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The Week in Women's Football: Sh'Nia Gordon interview; Ukraine update; NWSL Challenge Cup

This week, TribalFootball.com interviewed American forward Sh'Nia Gordon, who just signed with Racing Louisville of the NWSL after spending four years in Europe—the last two with CSKA Moscow in Russia. We also look at the state of women's league football in the Ukraine and focus on two teams who have had to flee the war. We also summarize the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup series and have some other news from around the league, before finishing with a look at the results from the CONMEBOL Qualification tournament for this summer's U-20 WWC in Costa Rica.


Sh'Nia Gordon leaves Russia to join Racing Louisville, while her club was in pre-season training in Turkey as the war in Ukraine started.

In our recent NWSL team by team review, we talked about Sh'Nia Gordon joining the NWSL club after playing in Europe for four seasons:(see: The Week in Women's Football: NWSL 2022 Season Preview - Part 2; Melb Victory win A-League Women's play-offs; - Tribal Football). EqualizerSoccer.com recently interviewed Sh'Nia Gordon, the former University of West Virginia forward who signed for Racing Louisville for the 2022 and 2023 seasons, after playing first at Metz and then with Dijon in France and most recently in Russia with CSKA Moscow; she was released from her contact per FIFA regulations after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

Gordon (25) first discussed the different styles of play at the professional level in France, Russia and the U.S., though she has just played in a few professional games in the States, given that she is in her first season in the NWSL, "France is more technical, during my time there I learned a lot of one touch and two touch, a lot of combinations [play]. Russia and America are pretty similar. It is in a bigger space and let's try to go one v. one, let's try to beat players, [with] a lot of focus on strength, fitness and speed. In France, they were more like, 'let's keep the ball in small spaces'—they do tiny passes up the field. That was the main difference. Russia was the most physical [of the three leagues].

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Sh'Nia Gordon in her Dijon of France uniform; she has returned to the U.S. this season to play with Racing Louisville in the NWSL. Photo courtesy of Dijon-sportnews.fr.


Gordon was a four-year starter (95 games) at West Virginia University and tallied 25 goals and 15 assists for a team-best 65 career points.

Gordon has joined Racing Louisville, who have had an impressive start in this year's Challenge Cup with 5 points after 4 games (finishing with 6 points after 6 games) compared to last year's ninth place regular season finish out of 10 teams at the time. She said that a key for the club was to, "Just keeping momentum [coming off 3-0 win over Kansas City Current on April 2]; it was a really good reflection of how the team can really play at our best and we are trying to keep that mentality intact."


Sh'Nia Gordon in action with Racing Louisville during the 2022 Challenge Cup against the Houston Dash. Photo courtesy EM Dash Photograph


In Russia, playing at CSKA Moscow, Gordon was one of only two Americans with sides in the 10 team Russian Supreme Division league this season. The other American also played in the capital city with traditional Moscow rival Lokomotiv (the Railwaymen)—Kaylan Williams (23), who also was in her second year in the league and scored twice in 18 matches in 2021. Williams played collegiately at the University of New Hampshire. Gordon was able to speak English with Williams (who she knew) along with her two African teammates at CSKA: former Washington Spirit and Nigerian international Francisca Ordega (28), who also played in Sweden, Australia and Spain, and Cameroonian forward Gabrielle Onguene (33), who has been with the club since 2017 and in Russia since 2012, and won three league titles. Onguene also played for her country at the 2012 London Olympics and at the 2015 and 2019 Women's World Cups. Gordon said about playing for CSKA, "My time was really fun actually, one of my favorite periods of my life. There was always something to do there [in Moscow]. I was really happy."

She left the club in March of 2022 after the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, when the team was in pre-season camp in Turkey, "A lot of teams in Russia go somewhere warmer for preseason training camp so we were in Turkey at the time when the war started. When all that was happening, when it was time to go back to Russia to start the season, instead I went to Germany where my family is. All my stuff is still in Russia—I only packed for preseason training camp. I didn't expect it to be a war—I literally came here [to the States] with a backpack."

Gordon has aspirations of playing for the U.S. national team, but has not been capped at any level. She felt that playing in the NWSL rather than abroad will help her visibility with national team coaches, "Playing here would give me a better opportunity of being seen. Most of the national team players are in this league. There are also scouts and coaches watching the games in the league. No one will watch a random game in France that I played in unless I sent it to them. A lot of people are tuning into these games. It is a high-level league with a lot of eyes on every single game."

Gordon is not ruling out playing abroad again over the next 3-5 years, "I like playing overseas; the environment and culture. I love to travel and play in different places and see different things. I can see myself going back."

With the recently announced second edition of the international tournament (see below), she said that it was, "So cool; I watched the Bayern Munich game last year [in the tournament held in Louisville] and thought that was really cool in integrating the leagues and all the best teams coming to play against each other. I'm really excited to participate."

Gordon should see plenty of playing time this season in Kentucky and is expected to be an important source of goals for the second-year club.

Note: In addition to the two Americans, most of the other Russian league imports for the 2021-22 season for the 10 teams in the Supreme Division came from Eastern Europe including:

Belarus—10 players

Ukraine—7 players

Serbia—4 players

Azerbaijan—4 players

Kazakhstan—3 players

Armenia—1 player

Montenegro—1 player

Poland—1 player

One player came from Portugal as well as Shwendesky Joseph (Kiki) from Haiti, who has 1 goal in 5 games for last place Rubin Kazan (who have recorded only 1 point in 7 games). Kiki hopes to be called into the Haitian full national side later this year. In addition to the two Africans at CSKA Moscow who played with Gordon, Tatiana Ewodo Ekogo of Cameroon (24) was with Yenisy of Krasnoyarsk.



Ukraine—Women's League Suspended and Teams Flee to Safety.

This spring the league had split into its second stage before suspension, with six teams in the Championship bracket: Zhytlobud-1 and Zhytlobud-2, Kryvbas, Mariupol, Kolos Kovalivka and Ladomir. The other five teams from the top tier (Vyshcha Liha) went into the Relegation Round: EMS Podillie Vinnytsia, Voskhod Stara Maiachka, Pantery Iman, Karpaty Lviv and Ateks Kviv. The second division (Persha Liha) was expanded to 20 teams as men's teams had implemented a rule to associate with a women's team for this season, with the league dividing the teams into two groups of 10.

Two Ukrainian internationals: Olha Ovdiychuk (28) of Zhytlobud-1, who has played in Spain for a short time at Atletico Madrid and moved to Turkey after the war started to play with Fomget GSK in Ankara, was the top scorer in the league with 18 goals, with Riksolana Kravchuk (24) of Zhytlobud-2 in second with 11 goals. Ukrainian international Veronika Andrukhiv (25) of Zhytlobud-2 was tied for third with another Ukrainian international, Olha Boychenko (33) of Zhytlobud-1, on 10 goals.

Zhytlobud-1 had two players from Turkey, one from Bosnia and Herzegovina, one from Armenia and one from Russia on their roster this season. Zhytlobud-1 or Zhytlobud-2 of Kharkiv have won the past 11 league championships (with the last being in 2020-21, by Zhytlobud-1, who have won eight to three for Zhytlobud-2 of these most recent titles and lead the all-time table with 10 titles to 6 for Lehenda Chernihv

Certainly, for women's players in Ukraine, the focus has been on their safety and individual players and even teams have managed to flee to the west. Mariupol's team was able to escape the devastation from the Russian bombing campaign. Team leader Yana Vinkousova told CNN that, after hiding for 20 days in a basement in the city, they were able to escape, "As Russian speaking people, we were living a very good life [in Ukraine]. We didn't need to be liberated from anything, that Russia [media] said. They liberated us from our homes, our business and our football team." She and Karina Kulakovska had to get their team members out of student housing, as they had players from not only Mariupol but throughout the country.

FC Kryvbus' women's team from Krivyi Rih is now in exile in Germany. On the day Russian troops started the war in Ukraine (February 24), the team was heading to the airport on their way to a training camp and games in Belek, Turkey with two friendly games planned. Instead of a training camp, the players are now living and training in Germany with support from FC Cologne, a soccer club with teams in the men's and women'sBundesliga competitions.

Kryvbas midfielder Liubov Mozga said, "I am very glad we arrived here with all our team, that we managed to keep the team. But honestly speaking I cannot say that football is a priority for me now. Peace on our land is a priority for me now."


Kryvbas of Ukraine players prepare for training while in exile in Cologne, Germany. (Photo courtesy of Associated Press).


Kryvbas coach Alina Stetenco's thoughts before the war started were on modernizing fitness training and recovery, and signing new Ukrainian and foreign players to fill out a young squad in the process of a rebuild, she said on social media the day before [the war started]. The players were already on the bus when rocket strikes hit the city. They took refuge in a hotel and ended up staying there for two weeks. The players eventually made their way to Germany with the help of Artur Podkopayev, a former player for the Kryvbas men's youth teams ,who was living in the country and asked Cologne for help.

Now the players are staying in a hotel in Cologne which has been converted to house refugees, and they're able to use their host club's modern training facilities. Kryvbas was third in the Ukrainian league when the war began and competitions were suspended. It's not clear when the league could resume.

Kryvbas captain Anna Ivanova said she can't adapt to life in Germany while her family remains in danger at home. "Being here in a secure place, while your family is under shelling is very difficult. We are worried for our families. They are in touch; they are hiding in bomb shelters. Unfortunately, there are missiles flying, the sirens turn on, so their nights are not quiet. Same way, our nights aren't quiet as well."



Other NWSL team news

Racing Louisville FC hosts second Women's Cup with international teams this summer

In an important move for the league, along with the ICC announcement (below) this summer involving Portland and Washington again facing international competition, the Women's Cup will return to Louisville, Kentucky this August with an expanded format, featuring six world-class teams playing seven games across a week at host club Racing Louisville FC's Lynn Family Stadium. On the heels of visits last year from FC Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain, at least four different international clubs — two from Europe, one from Asia and one from Latin America — are set to join the National Women's Soccer League's Racing Louisville and OL Reign in the 2022 event.

International participants will include Liga MX Femenil's Club América (Mexico) and the WE League's Nippon TV Tokyo Verdy Beleza (Japan). Two top-flight participants from England and Spain will be announced later this spring. Club América, founded in 2016 as the women's side of the massive and iconic Mexico City-based men's club organization, won a Liga MX Femenil title in 2018. Tokyo Verdy Beleza is Japan's only women's soccer club to have never been relegated from the top flight, finishing first or second in its league every year since 1997. The side boasts a number of tournament trophies, including a record 15 titles in the Empress's Cup, the annual knockout tournament open to all Japan Football Association clubs.

The international clubs open The Women's Cup with quarterfinals on Sunday, Aug. 14. On Wednesday, Aug. 17, the winners will meet Racing and OL Reign in the semifinals, while the two losing teams from Sunday will play against each other for fifth place. The final and third-place matches are set for Saturday, Aug. 20.

Racing Louisville signs Australian international Alex Chidiac

Racing Louisville FC signed Australian international midfielder Alex Chidiac (23). Chidiac, who was called up to the Australian national team camp for the latest international window in April, signed with Racing as a free transfer, agreeing to a one-year deal with an option for 2023. She won a league title with Melbourne Victory this past winter in the A-League Women while on loan from her Japanese WE-League side JEF United Chiba (where she made five appearances), and was named as the team's player of the season by both the team players and the club. With the Victory, Chadiac totaled 1 goal and 2 assists in 14 starts.


Alex Chidiac (#10 on right in dark blue) dribbles away from a Sydney FC player during the 2021/22 campaign for Melbourne Victory. Picture courtesy A-League Women.

Chidiac received her first senior national team call up in 2015 at 16 years old, and scored her first goal for the Matildas in a 2018 friendly against Thailand. She also scored 17 times in 22 appearances for the U-20 squad. The central midfielder has also had stints at Adelaide United and Melbourne City as well as an 18-month run with Spanish giant Atletico Madrid. She scored 3 goals in 22 Madrid appearances and helped win Spain's top-flight Primera Division title in 2019, plus reached the UEFA Women's Champions League round of 16


Racing Louisville and the Orlando Pride will play this summer at the Daytona International Speedway

Racing Louisville FC also announced that they will face the Orlando Pride in a match played as part of the first-ever Daytona Soccer Fest, an event combining world-class entertainment and professional soccer at the iconic Daytona International Speedway. Originally scheduled for July 2 in Orlando, Racing at the Pride has shifted the match to Sunday, July 3, with kickoff at 8 p.m. on CBS Sports Network. Daytona and Torneos, a leading company in the sports entertainment industry, will team up to showcase a newly-built soccer field positioned on the grass infield. The Racing-Pride game will cap a two-day Daytona Soccer Fest lineup that on Sunday also includes a 3 p.m. Legends Game featuring World Cup champions and stars of the men's game such as David Trezeguet of France, Juan Sebastian Verón of Argentina, Javier Mascherano (also of Argentina) and Claudio Pizarro of Peru. Three-time GRAMMY winner Chance the Rapper will also perform during a 6 p.m. pregame concert next to the field, with a fireworks' display to follow the Racing-Pride game.


Artist rendering of the soccer field inserted at the Daytona International Speedway for soccer games this summer, including the NWSL. Photo courtesy Racing Louisville FC.


Saturday's events at Daytona consist of a match between reigning Colombian Champion Deportivo Cali and crosstown rival America de Cali, as well as a concert from Latin Grammy Award-winner Rauw Alejandro and Latin artist Adassa, who recently played the role of Dolores in Disney's Encanto.



2022 Challenge Cup Results

In the 2022 Challenge Cup, teams split into three regional groups and played home and away fixtures against the other three teams in their group. There were some surprises in the Challenge Cup, particularly with North Carolina Courage and Kansas City Current making the semifinals against expectation, but it is more of a cup competition with games against three sides within their region before the knockout stage of semifinals and a final, but the regular season is a different situation, with 24 games against all teams, while teams will have to juggle rosters around Women's EURO Finals in England and CONCACAF WWC Finals Qualifiers in Mexico. Still, two favorites for the regular season championship final—2021 league champions Washington Spirit and OL Reign—made the semifinals and were paired together (see more below).

The North Carolina Courage looked very strong in capturing the East Division title on 12 points (3-3-0) (W-T-L) after a very exciting 2-2 tie with the reigning champions D.C. Spirit, who finished second on 10 points and were also undefeated (2-4-0). Portland Thorns lost the next day and the Spirit edged them to the one, second-place playoff berth with a better goal difference (+5 to +3). NY/NY Gotham finished on 6 points (1-3-2) while the Orlando Pride had 2 points from 2 ties in 6 games. Despite a coaching change and massive upheaval during and after the season following the Paul Riley abuse of player allegations, North Carolina look like they could pose a problem to other teams in the regular season, with Debrinha of Brazil and her young countrymate Kerolin running wild, particularly in that final group game. Washington Coach Kris Ward still has not lost a game since taking over last season in a then interim role (with the exception of two forfeits because of COVID)—a tremendous record for the young coach.

Washington Spirit forward Ashley Hatch became the club's all-time leading scorer in all competitions with 23 goals with her second-half goal against NJ/NY Gotham FC on Friday, March 25 during the Challenge Cup. Former Canadian international Diana Matheson held the previous club record with 23 goals in 67 appearances. Hatch has 21 regular-season goals, one playoff goal and four in Challenge Cup matches. Hatch had a career year in 2021 with 10 regular-season goals and added another in the playoffs en route to the 2021 NWSL Golden Boot. In a week that saw the Spirit play three matches, Hatch scored a goal in each, pushing her current goal total with the Spirit to 26.

In the Central Division, Kansas City Current were the surprise side with a 4-1-1 record for 13 points to win the division, with a crucial final first round 2-1 win at home on April 24 in front of 5,107 fans. Under new head coach Matt Potter, they won four games, which was one more than they won all last season (3) in 24 regular season games. They only scored 8 goals, while the other semifinalists scored 11 (OL Reign) or 12 (NC and D.C.). Chicago finished second with a 2-2-2 record on 8 points, followed by Racing Louisville on 1-3-2 for 6 points and Houston Dash on 6 points (2-0-4), with Racing piping the Dash on goal difference for third place (+1 to -6).

In the West Division, OL Reign won the title with a 4-2-0 record for 14 points, the highest points total of any team, particularly commendable in the difficult West Division with the two expansion sides bringing in a lot of international talent (see our recent preview of the two sides in: The Week in Women's Football: NWSL expansion preview and new commissioner; Canada host Nigeria; USWNT goal-fest - Tribal Football). The Reign had 10 different goal scorers and American forward Bethany Balcer again was the side's leading scorer in the group games with two. The Thorns could have qualified as the best second place side but fell on the last match day on April 24 to Angel City away 1-0, on a first half penalty kick by U.S. international forward Christen Press. In a key Challenge Cup match the week before, the Thorns defeated San Diego Wave 3-2 on April 17 in Portland in front of a crowd exceeding 12,000, with their new import from Japan Hina Sugita scoring a brace in the first half. Sophia Smith scored her team-leading third goal of the 2022 Challenge Cup. In her last six appearances for club and country, Smith had a combined six goals. Rookie Belle Briede and Taylor Kornieck (ex-University of Colorado who has played with the Orlando Pride and Duisburg of Germany on loan) scored the Wave goals. The Thorns finished 3-1-2 on 10 points, San Diego was 1-2-3 on 5 points and Angel City finished fourth on a 1-1-4 mark with 4 points.

Kansas City Current then hosted the North Carolina Courage and the Washington Spirit faced OL Reign in Washington, with both Challenge Cup semifinals on May 4. The traveling Courage side won in a rainy encounter with first half goals by Brazilian international midfielder Debinha (who has had a fantastic tournament) and Mexican international forward Diana Ordonez (who played for the U.S. at multiple youth levels but joined Mexico during the CONCACAF W Championship Qualifiers last month). Former Courage forward Kristen Hamilton scored a late goal but it was not enough for Kansas City, though their performance in the Cup should give them added confidence for the regular season campaign. They also drew 4,093 fans on a poor weather evening which again is a strong statement of the potential of this franchise. In the other match, OL Reign would have hosted the semifinal with their top points mark in the tournament but their new home of Lumen Field was booked for the MLSSeattle Sounders CONCACAF Champions League second leg 3-0 win (5-2 on aggregate) in front of a CL record crowd of 68,741, for a first ever title for an MLS team and a berth in the next FIFA Club Championships for Seattle. Not only was the game switched to D.C.'s Audi Field, the Reign had to play the Spirit in the regular season opener at the same venue three days before. In the May 1 game, the Spirit won 2-1 with goals by Ashley Sanchez and Ashley Hatch, offsetting an Rose Lavelle goal. In the Challenge Cup match, after a 0-0 tie, the game went to penalty kicks with the Spirit winning again 9-8 on penalty kicks in front of a crowd of 3,015, much lower than the 10,177 who saw the May 1 match on the weekend. Goalkeeper Audrey (Bledsoe) Kingsbury made eight saves for the shutout as the Reign had 21 shots to 12 for D.C. and Kingsbury made two saves and scored during the penalty kick session to greatly help her team's cause.

On May 7, the North Carolina Courage will face the Washington Spirit in Cary, North Carolina. In terms of Challenge Cups, the two sides lost in the Quarterfinals in 2020 and failed to qualify for the Championship Final in 2021 (no semifinals were held). However, the game represents a meeting between the last three NWSL league champions (the Courage in 2018 and 2019 and Washington in 2021). Note: We will update the readers with the Challenge Cup Final score next week.



Portland Thorns and the Washington Spirit will face European powers at the ICC women's tournament in Portland, Oregon this summer

The Washington Spirit (as the 2021 league champions) and host side Portland Thorns (and 2021 Challenge Cup winners) are slated to join two European powers in a women's soccer tournament this summer in Portland, Ore., at the fourth edition of the Women's International Champions Cup, planned for August 17-20 and featuring four domestic trophy-winners from 2021. In the continued absence of a global FIFA women's competition — the men have had one since 2000 — the WICC serves as a small-scale club world championship. English club Chelsea, the Women's Super League champion, is also slated to participate. The fourth entry has not yet been finalized, but the prime candidates mentioned are European Champions League powers Paris Saint-Germain of France, Barcelona of Spain and Bayern Munich of Germany are the prime candidates.

Portland hosted the tournament—put on by Relevant Sports Group—last summer at Providence Park, and won the title by defeating France's Olympique Lyonnais, 1-0. FC Barcelona and the Houston Dash were the other competitors. Lyonnais prevailed in 2019 in Cary, N.C., besting the North Carolina Courage, which won the 2018 crown in Miami by defeating the same French side. Manchester City participated in those first two years, and Atlético Madrid and PSG came once each. The tournament did not take place in 2020 because of the COVID pandemic. The WICC falls deep in the NWSL's regular season and near the end of the European preseason, providing U.S. teams with an advantage in fitness and form.



Thorns and Timbers combine for unique Peace Match for Ukraine Relief Efforts on April 27

The Thorns, in conjunction with the Major League Soccer's Portland Timbers, held a Peace Match on April 27 in the PTFC For Peace on Wednesday, April 27, at Providence Park. The unique inter-squad, co-ed scrimmage match of 60 minutes was free to the public with an encouraged donation. The proceeds surrounding the event supported UNICEF's relief efforts in Ukraine and bordering countries. The game raised over $500,000 for UNICEF Relief Efforts in Ukraine (including a $100,000 donation from the club) and drew a crowd of 16,921 fans for this historic mixed-teams charity match. The organization also raffled off game-jerseys and other memorabilia from the game through May 5.

Co-captains Diego Chara and Kelli Hubly selected their draft picks for Team Blue while Christine Sinclair and Sebastián Blanco selected the roster for Team Yellow.

TEAM BLUE
Goalkeepers: Aljaz Ivacic, Abby Smith, Justin Vom Steeg
Defenders: Pablo Bonilla, Kelli Hubly, Natalia Kuikka, Larrys Mabiala, Emily Menges, Meaghan Nally, Gabby Provenzano, Justin Rasmussen, Dario Zuparic
Midfielders: Dairon Asprilla, Natalie Beckman, Diego Chara, Marissa Everett, Marvin Loría, Cristhian Paredes, Yazmeen Ryan, Hina Sugita
Forwards: Hannah Betfort, Blake Bodily, Felipe Mora, Jaroslaw Niezgoda, Sophia Smith
Coach: Gio Savarese (Thorns)

TEAM YELLOW
Goalkeepers: David Bingham, Bella Bixby, Shelby Hogan, Hunter Sulte
Defenders: Claudio Bravo, Meghan Klingenberg, Zac McGraw, Madison Pogarch, Becky Sauerbrunn, Bill Tuiloma, Josecarlos Van Rankin
Midfielders: David Ayala, Sebastián Blanco, Yimmi Chara, Sam Coffey, George Fochive, Olivia Moultrie, Santiago Moreno, Taylor Porter, Rocky Rodríguez, Eryk Williamson
Forwards: Janine Beckie, Diego Gutierrez, Tega Ikoba, Christine Sinclair, Morgan Weaver

Coach: Rhian Wilkinson (Thorns)


Team Yellow narrowly came out on top 4-3 over Team Blue in the match. Nathan Fogaca opened the scoring for Team Yellow in the ninth minute, assisted by Madison Pogarch and Morgan Weaver. Team Blue equalized quickly after with a goal from Hannah Betfort, assisted by Johan Hinestroza, in the 23rd minute. Team Yellow snuck two more in before the end of the first half, with goals from Yimmi Chara and a second for Fogaca.

Midway through the second half, Jaroslaw Niezgoda drew one back for Team Blue to make it 3-2. Team Yellow scored their fourth goal of the match in the 54th minute from Selmir Miscic. Ukranian-born Timbers Academy player Vovas Kubrakov tallied the last goal for Team Blue in the 57th minute to finish the match with a score of 4-3 in favor of Team Yellow. . In an unexpected turn of events, both benches rushed the field for the final minutes of the match in an effort to secure a result, including head coach Gio Savarese of Team Yellow. Savarese helped assist a goal that was eventually called back for being offside. See: FULL MATCH REPLAY on Youtube.com.



Houston Dash Player and Coach signing news

Head Coach and General Manager James Clarkson (a native of England) was suspended by the league after findings from a league investigation that started last year, as a result of the numerous cases of player abuse by coaches/team officials that came to light last year. Clarkson was the only league head coach that was in his position at the start of the 2021 season and remained in his position for 2022—he made it through the Challenge Cup games but not to the regular season launch. It's another black mark for the league; we did expect that more unsavory news would come out about league coaches and other staff at some point, but this is disheartening to hear yet again. The Dash released a media announcement that said, "As an organization, our highest priority is creating and maintaining a safe and respectful work environment for our players and staff, which we believe is critical to our success on the pitch. The club has made counseling services available to all members of the organization interested."

Recently hired NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman said, "As it relates to this particular situation, I want to thank the individuals who brought their concerns to the Joint Investigative Team, as well as [Dash owner] Ted Segal, [Dash president] Jessica O'Neill and the Dash organization for taking swift action, and for their cooperation with the Joint Investigative Team's recommendation. I want to thank the players and staff throughout the league who have participated in the overall investigation thus far, and assure them, as well as our fans and partners, that we will deliver on our promise to create a workplace where players and staff are empowered to succeed in a healthy and safe environment." An interim head coach was expected to be named in the coming days.

Sara Lowdon joins Houston as an assistant coach from Penn State University, where she served as a volunteer assistant coach with the Nittany Lions women's soccer program. Lowdon brings 10 years of experience at various levels of the sport, including time as an assistant coach, director of team operations as well as an instructor at Sam Houston State in Texas and the University of Florida. A native of Newcastle, England, Lowdon has previously served as an assistant coach with the Dash from 2014 to 2016. Lowdon holds USSF A and B licenses and several professional certifications, including the Athlete Development Specialist certification from the Professional Association of Athlete Development Specialists.

On April 5, the Houston Dash signed midfielder Natalie Jacobs (24) as a National Team Replacement Player on April 5 to replace midfielder Paulina Gramaglia, who was called up by the Argentina Under-20 national team for the South American U-20 Women's Championship in April (see results below). Jacobs returns to the NWSL after spending time with Real Betis Feminas in Spain's Primera Division. While with Real Betis, Jacobs appeared in 25 matches for the Spanish side. Jacobs was selected with the 13th overall pick by the Washington Spirit in the 2020 NWSL College Draft. The midfielder started five matches in seven appearances during the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup and Fall Series. During the 2021 NWSL regular season, Jacobs made four appearances and one start. The midfielder played collegiately at the University of Southern California after transferring from Notre Dame University. For the Trojans, Jacobs played in 45 matches, starting 38 and scoring nine goals. Jacobs anchored the Trojan midfield and led USC to the NCAA Quarterfinals in 2019. While with the Irish, Jacobs earned 36 career starts in 42 appearances, while scoring 17 goals and recording 12 assists. Jacobs didn't play her sophomore season with Notre Dame to train with the U-20 USWNT in preparation for the 2016 U-20 FIFA World Cup in Papua New Guinea, where she scored one goal as the U.S. finished in fourth place. Once Gramaglia returned to the club just before the team's last Challenge Cup, Jacobs was released from her contract. With her experience in Spain, we expect Jacobs to find another club soon.

Houston waived midfielder Hannah Diaz (26), who played collegiate at Saint Mary's University in Northern California. Diaz joined the Dash last summer after spending three years in France's Division 1 Féminine at Lille and FC Fleury and appeared in two games for the Dash in 2021.



Carli Lloyd joins NJ/NY Gotham FC Ownership Group

NJ/NY Gotham FC of the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) has welcomed U.S. Women's National Team legend Carli Lloyd as the club's newest minority owner. The New Jersey native joins an ownership group that includes majority owners Tammy and Phil Murphy and minority owners Kristin Bernert, Karen Bryant, and Ed Nalbandian. Lloyd said, "As my home club, Gotham FC has always been close to my heart. It's an honor to begin this new chapter of my soccer career surrounded by people who are committed to making this the best club and league in the world. I look forward to working with Yael Averbuch West [General Manager and former league and international player], Andrea Pagnanelli [Chief Business Officer], and my fellow owners to continue this organization's impressive transformation."

Born in Delran, New Jersey, Lloyd joined Gotham FC (then known as Sky Blue FC) as a player in 2018 and played three seasons with the club until her retirement following the 2021 season. During her time on the field, Lloyd made 100-plus NWSL regular-season appearances, played 316 times for the USWNT—scoring 134 times with 64 assists—and became a two-time World Cup Champion, two-time Olympic gold medalist, two-time FIFA Player of the Year. Along with Geoff Hurst [England in 1966, who played primarily at West Ham United and ended his career at League of Ireland club Cork Celtic and Seattle Sounders in the NASL], Lloyd is one of two players to score a hat-trick in a World Cup Final game [2015 against Japan in Vancouver, B.C., Canada].


CONMEBOL U-20 WWC Qualifiers

In the CONMEBOL U-20 Qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA U-20 WWC this summer in Costa Rica. Brazil (9 points) and Colombia (6 points) qualified as the top two teams in the final group stage over Uruguay (3 points) and Venezuela (0 points). Gramaglia's Argentina (see above) finished third in Group A and did not make the final round, finishing with 5 points behind Venezuela (10 points) and Colombia (8 points) but ahead of Chile (4 points) and Peru (0 points). In Group B. Brazil won the group with 12 points from 4 games, with Uruguay second on 9 points, followed by Ecuador (6 points), Paraguay (3 points) and Bolivia (0 points).



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


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