This week we present part two of our 2020 National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) regular season preview, the league's eighth. This week we look at the five teams that missed the playoffs last season, all of whom had some very interesting and significant off-season player movement.
2020 NWSL Regular Season Preview
Washington Spirit (9-7-8--34 points—Joint Fifth)
There was a lot of movement in and out of the Spirit side this winter, with the club
releasing their three Australian internationals at the end of the 2019 season. Head coach
Richie Burke told this reporter on a conference call during the offseason that he liked
them personally and they were great in the locker room, but a combination of injuries and
WWC commitments limited their playing time, and 2020 looked to be yielding the
same as the Matildas were expected to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics—which they
ultimately did before the Games were moved to 2021 due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Oft-injured Arizona State University and 4 year Spirit veteran Cali Farquharson went to
Sweden to join Orebro, while her college and Spirit teammate last season, Mackenzie
Berryhill, tried out at Rosengard before the 2020 Damallsvenskan season but was not
signed. Burke looked to boost his side with several Americans with experience playing
abroad, starting with Jaye Boissiere, who played at Stanford and was the 2017 College
Cup Most Outstanding Offensive Player after scoring the cup-clinching goal against
UCLA in the College Cup Final. In 2017 Boissiere scored 9 goals and added 10 assists in
her 25 appearances for the Cardinal. She also played with the U.S. U-23's in 2018 during
her senior season. Boissiere spent 2019 with French side La Havre in the second division
of French football. Burke said about Boisierre, "With Jaye's arrival at the Spirit we've
added a really top quality player who ticks all of our boxes. She is another serial winner
and someone who has the ability and style to play the way we want to play. Jaye is the
prototypical box-to-box midfielder, but has the ability to read the game so well from
central areas of the field and can play in multiple roles for our team. She is another one I
can't wait to get started with this season."
Another repatriated American is forward Jessie Scarpa, who played at the University of North Carolina and with the U.S. U-20's at the 2016 World Cup in Papua New Guinea. Burke said about bringing on Scarpa, "We had Jess in to train last summer and really wanted to sign her then… the impression Jess made on our staff was sufficient enough for us to closely monitor her progress when she subsequently went to play in Sweden, and the success Jess enjoyed playing professionally overseas only served to confirm that we believe she will be a great addition to our squad for the 2020 NWSL campaign." She played at second tier Lidkoping in Sweden this past season.
A third new addition who also comes from a Swedish club is Canadian forward Jenna Hellstrom, who played collegiately at Kent State in Ohio and is the all-time leader in 12 different career and single-season categories at Kent State, including goals (37), assists (33), game-winning goals (17) and points (107). Hellstrom also became the first-ever NSCAA All-American in Kent State history after leading the team to it's first-ever MAC championship. Professionally, Hellstrom played exclusively in the Damallsvenskan top league in Sweden, first in 2017 with FC Rosengard, where she won the Ladies Swedish Cup. From 2017 to 2019, Hellstrom was with Djurgårdens IF, Växjö DFF and KIF Örebro. Internationally, Hellstrom has made four appearances for the Canadian National Team after receiving her first call-up in November of 2017. Hellstrom also was named to the Canadian side for the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup.
Burke is excited about a new international forward that he brought in, who is without experience in the U.S. but who has played in Germany, that being Japanese international Kumi Yokoyama, who appeared in 2 games at the 2019 WWC in France for her country, who lost to the Netherlands 2-1 in the Round of 16. The Japanese forward first burst onto the international scene during the 2010 U-17 World Cup when she scored a Puskás nominated wonder goal, dribbling past six defenders before slotting the ball into the corner past the goalkeeper and also took home the Silver Ball and Bronze Boot. Internationally, Yokoyama has made 43 appearances for the full Japanese National team, scoring 17 goals. On the club level, she began her career in 2012 with Okayama Yunogo Belle in Okayama, Japan over 2 seasons, appearing in 31 games and scoring three goals. Yokoyama transferred to Japanese club AC Nagano Parceiro in 2014, where she scored 30 goals in just 21 appearances. In the following season, in 2015 she upped her production to 35 goals in 25 games, helping Nagano Parceiro's to promotion to the Japanese first division. Overall, Yokoyama spent five years with Nagano between 2014 and 2019, scoring 99 goals in 144 appearances. The forward was named Japan Women's Football League MVP in 2015. Yokoyama has played outside of Japan as well, as she spent the 2017-2018 season on loan at FFC Frankfurt, playing in 24 games and scoring six goals during her time with the German side.
In the 2020 NWSL College Draft, the Spirit made some trades to have five selections among the 36 players chose, when they only had 2 selections going into draft day. They received the fourth pick overall in the draft from a trade with Sky Blue FC in exchange for 2019 WWC winner and midfielder Mallory Pugh, along withsome draft picks in 2020 and 2021. The Spirit selected UCLA forward Ashley Sanchez with that pick. Sanchez left early with one year left and scored 23 goals and created 42 assists in 3 seasons, and is in the USWNT pool. With the 13th pick from Sky Blue, Burke selected Natalie Jacobs from the University of Southern California, who played in 87 games, 74 starts and scored 26 goals with 23 assists. With their 17th pick they picked Averie Collins who played at Stanford during her first three years in college before transferring to Washington State University for her final year. Collins was a part of three-straight Pac-12 championships in three seasons for Stanford and won the 2017 national championship with the Cardinal as a junior. During her senior year with the Washington State University Cougars, Collins started all 24 games of the season, scoring six goals and adding five assists, helping the team to its first College Cup semifinals appearance.
Burke believes in the power in the draft and had breakout seasons in 2019 from rookies Jordan DiBiasi,Sam Staab,Tegan McGrady,Dorian Bailey, andBailey Feist, who had 1 goal and 2 assists in only 12 games. These younger players, paired with holders and 2019 WWC Bronze Ball winner Rose Lavelle and Aubrey Bledsoe in goal, ensures that the Spirit should be fun to watch. The team will play 4 games in their Maryland suburban home, 4 in a Virginia minor league soccer stadium and 4 at D.C. United's Audi Field in the District, the latter to which they drew two phenomenal post-WWC crowds to see exciting games on August 24 (a last minute winning goal in a 2-1 victory of Orlando in front of a capacity crowd of 19,471) and on September 14 (a 2-2 tie with the Reign) with 17,418 in attendance.
Utah Royals (10-4-10—34 Points—Joint Fifth)
Most of the changes in Utah during the off-season were at the top as head coach Laura Harvey left to direct the U.S. U-20 national team in January. Assistant coach Scott Parkinson was named Interim Head Coach and directed the side during the 2020 College Draft but early in February, the club named former Chicago Red Stars assistant coach Craig Harrington as the head coach. Parkinson was not kept on the staff and interestingly was hired by Chicago as their lead assistant. Prior to his two seasons in Chicago. Harrington served as the Technical Director for the Turks and Caicos Men's National Team and began his coaching career with the LA Galaxy Academy in 2010. He won two consecutive US Soccer Development SoCal Division Titles as head coach of the U-16 team and was a member of the technical staff for the Galaxy's Major League Soccer team that won consecutive MLS Cups in 2011 and 2012.
Backup goalkeeper in 2019 and starter in 2018 Abby Smith had a good off-season down under with some head-turning performances for the Western Sydney Wanderers team and could challenge Nicole Barnhart for the starting spot. Barnhart however, was quite outstanding last season with 10 shutouts.
A strong base of Royals returnees in 2020 include U.S. National Team stars and Women's World Cup champions Kelley O'Hara and Christen Press as well as Spain's all-time leading scorer Vero Boquete and World Cup veteransAmy Rodriguez (U.S.), Rachel Corsie (Scotland), Desiree Scott (Canada), Diana Matheson (Canada)andKatie Bowen (New Zealand).
Center back Taylor Leach (ex-University of South Carolina) was signed by the Royals for the 2020 season after four years playing in Sweden. Leach (27) was most recently with Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC where she played for three years and had recorded six goals and three assists in 86 appearances. Additionally, she helped the club qualify for their first UEFA Women's Champions League birth in over five years. Leach spent a season with Östersunds DFF in the Swedish second division, where she scored two goals in 14 matches. In 2016 she began her European professional career with Sunnanå SK during which she added two goals in 13 games played.
Another new signing with international experience is midfielder Chestley Strother, who comes from Sundsvall DFF in Sweden's Elitettan (Division 2). The year prior, Strother recorded seven assists in 10 appearances for Kvarnsveden IK (now in Division II after relegation in 2017 when they had punched above their weight in the top flight). She started out her pro career—like many Americans have—in Iceland, playing for UMF Sindri and scoring 13 goals in 20 matches in 2017. Strother spent four years at the University of Texas at Tyler, finishing with 32 assists, 27 goals and 86 points in 74 games. Following college Strother spent a brief time in the NWSL as a practice player for the Houston Dash.
On the field, as we reported some weeks back, (https://www.tribalfootball.com/articles/the-week-in-women-s-football-anorve-s-book-on-liga-mx-femenil-costa-rica-star-cruz-joins-reign-diallo-signs-with-utah-4320613) French international Aminata Diallo is coming to America on a one year loan to the Utah Royals from Paris St. Germain.Diallo played as a midfielder for Paris St. Germain and for the France women's national team, though she was not on France's WWC side last summer. With PSG, Diallo made 59 appearances since 2016. Prior to her time with PSG, Diallo played two seasons with French First Division side Guingamp (39 appearances). Additionally, she played one season with Arras—then in the First Division but now in the 32 team Second Division. Diallo began her professional career with Grenoble Métropole Claix Football Féminin in 2011, at the time the club was playing in the second division of French football, where she played in nearly 50 matches.
On the international stage, Diallo has appeared in seven matches for the France National Team, including during the 2018 SheBelieves Cup held in the States. She has scored one goal in seven matches. She was also a U-19 international, winning the UEFA Women's U-19 Championship and was part of the squad that finished third in the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Canada.
As this article went to press, we have learned of two new international signings by the Royals, according to reports from Salt Lake City, both of whom are currently with European juggernaut Lyon of France, including Lyon's French international goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi and German international midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsan; they are due to arrive after their European seasons are complete. Bouhaddi, the long-time French national team's starting goalkeeper, has 10 won French league titles and six UEFA Women's Champions League titles with Lyon. Marozsan won the 2013 European Women's Championship and 2016 Olympic gold medal with Germany. She has won three French league titles and three UEFA Women's Champions League titles in three seasons with Lyon, as well as a UEFA Women's Champions League title with FFC Frankfurt.
The Royals will have to find replacements for three veterans who have retired after the 2019 season: defender Sam Johnson, midfielder Maddy Laddish and forward Erika Tymrak, the latter who was NWSL rookie of the year in the league's inaugural season. Tymrak, as did Laddish, won two league titles with FC Kansas City but only had 1 goal and 2 assists in 30 appearances for the Royals the last two seasons, as she was used mainly as a substitute. Overall Tymrak, who was capped at youth and full national team level (3 times), made 125 league appearances, scoring 19 goals and remains one of just a few players to have been part of the league since its launch in 2013.
A trade in early March sent U.S. women's international defender Becky Sauerbrunn to Portland for defender Elizabeth Ball (who will be in her third season) and $100,000 in allocation money.
Houston Dash (7-5-12—26 points—Seventh)
This is another team that is being remade after James Clarkson had a good first season in charge as head coach, and again like Washington, is bringing in a lot of American free agents with European experience. Goalkeeper Lindsey Harris played three years in Europe. The 26-year-old first joined the Icelandic side FH in January 2017 where she dropped the club's goals-against average by more than 35 percent. Harris then joined Norwegian club Klepp, which she helped to a spot in the UEFA Champions League and a second-place finish in Norway's Toppserien league table. Harris played every minute of every game in Europe, earning 70 professional starts in three years and was named the 2019 Norwegian League Goalkeeper of the Year. She played collegiately at the University of North Carolina. A goalkeeper spot opened up in Houston after Bianca Henninger retired. Henninger played for the U.S. at the U-17, U-20 and U-23 level and Mexico at the full national team level (4 caps). She was with the side for all of their 6 seasons in the NWSL after playing with FC Kansas City in 2013 and collegiately at Santa Clara. In 2013, the goalkeeper was loaned to Germany's FC Bayern Munich in the Frauen-Bundesliga. Henninger also went to the Australian W-League in the 2016-17 season, making seven appearances with Melbourne Victory.
Defender Megan Crosson played with the Washington Spirit in 2018-19 but has returned to the Dash where she had four appearances during the 2016 season. After her first NWSL season, Crosson continued her professional career overseas in Japan's Speranza FC, Spain's UDG Tenerife and Lithuania's Gintra Universitetas from 2016 to 2018. The defender joined the Washington Spirit in August 2018 when she signed as a national team replacement player, making an appearance in the last game of the season and played nine games last season for the Spirit with one goal. Like Henninger, she also played at Santa Clara University.
Another American defender comes from West Ham United in England—Erin Simon (who Houston acquired for cash)—who was part of the United States Women's Under-23 squad that won 2019 Nordic Cup. Simon spent two seasons with Sky Blue FC from 2016-2018. Simon then went to England and had 22 appearances for the Hammers in 2018-19 and she returns to the NWSL after finishing a successful 2019 season with English side West Ham United where she logged 22 appearances. The New Jersey native spent the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons in NWSL with Sky Blue FC, earning a roster spot in the starting lineup after making her way up through open tryouts and impressing in preseason matches. The center-back started in 25 of 26 appearances with Sky Blue, tallying two assists in two seasons with the club. She played at Syracuse University.
Canadian national team member Maegan Kelly (5 caps) was signed as a free agent and also returns to the NWSL after finishing a successful 2019 season with Italian side Florentia San Gimignano, where she logged seven goals in 10 appearances for the team that is currently 5th in the Serie A table with 7 wins, 3 ties, 6 losses and 24 points, with the league on hold due to the Coronavirus, but a distant 20 points behind leaders Juventus. The Kansas native spent part of the 2019 season in NWSL with Reign FC as a national team replacement player, making her debut against the Washington Spirit in May before signing with Florentia in July. Before joining the Reign, she had scored 8 goals for Atalanta in Italy's Serie A in 2018/19. She has played in Italy, Iceland, Finland, Cyprus and the U.S. Kelly was drafted in the 2014 NWSL College Draft out of Marquette University and began her NWSL career with FC Kansas City but did not feature for the club before moving to Stjarnan in Iceland's first division. In 2015, she transferred to Åland United in Finland before joining Apollon Ladies FC in Cyprus for the 2016 campaign. She returned to FC Kansas City in 2017 after spending three seasons overseas, logging her first NWSL goals with five in 22 appearances. Kelly moved with the team to Utah ahead of the 2018 season before returning to Europe to join Atalanta.
Trades brought other new players including veteran forward Katie Stengel from Utah in exchange for a draft choice. Stengel has played 5 NWSL seasons, including the last two in Utah, after three years in Washington and has 12 goals in 83 appearances. She previously played with Bayern Munich in Germany's Frauen Bundesliga, helping the club win the Championship title and finishing the 2014-15 season as club's top goal-scorer. She has played 4 seasons in Australia's W-League. The forward hasd19 W-League goals with Western Sydney Wanderers and Newcastle Jets, and played this past season with Canberra United, notching only one goal for the team that struggled to score late in the season. Stengel has played internationally for the U.S. at the U-20 and U-23 levels and collegiately at Wake Forest University.
Defender Katie Naughton was acquired by Houston from Chicago in the Kealia Ohai trade. She came into NWSL as the 19th overall selection in the 2016 NWSL College Draft from Notre Dame University. She was a U.S. international at the U-17, U-20 and U-23 levels during her youth career, including at the 2014 U-20 Women's World Cup in Canada.
Forward Shea Groom and defender Megan Oyster came to Houston in a trade from Reign FC for Amber Brooks and Sofia Huerta. Groom was selected 12th overall by Kansas City in the 2015 NWSL College Draft and was named the team's Rookie of the Year that same season and won two league titles with FC Kansas City.. The Missouri native, who played collegiately at Texas A&M University, has registered 21 goals and 11 assists in 90 career games at forward; she also played with Sky Blue FC. Groom (26) received her first call-up to the senior U.S. Women's National Team in 2016 for a pair of friendlies against Switzerland but has yet to earn a cap.
Oyster joins Houston following a two-year stint in Washington State with the Reign, where she scored one goal and added two assists in 40 games played. The defender was acquired 13th overall by the Washington Spirit in the 2015 NWSL College Draft and helped lead the team to the NWSL playoffs in 2015 and then to the club's first ever NWSL Championship Final in 2016. She helped the UCLA Bruins to their first ever NCAA women's soccer title in 2013, recording the assist on the game-winning goal against Florida State. Oyster has spent time with the Newcastle Jets of the Australian W-League and earned her first call-up to the senior USWNT in March 2017 for a pair of friendlies against Russia, making two appearances as a substitute.
English international Rachel Daly returns and hopes to add to her 24 goals in 74 matches since the 2016 season. Always a key member of Houston's offense, Daly finished the 2019 NWSL season with five goals, tying for the club lead in goals with Sofia Huerta, who was traded to OL Reign during the offseason. The Harrogate, England native spent last summer in France as part of the England Women's National Team squad during their semifinal run at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup. She saw action in five of England's seven matches and started in two, including the semifinal against the United States. Daly has scored three goals and earned 29 caps with the Lionesses while splitting time as a forward and outside back. Daly joined the Lionesses as they claimed their first SheBelieves Cup last March after defeating Brazil, Japan and holding the U.S. Women's National Team to a 2-2 draw.
Also back are the Canadian national team triumvirate of defender Alyssa Chapman, midfielder Sophie Schmidt and Nichelle Prince, the latter who was injured much of last season and only played in four games. American defender Veronica Latsko tore her ACL early last season but rehabilitation included a stint during the off-season with FC Sydney, where she scored three times including the only goal in the 1-0 away semifinal win over Melbourne Victory; her goals are crucial to a Dash playoff bid this season.
Four players who are not returning include 2019 Canadian Women's World Cup National Team member Lindsey Agnew (24), who has 11 caps with Canada's senior team and seven with Canada's Under-20 National Team (who played for Latsko's Sydney FC at the end of the season). Agnew is planning on attending the preseason camp for the North Carolina Courage once the league resumes action. The Dash also released Canadian goalkeeper Devon Kerr, who played collegiately with Agnew at Ohio State University. American defender Jazmin Jackmon, who only played in an international friendly with Tigres Femenil of Mexico in October, was released after the 2019 season along with Mexican international forward Ariana Calderón (29). Calderón joined Houston last May from Thór/KA from the Úrvalsdeild kvenna, the top-tier women's league in Iceland, on May 28. With the Dash, the Mexican-American tallied an assist in eight appearances for the club.
Sky Blue FC (5-5-14--20 points—Eighth)
Things are much improved for this original NWSL franchise that was also a charter member of the WPS in 2009-2011 and won the first WPS title in 2009. Last season, their top two college draft choices bolted for Europe rather than play with the club—Hailie Mace and Julia Ashley, who both returned to the league this season to play at North Carolina and Reign FC, respectively. Sky Blue lost other players from their 2018 squad due to management disorganization and allegations of player neglect, subpar housing and inadequate support services. Now, under visionary general manager Alyse LaHue, who spent almost 5 years as General Manager at the Chicago Red Stars, they have left Yurcak Field on the main campus of Rutgers University in Southern New Jersey for Red Bull Arena—the home of MLS's New York Red Bulls—across the Hudson River from Manhattan. In other ways, the team is in the process of going through a massive image makeover.
They have a new full-time coach in English native FreyaCoombe, who was interim coach through the last five games of 2019. Coombe came to Sky Blue FC from New York Soccer Club, where she served as the director of scouting and as a Development Academy coach. Before that, Coombe coached at Reading in England for seven years, serving as the director of coaching for its Centre of Excellence and women's development team manager. Coombe is one of seven head coaches in place for the 2020 NWSL season who are English (out of nine), but she is the only female in the league, after the league was up to three in the 2018 season.
Sky Blue then traded three 2020 College Draft picks (#4, #13 and #17) as well as their #1 pick in 2021 for U.S. National teamer Mallory Pugh from the Washington Spirit, where she played three seasons. Pugh started in nine games in 2019, scoring two goals and notching two assists, and won a Women's World Cup winner's medal. On June 3, 2017, Pugh became the youngest scorer in NWSL history (19 years, 1 month, and four days) in a 2-0 win over the Houston Dash and was a finalist for the NWSL Rookie of the Year. Pugh earned her first cap with the U.S. Women's National Team at 17 years and 269 days old, making her the youngest player to debut for the USA in the last 11 years. On January 23, 2016, Pugh scored her first goal in her first cap against the Republic of Ireland. Pugh has 56 appearance, 16 goals, and 16 assists with the U.S. side but was not on the team for the CONCACAF Olympics Games Qualifying finals tournament earlier this year.
Sky Blue also acquired 2019 scoring revelation Midge Purce (24) from Portland Thorns in a deal for the rights to Costa Rican midfielder Raquel Rodriguez. Purce played in 22 games (19 starts) and finished the regular season as a top ten goal scorer, registering eight goals and one assist. Purce, drafted out of Harvard by the Boston Breakers, was the ninth overall pick in the 2017 NWSL College Draft. She played 22 matches (13 starts) during her rookie season, scoring one goal and two assists. Purce was selected by the Thorns in the 2018 NWSL Dispersal Draft and played in 19 games (15 starts) during her second season in the league. Purce started with the U.S. Women's National Team on November 11, 2019 against Costa Rica for her first international cap.
The side then acquired veteran midfielder McCall Zerboni from the North Carolina Courage in exchange for Mace's rights. Zerboni started her NWSL career at Western New York Flash in 2013 and later joined the Portland Thorns for the 2015 season. In 2016, she signed with the Boston Breakers, playing in eight games before returning to the Flash for the rest of the season, winning a NWSL title with the surprise package which finished the regular season in fourth place. Zerboni earned her first international cap with the U.S. Women's National Team in 2017 when the U.S. hosted Korea Republic. In 2018, Zerboni was called up to the USWNT Tournament of Nations team and for friendlies against Chile, logging 254 minutes for the year.
Another new signing for 2020 is forward Ifeoma Onumonu from Reign FC, acquired for the rights to 2019 College draft choice Julia Ashley, who played in Europe and Australia rather than signing with the NWSL. Onumonu, 25, joins Sky Blue FC after making a playoff run with Reign FC in 2019. She finished the 2019 season with 21 appearances (eight starts), scoring three goals and adding one assist. Onumonu, who subbed on in the 80th minute of the 2019 NWSL Semi-final against the Courage, scored a stunning equalizer in the third minute of second half stoppage time to tie the game at 1-1, which the Courage seemed to have wrapped up (but North Carolina rolled on inovertime to clinch another Finals spot with a 4-1 win). Onumonu was selected eighth overall by the Boston Breakers in the 2017 NWSL College Draft and appeared in 18 matches (three starts) her rookie season with one assist. Selected by the Portland Thorns in the 2018 NWSL Dispersal Draft, she appeared in eight matches (three starts). Collegiately she played at the University of California-Berkeley totaling 82 matches, 33 goals and 17 assists in her four seasons.
Midfielder Nahoma Kawasumi is back for her second season in New Jersey; she is very important in running the midfield now that Raquel Rodriguez is gone to Portland [see above]. Kawasumi joined Sky Blue in 2018 after being acquired in a trade with Reign FC. Kawasumi finished the 2019 season playing in 19 games (10 starts), notching one assist. Since coming to the NWSL in 2014 with Seattle, Kawasumi has 87 regular season appearances, scoring 18 goals along with 20 assists. In 2014, Kawasumi scored nine goals and tallied five assists in just 20 matches. In 2017, Kawasumi scored six goals and led the league with nine assists. Kawasumi made her first appearance for the Japanese national team in 2008. In 2011, she helped Japan win their first-ever FIFA Women's World Cup championship. The following year Kawasumi was part of the squad that finished second to the U.S. WNT in the 2012 London Olympics. In 2015 Kawasumi was a part of the squad that made it to the final of the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, taking runner-up to the U.S. WNT.
NWSL veteran defender Estelle Johnson, who played every minute of all 3 games for Cameroon at the 2019 Women's World Cup, also returns for 2020. Johnson was called into the Cameroon side just before the World Cup as she was raised in the U.S. but qualified to play for the nation as she was born there when her parents were missionaries. She also appeared with them during the recent African Olympic Games Qualifiers, when they surprisingly lost the CAF Final two leg tie on away goals (4-4) to Zambia, but will face Chile in an international play in for one last spot in Tokyo. Johnson, 31, joined Sky Blue in 2019 after being acquired in a trade with the Washington Spirit. A long-standing veteran of the NWSL, Johnson reached her 100th cap last season on July 28 against the Houston Dash. Johnson started her professional career in Women's Professional Soccer (WPS), playing for the Philadelphia Independence from 2010 to 2012 and played for Sydney FC in Australia during the 2011-12 W-League season. In 2013, Johnson joined the Western New York Flash, where she accumulated 22 appearances with the 2013 NWSL Championship runner-ups. After a brief break in 2014 to finish her Master's Degree in Business Administration, Johnson returned to the NWSL in 2015 with the Washington Spirit before joining Sky Blue FC in 2019. In her NWSL career, Johnson has logged 9,530 minutes in 108 regular season matches.
Carli Lloyd returns for her third season playing for her home state's club (and eighth in the league) and is so important to the fan base and the team as a confirmed leader. She is still seen as a world class talent, with 2 WWC medals and 2 Olympic Golds—scoring the winning goals in both of the latter two final wins in 2008 and 2012. In goal, Canadian international goalkeeper Kayln Sheridan is back for her fourth season and has been a starter every season after playing at Wake Forest; she is tremendously talented in the back.
Imani Dorsey (23) will be entering her third season with Sky Blue FC. In 2019, Dorsey split time between the attack and defense, starting 23 games and registering two goals, 27 interceptions, and 24 clearances. During her rookie season, Dorsey played 1,047 minutes in 13 games (12 starts), scored four goals, and won the 2018 NWSL Rookie of the Year award. In November of 2019, Dorsey earned her first Senior U.S. Women's National Team call-up for training camp in preparation for a pair of friendlies against Sweden and Costa Rica and then to the 24-player roster for the U.S. WNT December Identification Training Camp.
Canadian Evelyne Viens, (23) signed a two year contract with the squad after being picked fifth overall in the 2020 NWSL College Draft. A University of South Florida graduate, Viens played in 77 games and finished her career with 73 goals, 169 points, and 360 shots, claiming the all-time USF and American Athletic Conference records in all three categories. As a senior, Viens helped guide the Bulls to a program-high 16 wins and a third round appearance in the NCAA tournament.
They also signed their number 11 pick in defender Kaleigh Riehl to a one year contract. Riehl started 101 games over 4 seasons with Penn State University and won the 2015 College Cup title. Riehl has been a part of the U.S. U-23 Women's National Team and was a member of the U.S. U-20 WNT at the 2014 and 2016 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup.
Long-time NWSL player Becca Moros joins Sky Blue FC as an assistant coach to Freya Coombe. A native of Manhattan, she played three years in WPS, two years in Japan and six years in the NWSL, including time with Portland, Houston and Utah. Also joining the club is Dean O'Leary, who was also part of Monroe College coaching staff that helped lead the women's soccer team to the 2014 National Championship for the National Junior College Athletic Association. O'Leary played five years at the most senior levels of youth and semi-professional soccer in the United Kingdom. At the age of 17, he played for the Country of Wales' national team in matches against Canada and Brazil.
Marcia McDermott has also joined the team as Technical Advisor. She won a championship as a Head Coach with the Carolina Courage of Women's United Soccer Association in 2002 and served as the General Manager of the Chicago Red Stars of Women's Professional Soccer (WPS). She most recently coached at West Point Military Academy in New York State.
Orlando Pride (4-4-16—16 points—Ninth)
It was a disaster of a first season in Orlando for head coach Marc Skinner, who had joined the club from Birmingham City of the FA Super League for the 2019 season. At the Blues, he had worked in various roles since 2006 and led the women's first team as head coach since December 2016. The Pride had only 1 win, 2 ties and 7 losses in their last 10 games, totaling 5 points.
The Orlando Pride has made some changes—some significant, including internationals with Women's World Cup experience—and should be much stronger in 2020. They had a good college draft as well and the Pride signed midfielder Taylor Kornieck to a one-year contract with an option for an additional year ahead of the 2020 National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) season. Kornieck was selected by the Pride with the third overall pick in the 2020 NWSL College Draft, the highestselection the team has made in the draft in club history. The midfielder and U.S. youth international scored 39 goals in 82 matches at the University of Colorado-Boulder. They also signed their other two draft picks to two-year contracts with an option for an additional year. Courtney Petersen was taken at number 7 and Jamaican international Plummer at number 10 in the 2020 College Draft
Petersen comes to Orlando after a five-year career at the University of Virginia, where she had five goals and 12 assists across 58 starts and 78 total appearances. At the international level, Petersen has competed for the United States U-14, U-15, U-17, and U-20 teams. She appeared in two matches for the U.S. at the U-20 World Cup in November of 2016 in Papua New Guinea.
In two seasons with the University of Central Florida, Plummer netted one goal across 25 total appearances in defense. As a senior, she earned AAC Defensive Player of the Year honors and recorded an AAC First Team selection. She began her collegiate career at Southeastern University where she earned All-Sun Conference honors, recording 38 appearances across two seasons. Plummer, 22, competed for Jamaica at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup in France this past summer where she was team captain and played every minute of Jamaica's three matches in the contest. In total, she has recorded 22 appearances at the senior level throughout her international career.
U.S. international defender Emily Sonnett came from Portland in the off-season, along with the rights to Caitlin Foord and a 14th selection in the 2020 draft. Foord went to play with Arsenal. Sonnett (26) arrived in Portland ahead of the 2016 season after she was selected by the club No. 1 overall in the 2016 NWSL College Draft. In four seasons with Thorns FC, Sonnett appeared in 72 matches (71 starts), tallying six goals and two assists.
Long-time Canadian national team goalkeeper Erin McLeod was signed by Orlando on a one year deal with an option for an additional year. McLeod returns to the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) after spending the previous four seasons in Europe. Prior to the move overseas, McLeod was the Houston Dash's starting goalkeeper in the first two years of the franchise's history, captaining the squad during its inaugural year. McLeod started her NWSL career in 2013 with the Chicago Red Stars before being traded to the expansion side. Over three NWSL seasons, the Alberta native compiled 47 appearances, starting all but one, with eight shutouts and 207 saves—the most in the league over that span.
After the 2015 season, McLeod joined FC Rosengård of Sweden's Damallsvenskan and played there in 2016 and 2017. She helped Rosengård to two Svenska Cupen and a Svenska Supercupen titles. In Sweden, McLeod also played with current Pride players Marta and newly-acquired defender Ali Riley. Following her time with Rosengård, McLeod also had stints with Växjö DFF and German sides SC Sand and FF USV Jena. Earlier in her career, she played for two seasons with the Washington Freedom of the former Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) and won two W-League Championships with the Vancouver Whitecaps Women. The 36-year-old has played for Canada's 2007, 2011 and 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup teams and its 2008 and 2012 Olympic squads. She made her debut with Canada in March 2002 and has 118 total caps and 45 clean sheets with the Maple Leafs.
Veteran goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer was waived in February. She played in 10 games in 2019. Since entering the league in 2013, she has earned 60 appearances, recording 337 saves and 12 clean sheets.
A teammate of McLeod's at Rosengard and one of Marta's teammates when their teams won 2 WPS league crowns was New Zealand international (but American-raised) Ali Riley. Riley (32) joins the Pride from Bayern Munich Women, where she recorded three appearances after joining the Frauen-Bundesliga side in July of last year. Prior to that, she spent a year (2018/19) with Chelsea FC Women of England's Women's Super League (WSL), where she played in 9 games. In 2019, Riley played in her fourth FIFA Women's World Cup for New Zealand, playing every minute of the Football Ferns' three matches in the tournament. In total, Riley has logged 132 appearances for New Zealand—a team she also currently captains—and made her senior national team debut on February 6, 2007. She has since represented her country at three Olympics to add to her vast international resume, and the side has qualified for the next Olympics in Tokyo, now moved to 2021.
Riley spent seven seasons (2012-2018) at FC Rosengård of the Damallsvenskan, the highest division of women's soccer in Sweden. She was a three-time league champion on the Swedish-side, making 132 appearances and scoring four goals from the backline in that time. Upon suspension of the WPS, Riley joined LdB FC Malmo, later renamed FC Rosengård.
Riley and Brazilian superstar Marta are teammates again, after playing with her first in 2010 with WPS' FC Gold Pride (who had drafted Riley in the first round) then another WPS title in 2011 with Western New York Flash — and then with Rosengard from 2014 to 2017. Riley spent her collegiate career at Stanford University, recording a total of 83 appearances.
Another new international is English midfielder Jade Moore, who joins from Reading FC of the FA Women's Soccer League; Jade signed a one year contract with an option for a second year. Pride head coach Marc Skinner, who coached Moore at Birmingham City, said, "Simply put, Jade is the complete midfielder. She possesses a great skill to travel quickly in small spaces, control the pace of the game and her ability to, not only read the game well, but destroy attacks before they start will bring a much needed dynamic to our midfield. We're very excited to bring her into the Club and look forward to seeing her in purple when we get back to play." Moore was excited for her move as well, saying "I think one of the biggest things for me is that this is a fresh challenge, a new league. Obviously, back in the UK I've played in the league for over a decade and you kind of get used to the same things, the same teams, the same player pool. So I'm really excited about that, coming overseas, and taking me out of my comfort zone to play against different players and play against the best players in the world. When this came about, it ticked every single box of what I wanted at the next part of my career."
Moore (29) totaled 54 appearances while scoring eight goals at Reading since 2017. Prior to that she played for Notts County on a short-term deal, registering eight appearances before the club folded in 2017. From 2011-16, Moore featured for Birmingham City, with 99 appearances and netted six goals, helping the Blues win the Women's FA Cup in 2012. Moore began her professional career with Lincoln City in 2005 before joining Leeds United ahead of her time at Birmingham. On the international stage, Moore (29) has recorded 50 appearances for the English Women's National Team. The Worksop native made her senior debut in February 2012 and has since represented the Lionesses at the 2013 UEFA Women's Championship along with both the 2015 and 2019 editions of the FIFA Women's World Cup, helping the English to a bronze medal in 2015.
Local player Carrie Lawrence was signed as a supplemental player for 2020 while Danica Evans was waived to pursue a club in Europe. Lawrence, 22, is a 2019 graduate of the University of Central Florida, where she was a three-year letter winner for the Knights. From 2016-18, Lawrence made 49 appearances, totaling four goals and 11 assists. Evans, 24, was drafted with the Pride's first pick (No. 22 overall) in the 2017 NWSL College Draft out of the University of Colorado. The Littleton, Colo., native finishes her career with the Pride with two goals and one assist, including the first-ever goal scored by the Pride at the then-named Orlando City Stadium—an 87th-minute equalizer in the Pride's 2017 season opener against Washington. Evans has since signed on with Sporting de Huelva of the Spanish First Division, playing two matches before the 2019-2020 season was postponed because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Returnees from 2019 include Scottish international Claire Emslie was a revelation in attack when she joined the club after the Women's World Cup campaign in France. She won a W-League title this past winter with Melbourne City where she had 5 goals and 3 assists in 12 regular season games plus one tally in City's 5-1 semifinal win over the Western Sydney Wanderers. She cut short the celebrations after the match in order to fly home to England before flights were cancelled due to the COVID-19 virus (which forced the Grand Final behind closed doors). She is currently in Manchester awaiting word from Skinner on when NWSL training will start for the 2020 season. Brazilian international Marta has 23 goals and 10 assists in 54 regular season games with the club, and scored 6 last season in only 14 matches due to international duty. Alex Morgan will miss some early games while on maternity leave and she has 33 goals and 18 assists in 89 regular season NWSL games across 3 seasons in Portland and 4 in Orlando. Sydney Leroux, 2015 WWC Winner with the U.S. in Canada where she was born, missed all but the final 3 games last season on maternity leave but has 29 goals and 6 assists from 90 regular season games across 6 NWSL seasons, the last two in Orlando.
The Pride has some tremendous talent and McLeod and Riley in defense are significant upgrades. Their offense, if it jells quickly, has the potential to rival North Carolina's in the number of goals they can score—if they do that from the start of the season they should make the playoffs for only the second time in five seasons in the league.
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.
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