This week we report on some news from NWSL involving two British imports to the league (one player and one coach), review the FIFA U-17 World Cup finals from Jordan, an international friendly in Sweden with Iran, and two U.S. friendly internationals this week with Switzerland.
The Seattle Reign announced last week that Scottish international midfielder Kim Little has been transferred to Arsenal Ladies. Her contract with the English Super League side begins in January of 2017 and is for multiple seasons. Little returns to the side that she played for from 2008 to 2013. Reign head coach and general manager Laura Harvey, who herself used to coach Little at Arsenal, said: “Kim was presented with an unbelievable offer by Arsenal, so given our respect and appreciation for Kim, we felt it was right to let her return home to pursue the opportunity. She is an extraordinary person and player, so while we hate to lose her, we are really happy for her and support her decision….Kim took a risk coming to Seattle before the 2014 season. I knew that she could help us achieve what we wanted, and I think that the trust created between the two of us is something that will remain forever…Our door will always be open for Kim in any capacity, whether it be as a player or whatever she chooses to do when her playing career is over."
Little commented on her time with the Reign: “Being involved in a great club with great players and great people, I had the best few years here. I'll miss playing with the girls and being with the team. It's been great to be involved with such an amazing organization." Little, arguably the finest player in NWSL's four year history, is the league's all-time leading scorer with 33 goals. She was league MVP in 2014—her first season in Seattle--and BBC's Women's Footballer of the Year in 2016. She took the Reign to two regular season (NWSL Shield) titles and finished runners-up twice to FC Kansas City in the 2014 and 2015 title games. Last winter, she won a Westfield W-League Premiership and Grand Final with expansion side Melbourne City in Australia.
In other Reign news, the team extended English native Laura Harvey's contact by four years, through the 2020 season. In four seasons she has a regular season record of 42 wins, 19 ties and 25 losses, capturing the NWSL Shield in both 2014 and 2015.
Women's U-17 World Cup - 5 Takeaways
1 - AFC Success
The Asian Football Federation contributed both finalists to the fifth edition of the biennial tournament—Korea DPR and Japan. Korea DPR won their second title in five events at the U-17 level--the first nation to win multiple titles after their 2008 win on penalties over the United States—5-4 on penalty kicks after a scoreless 90 minutes on October 21. Japan went to Jordan as the reigning U-17 champions and had not lost a World Cup match since the quarterfinals of the 2012 tournament. Japan has now finished second on two occasions; in 2010 they also lost on penalties to Korea Republic. Korea DPR lost to France in the 2012 final, also on penalties. Korea DPR's win over Japan was their second triumph over their regional rivals in a tournament final within a year as they won the Asian World Cup Qualifying Tournament 1-0 last year. Japan was the dominate side on the night, outshooting Korea DPR 24-7, as well as in the tournament, leading the event with 19 goals scored and only two allowed, compared with Korea DPR's 12-4 goals for/goals against. Korea DPR played solidly in defense and surrendered a lot of the midfield to Japan play in order to keep their defense sound and the strategy paid off on the night.
With AFC supplying four of the five winners of this tournament, they have cemented their reputation as the leading federation at this young age group level. At the senior level, Japan won the 2011 Women's World Cup and finished runner up at the 2012 Olympics and 2015 Women's World Cup. It will be interesting to see if Korea DPR can take the leap to the final game in a future senior tournament, utilizing a base of experienced U-17 and U-20 World Cup veterans. Korea DPR won the U-20 World Cup in 2006, lost in the 2008 final to the U.S. and finished fourth two years ago in Canada. They have qualified for the 2016 edition in Papua New Guinea next month. In Korea DPR's four previous appearances at senior World Cups, they have advanced from the first round on only one occasion—in 2007 in China when they lost 3-0 against eventual champions Germany in the quarterfinals. They were banned from participating in 2015 World Cup qualifying after 5 players at the 2011 Women's World Cup tested positively for banned substances. Korea DPR could be a potential last eight or better side in France in 2019 if they keep grooming their young talent, which was on display in Jordan.
2 - Don't Judge This Tournament by the Attendance Figures
Watching the tournament on television, it was hard to miss the large number of empty seats for most of the matches, but attendance alone should not be a barometer of the significance of this tournament, the first FIFA Women's Finals ever in a West Asian nation. FIFA's Director of Women's Competitions, Tatjana Haenni explained: “There has been so much that has gone on: infrastructure improvements, upgrades in stadium and training grounds, education and development work, Live Your Goals courses, social projects with refugees, and all of it has been done to ensure we leave a genuine legacy….From what I understand, there has been a change in culture witnessed at this tournament. I know that, previously, it was only men—real hardcore football fans—who went to the stadiums to watch matches. Here, we have seen lots of families at the matches, with women, girls and boys all enjoying the football in a nice environment. Filling stadiums for women's youth football matches is a challenge everywhere in the world. Considering the background here in Jordan, I think the LOC have done extremely well in this respect, and hopefully we will see even more spectators when Jordan hosts the AFC Women's Championship in 2018." Plaudits to FIFA for holding the tournament in Jordan and we hope that it helps to spur more interest in the women's game—particularly among young players—throughout the region.
3 - CONCACAF Teams Have a Tough Time in Jordan
Significantly, Mexico was the only CONCACAF side to make the quarterfinals as both Canada and the U.S. failed to make it out of the group stage. Canada (4 points) finished third in Group B behind winners Germany (7 points), Venezuela (6 points) and ahead of Cameroon (0 points). The Americans finished third in Group D, losing to first palace Japan (9 points), second place Ghana (6 points), with their only victory coming against Paraguay (0 points). Canada has made all five U-17 World Cup tournaments and failed to advance to the Quarterfinals for only the second time. The U.S. finished second in 2008, fell in the group stage in 2012 and 2016 and did not make the finals at all in 2010 and 2014. Mexico, who finished second in the CONCACAF regional qualifying behind the first place Americans, won Group A on 7 points on goal difference over Spain, with New Zealand finishing third on 3 points and Jordan fourth with 0 points (1 goal for and 15 goals against). Mexico was upset by Venezuela 2-1 in the quarterfinals, with the CONMEBOL side coached by a CONCACAF native, Kenneth ZSEREMETA of Panama.
4 - Stellar Individual Performances
The 2016 U-17 World Cup in Jordan revealed some top individual performances. Venezuela's superb forward Deyna Castellanos was this reporter's star of tournament. She scored five goals in the 2016 tournament and won the Bronze Boot for goalscoring --after winning the Golden Boot in the 2014 tournament with 6 goals when Venezuela finished fourth as well. She also was awarded the Bronze Ball as FIFA's third best player in the tournament. Her shots are dangerous and nearly always on frame. Castellanos is a freshman with powerhouse Florida State University—who won the collegiate national championship in 2014—in the United States and has scored 5 goals this season for the Seminoles. She is already a full international and a definite to watch in the future. If Venezuela can pull out of its economic turmoil and devote more funds to its women's football programs, they have a true impact player to build around. All eyes will be on their U-20 side who qualified for the World Cup next month in Papua New Guinea, to see if the country can build on the success of their U-17 program in recent years.
Fuka Nagano of Japan won the Golden Ball and is another player that is expected to have a long international career at the senior level. Sung Hyang Sim (PRK) won the Silver Ball. Spain's Lorena Navarro won the Golden Boot with 8 goals—three coming as a substitute in a 4-0 third place match win over Venezuela and 5 goals (plus one assist) in their 6-0 tournament opening win over host Jordan.
5 - Other Knockout Round Results
In the other quarterfinals, Korea DPR defeated Ghana 2-1, Spain beat Germany 2-1, while Japan defeated England 3-0. England (5 points) had a spirited team and finished runner-up in Group C to Korea DPR 3-0 (7 points) and ahead of Brazil (3 points) and Nigeria (1 point). England finished fourth in their only other U-17 Finals in 2008. In the semifinals, Korea DPR defeated Venezuela 3-0 and Japan defeated Spain by the same score. Spain defeated Venezuela in the third place match 4-0—in 2014 the side finished runners-up to Japan.
Iran's Women's National Team falls to Sweden in rare friendly
Iran's Women's National Team played a rare friendly in Europe versus Sweden's national team on Friday, October 21, losing 7-0 in chilly Gothenburg. Olivia Schough (Eskilstuna United) and Magdalena Eriksson (Linkopings) both scored hat tricks. The game was originally scheduled to take place on Thursday but the team arrived late after problems securing visas. Swedish Football Federation chairman Karl-Erik Nilsson discussed on local television the importance of the match: “We are an important player in the Swedish society, football and sport means a lot in the local environment. But we want to make sure that football grows in environments where they have it tougher. We have in Sweden been pioneers for women's soccer, along with several other countries in Northern Europe. Now we have the chance to contribute to the open-up of women's football in general to a wider audience."
Iran's national team has been dogged by controversy of late. We reported last year one veteran international was legally prohibited from accompanying her team to a tournament in Malaysia because her husband refused her permission to travel abroad. The Telegraph also reported last year that a number of players are in the gender transition process from male to female but have not yet completed their transitions and should not be allowed to play. These negative stories detract from the positive advances of soccer in Iran and the region over the past decade or two. Iran was an early hotbed for the women's game in the 1970's before the Islamic Revolution. The Italian National Team once played local side Taj in Tehran in front of 25,000 people and the women's game is increasing in popularity again.
United States defeats Switzerland in Two Friendlies
A young U.S. national team defeated Switzerland 4-0 on October 19 in Sandy, Utah (outside Salt Lake City) in front of 14,336 fans. Christen Press and Tobin Heath scored as did Western New York Flash 2016 NWSL title winners Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams. Williams scored in her first national team match just 49 seconds after coming on as a second half substitute—continuing her strong run of goalscoring vein, including 11 in the regular season and 3 in two playoff games. 2016 NWSL MVP and Golden Boot winner Lynn Williams is the 20th WNT player to score in her first cap. Andi Sullivan, Casey Short, Abby Dahlkemper and Ashley Hatch also won their first caps. The American dominated the Swiss in shots (24-4) and shots on goal (12-2). On Sunday October 23, the Americans won the rematch at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota 5-1 in front of 23,400 fans. Carli Lloyd of the Houston Dash scored the first two goals of the game. Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit) and Kealia Ohia (Houston Dash) scored the other goals. Like Williams did in Utah, Ohia scored on her international debut as a late second half substitute, just 48 seconds into her debut, becoming the 21st American international to score in her first full international match. Sandrine Mauron (FC Zurich) on an assist from Lauren Dickenmann (Wolfsburg) gave the visitors the lead in the 7th minute.
Jill Ellis brought in eight professionals who were not part of annual contract with U.S. soccer—the most that the Collective Bargaining Agreement allows at any one time-- along with 3 college players (for which Ellis has no restrictions on the number of invites.)
U.S. Women's National Team Roster for Camp ahead of the Switzerland games:
GOALKEEPERS (3): 18-Jane Campbell (Stanford), 1-Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars), 24-Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride)
DEFENDERS (7): 14-Abby Dahlkemper (Western New York Flash), 11-Arin Gilliland (Chicago Red Stars), 15-Merritt Mathias (Seattle Reign), 5-Kelley O'Hara (Sky Blue FC), 4-Becky Sauerbrunn (FC Kansas City), 8-Casey Short (Chicago Red Stars), 12-Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns FC)
MIDFIELDERS (8): 6- Morgan Brian (Houston Dash), 22-Danielle Colaprico (Chicago Red Stars), 17-Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns FC), 9- Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns FC), 10-Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash), 20- Allie Long (Portland Thorns FC), 3-Samantha Mewis (Western New York Flash), 19- Andi Sullivan (Stanford)
FORWARDS (6): 16-Crystal Dunn (Washington Spirit), 2-Shea Groom (FC Kansas City), 21-Ashley Hatch (BYU), 7- Kealia Ohai (Houston Dash), 12- Christen Press (Chicago Red Stars), 13- Lynn Williams (Western New York Flash)
Switzerland, ranked 15th in the world, qualified for next summer's UEFA Women's Championship in the Netherlands, winning all eight matches against Italy, Czech Repulblic, Northern Ireland and Georgia. Nine of the players are based with German clubs while goalkeeper Gaëlle Thalmann plays for Verona in Italy. Head coach Martina Voss-Techlenburg impressively took Switzerland to the Round of 16 in Canada's World Cup last summer, and herself played in 3 World Cups for her native Germany. Ahead of the two games in the U.S. midfielder Martina Moser (Hoffenheim) and captain Caroline Abbe (Bayern Munich) have both played 120 games each. Lauren Dickenmann (VFL Wolfsburg), who played at Ohio State University before a long career with Lyon, has 44 goals in 114 caps. Prolific forward Fabienne Humm (FC Zurich Frauen) has scored 20 goals in 50 games.
MIDFIELDERS (8): 3-Melanie Müller (BSC Young Boys), 4-Bangerter (FC Basel 1893), 7-Martina Moser (TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, GER), 8-Cinzia Zehnder (SC Freiburg, GER), 9-Lia Wälti (1.FFC Turbine Potsdam, GER), 18-Viola Calligaris (BSC Young Boys), 20-Sandrine Mauron (FC Zürich Frauen), 22-Vanessa Bernauer (VfL Wolfsburg, GER)
FORWARDS (5): 2-Patricia Willi (FC Zürich Frauen), 11-Lara Dickenmann (VfL Wolfsburg, GER), 16-Fabienne Humm (FC Zürich Frauen), 19-Eseosa Aigbogun (1.FFC Turbine Potsdam, GER), 23-Barla Deplazes (FC Zürich Frauen)
Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribalfootball. His latest book is Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.
Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey