands. The 2018 Dash side set team records for wins (9), goals (35) and points (39).

Losses to two playoff teams, Seattle (2-0) and North Carolina (5-0), in two of their last three games were crucial—if they had swung those six points around, they would have pipped Chicago for the final spot in the playoffs. When watching the league games last season, I found that the Dash matches were always exciting and entertaining to watch, with internationals spread across their roster, including English international Rachel Daly (who finished fourth in the league in scoring with 10 goals), Australian defender Clare Polkinghorne and forward Kyah Simon, South Africans Janine Van Wyk (who after the season announced that she is returning to her home country, where she owns a premier women's league team and runs a women's youth league in the Johannesburg area), Thembi Kgatlana and Linda Motlhalo, Canadians Nichelle Prince, Alyssa Chapman and Lindsay Agnew, Mexican international goalkeeper Bianca Henninger, and American internationals Sofia Huerta, Amber Brooks, Kealia Ohai, Kristy Mewis (who was injured much of the season), and goalkeeper Jane Campbell. In addition, rookie Veronica Latsko, who scored 4 goals and 2 assist with the Dash in 2018, has been on fire while on loan with Adelaide United this season, firing 7 of her team's 11 goals in their first 7 games to help propel Adelaide into the hunt for the club's first playoff berth in 11 seasons in the W-League.

TribalFootball.com talked exclusively to Brian Ching, the General Manager of the Houston Dash on December 19, about the appointment of Clarkson and his hopes for the 2019 season. Ching was a long-time MLS player with San Jose Earthquakes and Houston Dynamo and a national team forward who scored in the 2006 World Cup for the Americans.

Ching explained that the club had received about 15 resumes, including from top coaches in Europe, a European coach based in China, college coaches and a coach in Australia. They had talked to some of the Dash players during the process and they indicated that they: "wanted a coach that understood the game, could coach and create connections to players. In the past, we had great coaching brains [Vera Pauw and the previous head coach Randy Waldrum (with Omar Morales as an interim coach in 2017 after Waldrum was released)] who were not able to connect to the players—that was the disconnect. They were not getting their absolute best out of the players. James has developed players and the players wanted coaching at the individual level. He can do that." With both Waldrum and Pauw, there were reports of player dissatisfaction, focused on a lack of communication by both.

When asked about Clarkson's lack of experience coaching women (though Phil Neville had not coached women before taking the English women's national team job in January and that has worked all right as the team is among the favorites at the Women's World Cup next summer) Ching said honestly: "It is always a risk anytime you hire a coach. What is different [from the team's earlier years] is that we have a team capable to complete….When we came into the league [for the 2014 season], the way we came in didn't allow us to really build a team that was competitive. We scrambled to do what we could, we weren't given the first allocation in the [college] draft, we weren't given the first allocation for players coming back into the United States. We didn't negotiate good terms in getting into the league. We felt like we were trying to help out the league and didn't really get much help in return. We didn't leverage our position coming into the league. That's on us and it took us a number of years to overcome those difficulties in the sense that we weren't able to pull a competitive team together right off the bat….We feel like we have that team now. Vera did a great job helping us get to that point."

Looking ahead to the Dash's roster composition in 2019, Ching said: "In terms of the turnover of the roster, I don't think we will have as much as we have had in the past; it is about trying to find 1-2 pieces who can fit into the team and make us that much better. [The Dash has 4 second round draft choices in next month's 2019 draft, allowing them to pick among the top 15 college players in America].This is about elevating the team and hopefully James will do that."

This reporter asked Brian Ching about the status of their two South African attacking talents: Thembi Kgatlana and Linda Motlhalo. Kgatlana was the Player of the Tournament and Golden Boot winner of the recently completed 2018 African Cup of Nations/CAF Women's World Cup Qualifiers, scoring 5 goals and leading her team to their first ever Women's World Cup Finals berth, only losing the continental championship match to Nigeria on penalties after a 0-0 draw. Clarkson said last week that both players were considering offers from clubs abroad. The Dash general manager said they are both under contract for 2019 and, regarding Kgatlana, he said: "She is under contract. She is definitely a player that we like and we value and want her to be here and we expressed that. Hopefully she wants to be back. Obviously we want players to be back here who are motivated to be part of the team and not looking to go elsewhere. We want her back, we expect her to come back." About Motlhalo who scored 1 goal and 1 assist last season in 21 games, Ching said: "Linda is young (20) and crafty, can find space and adjusted to the physicality of the league. She has a soccer mind and can grow as a player and become a special player."

The Dash offense is solid with many options, including Sofia Huerta and Motlhalo coming out of midfield, but defense was a problem last year, allowing 39 goals. U.S. international goalkeeper Jane Campbell, (only age 23 and entering her third NWSL season) is certainly one to build on as well as Polkinghorne but the team needs more depth in the back.

Attendance has slipped for the Dash in the past few years. Their attendance was eighth best at 3,572 per game in 2018 (ahead only of bottom side Sky Blue FC), down 22% from 4,578 in 2017, 5,696 in 2016, and a club record 6,413 in 2015. Ching said that the club: "has found very little crossover between Dash and MLS Dynamo fans. For us, we need to invest in the Dash front office, which we are doing, to help us bring more Dash fans to the field. We also need people who turn out for national team's games to take ownership and come to our games."

I do hope the Clarkson appointment works out for the team that in five NWSL seasons has never made the playoffs. There has been some criticism of Clarkson's appointment, focusing on the fact that he has worked for the Dynamo for over a decade and thus an easy internal appointment that could be perceived as less expensive than hiring a college or international based coached, as well as his lack of experience in coaching women. In terms of the first issue, in any business organization, an internal hire is always less expensive than hiring someone and moving them to a new location. Internal hires bring organizational knowledge and their transition can be much shorter, which are definite plusses in this case. Regarding Clarkson's lack of experience coaching professional women players, along with the Phil Neville experience in England cited above, the WUSA 2003 San Diego Spirit franchise hired Omid Namazi as head coach despite extensive criticism of the fact that he had never coached women. The players raved about Namazi and he led the club to third place and the playoffs; their only postseason appearance in their three seasons in the league. I think the Clarkson appointment will be viewed as an inspired hire; the Dash is poised for a breakout season with the talent that they currently have. Ching and team executives were very focused on hiring a coach that could develop and connect with the players and their "out of the box hire" could be viewed in the future as the key to the Dash's success. Clearly they hired Clarkson over more visible candidates for specific reasons. Do not be surprised if Clarkson galvanizes this franchise and leads them to playoff Shangri-La in 2019 in their sixth season.



New Zealand National Women's League completes the 2018 Season

The Northern Football Lights faced Canterbury United Pride in the New Zealand National Women's League Grand Final on December 15 in Auckland, for the conclusion to the seven team league; the Lights and Pride finishing first and second respectively (29 points versus 27 points) in the 12-game league regular season. In their earlier games this season, Northern Football defeated Canterbury 3-0 on November 17 away after losing 2-1 at home on October 13. Canterbury won the 2018 Grand Final title in stirring fashion, with a 3-2 win over the Northern Lights in extra time. New Zealand international Annalie Longo scored twice and won the Most Valuable Player award, while Monique Barker scored the winner; Jane Barnett and Claudia Bunge scored the Northern Lights' two goals.

The team rosters for the final were:

Northern Lights:Anna Leat, Claudia Bunge (c), Kate Loye, Emma Turnbull, Saskia Vosper, Nicole Stratford, Malia Steinmetz, Dayna Stevens, Sam Tawharu, Jane Barnett, Helena Kelderman, Liz Savage, Ava Pritchard, Vegas McCarroll, Hannah Mackay-Wright, Lily Alfeld.

Canterbury United Pride: Vic Esson, Marisa van der Meer, Rebecca Lake, Arna Roberts, Annie Gilchrist, Chloe Jones, Gabi Rennie, Tahlia Herman-Watt, Jayda Stewart, Annalie Longo (c), Macey Fraser, Amelia Abbott, Whitney Hepburn, Monique Barker, Cody Taylor, Una Foyle.

The league was founded in 2002 and the Northern Football Federation side won titles in 2011, 2012 and 2015—when they defeated Mainland Pride (now Canterbury) 4-3—while losing to Mainland Pride in 2013 (4-2). Canterbury United defeated Capital Football 2-0 in the 2016 final and lost last year (2017) to Auckland Football Federation 3-2. Auckland is the all-time leader in titles with seven. Canterbury United was formerly known as Mainland Pride/Soccer/Football and won titles in 2013 and 2014 under their former name, and have now appeared in six consecutive finals, winning four of them.


The top scorers this season (including the Grand Final) were:

Sarah Gregorius – Capital Football 12.

Cody Taylor – Canterbury United Pride 10

Annalie Longo – Canterbury United Pride 9

Jade Parris – Auckland Football 7

Ava Pritchard – Northern Lights 6

Emily Morison – Southern United 6

Gabrielle Rennie – Canterbury United Pride 6

Monique Barker – Canterbury United Pride 6

Sarah Gregorius played briefly for Liverpool a few years ago and has played in Germany and Japan, as well as in the last two Women's World Cups and Olympic Games; she is expected to make the squad for France 2019.

Annalie Longo played for Sydney FC in 2012 in the Westfield W-League across the Tasman Sea, has played in U-17, U-20 and full Women's World Cups (2) and is also expected to play in France next summer for the Football Ferns.

Ava Pritchard of the Northern Lights is only 15 years old. She is one of eight 2003 age level players in the league this year, showing that the New Zealand league—like Australia's W-League—believes in bringing in young high school age players to play against experienced veterans such as Longo and Gregorius, which benefits their national youth teams as well. Pritchard was a member of the historic Bronze Medalists at the U-17 Women's World Cup earlier this month in Uruguay. (Also playing for the Northern Lights was Anna Leat—the outstanding goalkeeper for the U-17 side—who is considering offers to study and play abroad, including the United States.) Pritchard started the last three regular season games and twice scored braces. Lights head coach Gemma Lewis said Pritchard's eagerness to soak up advice had helped her: "She's so willing to learn, she's constantly coming up to the coaches and asking, 'What can I do to get stronger, what can I do to improve this?' She's the one that's down here 10 minutes before training, practicing her shooting, she's the one that will be here later, carrying on. She's just put the work in, it's not luck or anything like that, and she's really enjoyed being involved, and I think the players around her have inspired her to kick on."

Pritchard could have been in Wellington last week with the Northern Lights' under-16 team at the national age-group tournament, but made it clear to Lewis and the rest of her coaches that she wanted to remain in Auckland for Sunday's Grand Final. Lewis explained:"We knew it would be a big decision to take her out of that and have her in here. But this is where she wanted to be, this is what her family wanted for her, and she's been performing, so she deserves to be in the squad for the final."

Gabrielle Rennie is another U-17 Women's World Cup team member this month.



2018 New Zealand National Women's Football League Final Table

GP W D L GF GA GD Pts

1

Northern Football Lights (North Shore)

12

9

2

1

33

8

+25

29

2

Canterbury United Pride (Christchurch)

12

9

0

3

41

14

+27

27

3

Auckland Football (Auckland)

12

6

4

2

26

11

+15

22

4

Capital Football (Lower Hutt)

12

6

2

4

32

27

+5

20

5

Southern United (Dunedin)

12

5

1

6

37

28

+9

16

6

WaiBOP Utd (Hamilton)

12

1

1

10

14

36

-22

4

7

Central Football (Palmerston North)

12

1

0

11

5

64

-59

3




Mexico 2018-19 Apertura Season Review

On December 15, Club America won their first Liga MX Femenil title with a 3-1 win on penalties after the two legs were tied 3-3 (away goals do not count towards a penalty breaker for the final) to capture the 2017/18 Apertura (Opening) Championship in the Mexican Women's league. The Aguilas (Eagles) of Club America went to Monterrey and scored first but Monterrey's tying goal brought on the penalty tiebreaker. Tigres had hoped to win two consecutive titles but fell short against the Aguilas after winning 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, the highest ever crowd to view a women's club match anywhere in the world. The first leg of the Finals between Tigres and Monterrey attracted a crowd of 38,230. America, coached by former Mexican women's national team head coach Leo Cuellar, has been a strong side since the league started in 2017 and the title is a just reward for the club's commitment to the women's program.

Pachuca, who won the first Liga MX Femenil title—the May 2017 Cup as the league's initial introduction among 12 of the sixteen teams, defeating Tijuana 9-1 in the final. —finished the 2018-19 Apertura (Opening) season atop Group 1 with 38 points, three ahead of Mexico City's Club America (35).

In Group 2, last season's Clausura (Closing) Championship winners, Tigres UNAL and Guadalajara, finished first and second with 40 and 31 points respectively. Guadalajara defeated Pachuca 3-2 on aggregate for the 2017-18 Apertura title.

This season the playoffs were expanded from 4 to 8 teams, as two new sides joined the league for the 2018/19 seasons—Puebla and Lobos BUAP. Puebla (25 points) just missed the playoffs with a fifth place finish in Group 1 with Lobos BUAP (14 points) in sixth, though 11 points behind Puebla.

In the Quarterfinals in Group 1, Club America advanced to the semifinals with a 5-3 aggregate victory over third placed Toluca 5-3 and Pachuca blasted fourth placed UNAM Pumas of Mexico City 6-1 on aggregate.

In Group 2, Guadalajara advanced over third place Monterrey on the away goals in a 1-1 aggregate and Tigres UANL beat fourth place Atlas 2-1 on aggregate, after winning away in the first leg by a narrow 2-1 score line, and holding Atlas scoreless in the home return.

In the semifinals, Club America downed Pachuca in the second leg 1-0 away to advance to the final after a scoreless 0-0 first leg tie. Tigres defeated Guadalajara 5-3 on aggregate, with the 4-2 home second leg victory crucial.

Mexican National Team member Monica Desiree Monsivais (30) of Monterrey led the league in scoring with 13 goals; Monsivais spent time with BIIK in Kazakhstan in 2015. Katty Martinez of UANL was second with 12 tallies and Mariel Roman of Toluca finished third with 11 goals. Mariela Jimenez had 9 for new side Puebla with veteran Mexican international Monica Ocampo Puebla—who played in WPS for the Atlanta Beat and in the NWSL with Sky Blue FC—had 8 as did Diana Laura Evanglista of Monterrey. America's leading scorer was Betzy Casandra Cuevas with 7.




2018/19 Apertura Standings

Group 1

#

Team

MP

W

D

L

F

A

D

P

1

Pachuca

16

12

2

2

31

14

+17

38

2

América

16

11

2

3

28

12

+16

35

3

Toluca

16

9

3

4

37

17

+20

30

4

Pumas UNAM

16

9

3

4

20

10

+10

30

5

Puebla

16

6

7

3

25

12

+13

25

6

Lobos BUAP

16

4

2

10

18

28

-10

14

7

Veracruz

16

3

4

9

14

35

-21

13

8

Tijuana

16

2

3

11

10

28

-18

9

9

Cruz Azul

16

2

2

12

12

39

-27

8

Group 2

#

Team

MP

W

D

L

F

A

D

P

1

Tigres UANL

16

12

4

0

51

19

+32

40

2

Guadalajara

16

9

4

3

30

16

+14

31

3

Monterrey

16

8

6

2

38

15

+23

30

4

Atlas

16

8

5

3

28

13

+15

29

5

León

16

6

4

6

20

21

-1

22

6

Querétaro

16

4

5

7

16

32

-16

17

7

Morelia

16

3

4

9

15

34

-19

13

8

Santos Laguna

16

1

4

11

14

34

-20

7

9

Necaxa

16

1

4

11

5

33

-28

7



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.

Tim Grainey
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Tim Grainey

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