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The Week in Women's Football: NWSL expansion preview and new commissioner; Canada host Nigeria; USWNT goal-fest

This week, we review the two new California expansion clubs: Angel City FC (Los Angeles) and San Diego Wave and the new permanent league commissioner, in part 3 of our 2022 NWSL season preview. We also look at the two Canada versus Nigeria and U.S. versus Uzbekistan friendly matches, respectively, during the April women's international window.

Note: For our 2022 NWSL team preview, in Part 1, we looked at the Portland Thorns, OL Reign, Washington Spirit, Chicago Red Stars, NJ/NY Gotham FC and North Carolina Courage (see: The Week in Women's Football: NWSL Season Preview - Part 1; Champions League quarter-final review; - Tribal Football).

In Part 2, we reviewed the Houston Dash, Orlando Pride, Racing Louisville and Kansas City Current (see: The Week in Women's Football: NWSL 2022 Season Preview - Part 2; Melb Victory win A-League Women's play-offs; - Tribal Football).

Part 3—NWSL 2022 Regular Season Preview (two expansion teams and our look at the new commissioner.)




Angel City FC (Expansion Side)

This new franchise will play the regular season at the spectacular LA FC Banc of California stadium—home of MLS's LAFC (during the Challenge Cup they are playing at suburban Cal-State University's—Fullerton's stadium). They have gotten mammoth amounts of attention in their lead-up to their inaugural season for their ownership group—including Hollywood actors Natalie Portman, Jennifer Garner, Eva Longoria, and current Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain—and soccer royalty in former American internationals Mia Hamm, Shannon MacMillan, Lauren Cheney, Angela Hucles and other national team players, as well as athletes from other sports such as Lindsey Vonn (skiing) and Candace Parker (basketball), among 120 total investors. They have sold over 14,000 season tickets and will uniquely have crypto.com, a cyber currency and NFT company, as a founding partner. Their new partner relationship will include a focus on community engagement, financial equity and social impact initiatives. The club has raised $35 Million in sponsorships before playing a game. The owners are committed to growing women's spectator sports in the U.S. in a ground-breaking way and we should see more innovations from them. As Portman has said, "Our dream is to make women's soccer as valued as male soccer is throughout the world." Hucles is vice president of player development and operations and former England international star Eniola Aluko is the club's sporting director.

On the field, one has to hold their breath a little as English native Freya Coombe has had since last summer to put a team together but has been surpassed by fellow expansion franchise San Diego Wave led by former Manchester United coach and English international player (with over 125 caps) Casey Stoney, who has brought in some top-class international talent (see below). For the new Los Angeles franchise, Christen Press took some time off from the sport for a mental health break after the Olympics but she is back to playing and will be important at forward. American Simone Charley comes from Portland in attack and defender Vanessa Gilles moved from Bordeaux in France, after helping Canada win the Olympic Gold Medal last summer, teaming with former Orlando Pride and long-time New Zealand international defender Ali Riley. U.S. international Julie Ertz' s rights were acquired from the Chicago Red Stars but she is not expected to play this year at the international or club level due to taking maternity leave.

Bosnia and Herzegovina international DiDi Haracic (30) will be the starter in goal but has primarily been a backup since first joining Western New York Flash in 2014, then at the Washington Spirit and Sky Blue FC/Gotham FC. A late signing at the end of April was German international goalkeeper Almunth Schult, which should be a key acquisition. Schult (31) joins the team from Wolfsburg in Germany's Frauen-Bundesliga on a one-year contract, with an option for an additional year. She will arrive at the club after competing at the European Championships this summer. Aluko said about her new signing, "Almuth is in a very small category of players who have won league titles, Olympic Gold medals, European Championships, and the UEFA Champions League. It is a special addition to our goalkeeper group and defensive unit." She turned professional with Hamburg in 2007 and then played with Madeburger and Bad Neuenahr before moving to Wolfsburg in 2013, where she won five league titles, seven domestic cups and a UEFA Champions League crown. Currently, Wolfsburg are in the semifinals of the Champions League this season and will soon be taking on defending champs FC Barcelona for a place in the final. A German international, Schult made her debut at the senior level in 2011 and has won over 60 caps to date, winning the 2016 Olympic Gold Medal in Brazil and the 2013 Women's EUROs Final.

To give Coombe due credit, she did help Gotham FC to the Challenge Cup Final last season and they were cruising well into the playoffs while she was there until taking the job in L.A. in mid-season, before turning it into a nervous thing at the end of the season (see:The Week in Women's Football: NWSL Season Preview - Part 1; Champions League quarter-final review; - Tribal Football). Coombe did have Carli Lloyd as an inspirational leader of the team in New Jersey, who finally committed full-effort to her NWSL side after some years coasting in Houston (though so many did); Christen Press can score goals but will never be the type of role model and team leader that Lloyd was and Coombe will need to find a substitute, probably from abroad.

Other international talent includes Jun Endo from Japan and Brazilian international Stefany Ferrer Van Ginkel, both of whom are new to the NWSL. Endo (21) is going abroad for the first time after playing at home with Tokyo Verdy Beleza throughout her professional career. Endo is a full international and has over 20 caps at the full national team level and was also a U-17 and U-20 international, playing in the 2016 FIFA World Cup in Jordan at the younger level (finishing second) and winning the 2018 FIFA U-20 title in Papua New Guinea. Ferrer joins from Tigres of Liga MX Femenil but was let go after the Apertura (Opening or Fall season). If the two newcomers can work well with U.S. international Savannah McCaskill (and former Australian league winner with Sydney FC in 2018/19), Angel City could be very good. McCaskill scored the side's first ever goal in a 1-1 tie with San Diego Wave in both teams' inaugural game in the Challenge Cup on March 19 in Fullerton, California—an eastern suburban community of Los Angeles—in front of 6,307 fans in the 10,000-seat stadium (see more below).

Another international signing in late April comes from France in the form of French midfielder Clarisse Le Bihan, who signed a two-year contract. She joins from French top league club Montpellier. She has never played outside of France; she has played at Guingamp and in over 100 matches for Montpellier as well as being capped with the full national team on 16 occasions.

Expect a solid start from Angel City in 2022—certainly better than Louisville had in 2021—but they could likely fall short of the postseason but can reload in 2023 and tweak the lineup, which hopefully should have Ertz on board by then, and continue to ride the wave of enthusiasm from their creative thinking in the front office.

In another innovation, Angel City and Johnnie Walker hosted a song release party at Catch One in LA to celebrate the official Angel City Football Club anthem, "Running with the Angels," written and performed by Grammy-Award winner Brittany Howard and LA's Tia P.



San Diego Wave (Expansion Side)

This franchise was originally due to play in Sacramento but a pairing with a bid for a MLS franchise fell apart and the move to San Diego should be interesting. They city had a franchise in the WUSA from 2001-2003 and were solid on the field (making the semifinals in 2003) and in attendance (between 5,600-5,900 each season). With the NFL (American Football) San Diego Chargers leaving town a few years ago after decades in the city, and the strong soccer community in the area for years—particularly for indoor soccer and across the nearby border city in Tijuana and state of Baja, California in Mexico—the Wave will do well at the gate. Team President Jill Ellis, who coached the U.S. to their last two WWC titles, brought in Casey Stoney from Manchester United and the team has put together a very professional front office operation.

Australian national team midfielders Emily van Egmond, who previously played in the league with Orlando over the past few seasons (as well as a spell with West Ham United in England) had a very good winter for her home side Newcastle Jets. In defense, U.S. 2019 WWC winner Abby Dahlkamper from the NC Courage, and 2022 number 1 draft choice Naomi Girma from Stanford University are a great core in front of Canadian international goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, who is still young but has been the primary starter for Gotham FC/Sky Blue FC since being drafted by the club for the 2017 season (with the 23rd overall pick). As backup, impressively the club has vastly experienced English international keeper Carly Telford (ex-Chelsea and Notts County who played a season in Australia with Perth Glory in 2012/13) making a fantastic keeper tandem.

Stoney has Alex Morgan up front along with Swedish international Sofia Jakobsson (who has scored over 100 goals in Europe—51 of them in 5 years in France with Montpellier and has over 120 caps with her full national team); Jakobsson provides some symmetry as her international and club teammate at CD Tacon/Real Madrid (for two seasons) Kosovare Aslanni (32) played with the Chicago Red Stars in the old WPS (for now Chelsea manager Emma Hayes). Jakobsson should adapt well to the league and has played in Russia, England (with Chelsea), Sweden, France, Spain and Germany. The team also has veteran attackers in English international Jodie Taylor (from Orlando Pride) and Mexican international forward Katie Johnson (ex-Chicago Red Stars), who should both see plenty of playing time; this team will not lack for goals.

Kelsey Turnbow was drafted by the Red Stars in 2021 but returned to college and won a national championship at Santa Clara in Northern California. Her rights were traded to the Wave and she could be a Rookie of the Year candidate.

Five players from Wave FC made their professional debuts in the first game of the 2022 Challenge Cup in the 1-1 tie away to Angel City FC in Fullerton: Amirah Ali (Rutgers University), Belle Briede (Stanford University), Kelsey Turnbow, Girma and Marleen Schimmer (German U-17 international who played at Grand Canyon College and Arizona State University and assisted on Kaleigh Riehl's goal ten minutes from the end for the tie against Angel City).

Rookie Marlene Schimmer in action for the San Diego Wave. (Photo Courtesy San Diego Wave FC).

Wave head coach Casey Stoney said after that first derby match against Angel City in the Challenge Cup, "The atmosphere was incredible. I couldn't actually hear myself think because the music was so loud and I thought the fans were incredible. The atmosphere was great. One of the best atmospheres I've coached in. It's going to be a real rivalry that's going to continue to grow. So that's pleasing."

About her team's performance in their first official game, Stoney said, "The biggest pleasing thing for me was to go one-nil down and come back into the game. That shows huge character and resilience. And actually, we started to get slightly stronger towards the end, and I know they had some big chances. And I have to say, I thought Kailen Sheridan [in goal] showed the reason we signed her and she was world class."

During the preseason, Stoney had some interesting impressions from coaching in America for the first time, saying that a challenge was, "The way they have been coached over here—it is very demand style; 'you do as I say'. They [American players] have a lot of challenges in their youth environments because they have such a fear of making mistakes because they get berated or belittled and that is not who I am as a coach. I am a massive believer in where you make mistakes is where you learn and you grow. We need to create an environment where there is no fear of making mistakes. We don't want mistakes, absolutely, but that is where you learn and grow and you have to get things wrong to learn from them to get them right. That is a huge challenge for me and enabling them to be decision-makers, so creating practices and designs where the player is the decision-maker, because I don't want a team that looks to the bench every time there is a problem…There is a lot of decision-making and not a fear of making mistakes. It's less command, it's more discovery, it's more player engagement, it's more player empowerment and player voice and that has been a challenge, but it is a challenge that I love to take on."

The Wave will open new Snapdragon Stadium in September 2022 at San Diego State University, which will seat 35,000.

The Wave should be playoff bound in the regular season and pip Angel City for a spot in the postseason play. They could be among the top 2-3 teams in the league and should be among the leading teams in goalscoring as well.



League Commissioner

Jessica Berman was named as league commissioner by the NWSL in March of this year and replaced interim Marla Messing, who ran the outstanding and quite profitable Women's World Cup in the U.S. in 1999. Berman will oversee all operations of the league with a focus on supporting players on and off the pitch, working with NWSL clubs to continue to build on the positive momentum of the league's growing audience, and collaborating with NWSL partners to create the most engaging and entertaining fan experience.

The search committee of the NWSL board of governors for the new commissioner included Angela Hucles (Angel City FC), Mike Golub (Portland Thorns), Chris Long (Kansas City Current), Sophie Sauvage (OL Reign) and Mark Wilf (Orlando Pride). The Players' Commissioner Search Committee was comprised of Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns), Kaylie Collins (Orlando Pride), Jane Campbell (Houston Dash), Bri Visalli (Houston Dash), Nicole Barnhart (Washington Spirit), Emily Menges (Portland Thorns), Tori Huster (Washington Spirit) and Executive Director Meghann Burke. The board was assisted by James and Company, one of the world's premier executive search firms.

The Reign's Sauvage said, "We're thrilled to have Jessica serve as the next commissioner of the NWSL as we embark on our 10th season of play. This process was incredibly collaborative throughout and we want to thank the players for their involvement. Jessica's extensive professional background, her commitment to elevating diverse voices in the sports industry, and her vision for the future of our league, made her the right fit for this incredibly important position."

Berman said upon her introduction to the media, "I'm honored to be the next commissioner of the NWSL and grateful to the owners for their confidence in me. Working on behalf of, and in partnership with, our players is my number one priority. Having been involved in professional sports for many years, I know how critically important a genuine partnership with players is for us all to be successful and continue to grow. The successful conclusion of the league's first-ever CBA [Collective Bargaining Agreement] with our players is the perfect foundation from which to build that partnership, and I am grateful for Marla Messing's leadership in getting that done."

Berman signed a four-year contract. Messing [the interim commissioner] will stay on through a transition period until the end of May. Messing led a league investigation into myriad abuse allegations against coaches and management of players in the league, helped to settle the regular D.C. Spirit's ownership intermural warfare [with the team setting a record franchise sale price of $35 Million], and the league and Players Association signed a collective bargaining agreement covering a myriad of issues (see our column from early February of this year; The Week in Women's Football: NSWLPA reach historic agreement; USL relaunch; Asian Cup results - Tribal Football); Messing has, in a short time (5 months), stabilized the league and reinstated hope for the future of the league.

A seasoned sports executive, Berman joins the NWSL after two and a half years serving as deputy commissioner and executive vice president of business affairs at the National Lacrosse League (the indoor or box lacrosse league with 9 teams in the U.S. and 5 in Canada, which has roots back to the mid-1980's). During her time with the NLL, Berman's responsibilities included overseeing team services, operations, marketing and communications, broadcast and content, community engagement, human resources, and league governance. Prior to her time with the NLL, Berman spent 13 years with the National Hockey League, first serving as vice president and deputy general counsel for the organization before becoming vice president of community development, culture and growth and executive director of the NHL Foundation. In her role as Deputy General Counsel, she was involved in collective bargaining negotiations, and was a key contributor in creating and executing the NHL's labor strategy for the 2012-13 labor talks during a league lockout of players which ran from September 2012 to January 2013.

A graduate of the Fordham University School of Law, Berman completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, graduating with a degree in Sports Management and Communications. Berman has earned several distinctions throughout her sports career. She was named to SportsBusiness Journal's 40 under 40 list in 2014.

Berman said in her first call with the media, "I like to think that everyone has a superpower. My superpower, I believe, is building consensus. And really listening and learning and trying to understand different people's perspectives. Consensus building doesn't mean that everyone always gets what they want. It means that they understand the context and the rationale for why we need to make a particular decision….My goal will be to work in support of our players and establish a league that really has a strong relationship with the union and builds on the momentum that's been established in the last several months. Really, what I see is opportunity. I see opportunity for growth. I see a ton of momentum, the [television] viewership numbers coming out of COVID and the bubble. I see engagement with new sponsors. I see a very enthusiastic media partner in CBS who wants to do more to help promote the league. I really see lots of opportunities."

Berman said she does not know if any other league has made the players part of the selection process for commissioner and that part of speaking to them was asking questions as well as answering. This process has been unique and shows that the NWSL is a trailblazer for other women's professional sports leagues and women's football leagues around the world.


The National Women's Soccer League has a new commissioner in Jessica Berman—Picture courtesy of the NWSL.


One interesting thing that Berman said that, in a space of a week, she had heard from more than seven potential investor groups who were all quite qualified to be owners in any major league. This issue was not mentioned in any of the introductory press releases about her hire, but a vital role for the new commissioner is to lead this effort in bringing in more new franchises. I think a 14-18 team league by 2025 is a realistic and achievable goal (they are at 12 teams for 2022). The NWSL is also entering a changing landscape in 2023 with the entry of a least one new Division II professional women's soccer league in the guise of the USL's Super League, which plans to have up to 12 teams for their initial season, in part coming from the 44 teams who will play in the amateur USL W-League this summer; the new league will play a Fall-Spring calendar starting in 2023 which will mirror the European leagues' calendars. There are also potential Division II leagues launching by the WISL/NISA and the UWS is starting a pro adjunct to its two amateur leagues. The difficulty in America is that even prospective owners of pro franchises aren't always able to differentiate the key elements between the fully professional NWSL and amateur WPSL, W-league and UWS leagues—particularly since current and former professional players are active in the amateur level. This author has had multiple discussions this year with principals at the league and team level who are not capable of articulating the differences, or even aware of the budget parameters of the various leagues that are in the planning stages. The problem for the NWSL is the Division II options present a much-reduced price entry point that is well below the NWSL budget requirements, particularly with U.S. Soccer no longer picking up the salary of their national team players. The new salary implications and increasing standards will drive minimal investments of $5-$15 million for an NWSL team (unless you are Angel City FC, which is much higher) while with a Division II loop, a league owner(s) could possibly come in at the six figures mark for their investment.



Canada hosts Nigeria for two friendlies in British Colombia

Canada announced an extended squad of 29 players for their upcoming Women's National Team Celebration Tour as they continued their preparations for the upcoming CONCACAF W Championship Finals, the qualification route for both the FIFA Women's World Cup as well as the next Olympic Games. Coach Bev Priestman has brought together all 22 Olympic Gold Medal champions from Tokyo last year as well as seven additional players for the two-match series against 11-time African champions Nigeria. The two-match west coast series continued Canada Soccer's Women's National Team Celebration Tour, after two matches late last year in Ottawa and Montreal against New Zealand, with the first match on April 8 at B.C. Place in Vancouver and the second match on April 11 at Langford's Starlight Stadium on Vancouver Island.

In the first match in Vancouver, Canada Soccer honored new Canada Soccer Hall of Fame class of 2019, 2020 and 2021 members Martina Franko, Randee Hermus, Karina LeBlanc, Brittany Timko Baxter and Rhian Wilkinson at halftime. The five former National Team Players all represented Canada at FIFA World Cups and the Olympic Games.

The two-match series also marked a final farewell to Stephanie Labbé, who is wrapping up her professional and international football career as one of the best goalkeepers in the world. The Olympic Gold Medal winner, who finished second in voting for The Best FIFA Women's Goalkeeper in 2020-21, has already played her last club matches at Paris Saint-Germain FC in France and wore the Canadian jersey for one last time on home soil.

In the first game on April 8, Stephanie Labbé started and then made way at the start of the second half for Kailen Sheridan. Labbé was met by a standing ovation from the home crowd in her last ever match. Jesse Fleming would break the deadlock with a goal in the 50th minute by beating the keeper after receiving a cut-back pass from Deanne Rose. Vanessa Gilles scored a clinching goal in the 72nd minute for a 2-0 win for Canada over Nigeria.


In the second match on April 12, Canada and Nigeria tied 2-2, with the Maple Leafs having to fight back from two deficits. In-form striker Ifeoma Onumonu of Gotham FC in the NWSL scored Nigeria's first goal in the fifth minute. All-time international goal scoring leader Christine Sinclair (Portland Thorns) tied up the match in the 49th minute but Nigeria regained the lead four minutes later with a goal by Rasheedat Ajibade (in her second year with Atletico Madrid in Spain—scoring 10 goals in 21 matches this season—after two seasons with Avaldsnes in Norway). Canadian defender Shelina Zadorsky of Tottenham Hotspurs in England tied the match for the second and final time just two minutes from time.

Captain Christine Sinclair entered the two-match series as the squad's most experienced player with 308 international "A" appearances, while five other players had 100 or more international matches: Sophie Schmidt (201), Desiree Scott (173), Erin McLeod (119), Kadeisha Buchanan (116), and Ashley Lawrence (104). Jessie Fleming, Canada Soccer's 2021 Player of the Year, is next on the list with 97 international "A" appearances.

While Schmidt, Scott and Sinclair have each won three Olympic medals (London 2012, Rio 2016, Tokyo 2020/2021), 11 other champions have won two Olympic medals: Buchanan, Fleming, Lawrence and McLeod as well as Janine Beckie, Allysha Chapman, Stephanie Labbé, Nichelle Prince, Quinn, Deanne Rose and Shelina Zadorsky. The eight first-time Olympic medal winners were Gabrielle Carle, Vanessa Gilles, Julia Grosso, Jordyn Huitema, Adriana Leon, Jayde Riviere, Kailen Sheridan and Evelyne Viens.

Also included in the Canada squad were Marie-Yasmine Alidou, Sabrina D'Angelo, Cloé Lacasse, Victoria Pickett, Sarah Stratigakis, Sura Yekka, and debutant Zoe Burns from the recent CONCACAF Women's Under-20 Championship in February and March. Burns did win her first cap when she entered the second Nigeria match in the 53rd minute.

Twelve of the side are based in the U.S. (two with colleges), with five playing in France, five in England's WSL, four in Sweden, and one each in Austria, Italy and Portugal. Note: Janine Beckie has recently transferred from England to the Portland Thorns (see: The Week in Women's Football: NWSL Season Preview - Part 1; Champions League quarter-final review; - Tribal Football).

Canada Roster for Nigeria Series

GK- Sabrina D'Angelo | SWE / Vittsjö GIK
GK- Stephanie Labbé | FRA / Paris Saint-Germain
GK- Erin McLeod | USA / Orlando Pride
GK- Kailen Sheridan | USA / San Diego Wave FC
CB- Kadeisha Buchanan | FRA / FCF Olympique Lyonnais
CB- Vanessa Gilles | USA / Angel City FC
CB- Shelina Zadorsky | ENG / Tottenham Hotspur
FB- Zoe Burns | USA / University of Southern California
FB- Gabrielle Carle | SWE / Kristianstads DFF
FB- Allysha Chapman | USA / Houston Dash
FB- Ashley Lawrence | FRA / Paris Saint-Germain
FB- Jayde Riviere | USA / University of Michigan
FB- Sura Yekka | FRA / Havre AC
M- Marie-Yasmine Alidou D'Anjou | AUT / SK Sturm Graz
M- Jessie Fleming | ENG / Chelsea FC
M- Julia Grosso | ITA / Juventus FC
M- Victoria Pickett | USA / Kansas City Current
M- Quinn | USA / OL Reign
M- Sophie Schmidt | USA / Houston Dash
M- Desiree Scott | USA / Kansas City Current
M- Sarah Stratigakis | SWE / Vittsjö GIK
F- Janine Beckie | ENG / Manchester City FC
F- Jordyn Huitema | FRA / Paris Saint-Germain
F- Cloé Lacasse | POR / SL Benfica
F- Adriana Leon | ENG / West Ham United FC
F- Nichelle Prince | USA / Houston Dash
F- Deanne Rose | ENG / Reading FC
F- Christine Sinclair | USA / Portland Thorns FC
F- Evelyne Viens | SWE / Kristianstads DFF

For Nigeria, head coach Randy Waldrum has taken the captaincy role away from Super Falcons forward Asisat Oshoala. Oshoala, four-time African Women's Player of the Year, took over the leadership of the team in 2019 following Desire Oparanozie's (Dijon FCO in France) dispute with then acting coach Christopher Danjuma. Waldrum has named veteran defender Onome Ebi (38) as the team's new leader—Ebi is in her second spell with FC Minsk in Belarus. Anonymous sources felt the move was not for punishment reasons but because of struggles that Oshoala has had with the national team over the past 8 months. Oshoala was not with the squad in Vancouver for fitness issues. In Canada at the 2014 U-20 WWC, Oshoala won the Golden Boot (7 goals) and Golden Ball award and became a sought-after star. Her club side Barcelona in Spain clearly have not seen any dip in form as in 2021-22, she has 19 goals in 16 games as the team has clinched the league title for the third year in a row and has a chance to repeat as UEFA Women's Champions League title holders. Barcelona recently extended her contract until June 30, 2024.

For the two friendlies in Canada, Waldrum has brought in players from North and Central America, as well as from all over Europe and from Nigeria. Three of his squad are based in the States (one in college) and one plays in Mexico. Two are with clubs at home in Nigeria while the rest are from Europe, four are with clubs in Spain, two each play in France and Israel and one each plays in England, Portugal, Russia, Sweden and Turkey, while two are presently without a side.

Ifeoma Onumanu—who had eight goals and four assists in the 2021 NWSL regular season for NJ/NY Gotham FC and played 90 minutes for Nigeria in the first match in Vancouver—was one of two NWSL players called into the squad. This was Onumonu's third call-up for the Nigeria Women's National Team. Most recently, she played for the Super Falcons in the second round of the Women's African Cup of Nations Qualifying in late February. A native of Rancho Cucamonga, California and who played collegiately at Cal-Berkeley, Onumonu appeared for the U-23 U.S. Women's National Team earlier in her career but elected to represent Nigeria on the senior international level.

Michelle Alozi, also born and raised in California and who played in college at Yale and the University of Tennessee, is with the Houston Dash and has played for the club during the current 2022 Challenge Cup series.

Nigeria's Roster for the Canada Games

Goalkeepers:

1 OLUEHI, TOCHUKWU—MACCABI KISHRONOT HADERA, ISRAEL

16 NNADOZIE CHIAMAKA, CYNTHIA—PARIS FC, FRANCE

23 BALOGUN ZAINAB YEWANDE, OMOYIOLA—NO CLUB PRESENTLY (She was in the pool for U.S. youth international teams from U-14 to U-17, played at the University of Maryland-College Park and is now an assistant coach at the University of California-Davis)

Field Players:

5 EBI, ONOME—ADANA IDMAN YURDU, SPOR KULUBU, TURKEY

10 CHIKWELU—RITA MADRID CFF, SPAIN

6 KANU, UCHENNA GRACE—TIGRES FEMENIL, MEXICO

15 AJIBADE RASHEEDAT, BUSAYO—ATHLETICO MADRID, SPAIN

17 ORDEGA, FRANCISCA—CSKA MOSCOW, RUSSIA

7 PAYNE, ANTIONETTE (TONI)—OYEDUPE SEVILLA FC, SPAIN

9 OGBONNA AKUDO, ESTHER—EDO QUEENS, NIGERIA

8 ONUMONU, IFEOMA CHUKWUFUNMNAYA—NY/NJ GOTHAM FC, USA

4 PLUMPTRE, ASHLEIGH MEGAN—LEICESTER CITY, ENGLAND

21 PAYNE, NICOLE OYEYEMISI—WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY, USA

14 UCHEIBE, CHRISTY ONYENATURUCHI—SL BENFICA, PORTUGAL

18 EFIH, PEACE EWOMAZINO—KIRYAT GAT, ISRAEL

20 MBADI UJU, AMANDA—BAYELSA QUEENS, NIGERIA

13 OKOBI-OKEOGHENE NGOZI, SONIA—ESKILSLTUNA UNITED, SWEDEN

22 ECHEGINI, JENNIFER ONYINYECHI—NO CLUB PRESENTLY (She is London-raised but played collegiately at Mississippi State U.)

9 OKORONKWO IJEOMA, ESTHER—AS SAINT STIENNE, FRANCE

2 ALOZIE, MICHELLE CHINWEN—HOUSTON DASH RESERVES, USA

11 OGBONNA, GLORY AKUMBU—SANTA TERESA, SPAIN



U.S. scores 18 goals in two friendly matches versus Uzbekistan

The U.S. easily defeated Uzbekistan 9-1 in the first ever meeting between the two sides on April 9 in Columbus, Ohio in front of a crowd of 12,071. Sophia Smith of the Portland Thorns scored a hat trick. One highlight for Uzbekistan was that Aziza Norboeva (FC Bunyodkor in Uzbekistan) scored in the second half (70th minute), which was the first goal that the U.S. had given up at home since March 11, 2020 (against Japan)—more than two years before. The Americans dominated Uzbekistan for shots (33 vs. 1), shots on goal (17 vs. 1), corner kicks (9 vs. 2) and time of possession (72% vs. 28%).

In the second game in Chester, Pennsylvania (Greater Philadelphia) on April 12 in front of 11,373 fans, the U.S. scored 9 goals again and posted a shutout (9-0). Catarina Macario and Rose Lavelle scored braces. Trinity Rodman scored her first career international goal and is still a teenager. Naomi Girma (the #1 pick in the 2022 NWSL Draft by the San Diego Wave) and goalkeeper Aubrey (Bledsoe) Kingsbury made their full national team debuts, with Kingsbury posting the clean sheet. The USWNT scored their first goal in just 25 seconds after Rose Lavelle dribbled down the right flank, rounded her defender and sent a cross into the box, which Uzbekistan defender Kamila Zaripova accidentally deflected into her own net on her attempted clearance. In the second match, the U.S. had 38 shots to none for Uzbekistan (15 vs. 0 for shots on goal), with 13 corners to 0 for the visitors, and controlled ball possession two-thirds of the time (67% vs. 33%).

There were some comments in the States about the usefulness of playing two matches versus Uzbekistan, ranked 48th by FIFA and 10th in Asia. The original plan was to play a higher rated Asian side (with 2023 WWC Qualifiers Japan mentioned most frequently) but COVID protocols forced the change in plans, along with a very crowded international window around the world tying up other possible opponents. Some critics thought that it would be better to play a NWSL side or even a top college team but that would be a disservice to the Uzbekistanis. Playing the two-time reigning World Champions is a highly prized event for developing countries and shows them a benchmark for improvement and provides learning opportunities for the players and coaches. For the Americans, they definitely used a younger side and, since the U.S. U-23 side is an occasional event in the summer, this was really a B level game for the Americans to test some young talent. Mallory Pugh, Sophia Smith and Catarina Macario were outstanding in the first game. With the CONCACAF Regional Qualifying Finals this summer for the 2023 WWC, there aren't a lot of chances to look at younger players. Former coach Jill Ellis would do that at times during her tenure but would then revert to a heavily experienced roster for the World Cup Tournaments. For next year in Australia and New Zealand, which the Americans should easily qualify for this summer, it would be a question of how many of the younger talent pool head coach Vlatko Andonovski selects, though we should expect to see the return of veterans like defender Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns), midfielder Megan Rapinoe OL Reign), forward Alex Morgan (San Diego Wave), Tobin Heath (Arsenal) and Christen Press (Angel City FC), with Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns) and Julie Ertz (Angel City FC) possible returnees after starting their respective families this year. I do think Andonovski will go with a few of the younger players on his final roster, including possibly Ashley Sanchez, Ashley Hatch, Trinity Rodman and Audrey Kingsbury (all from the Washington Spirit, the reigning 2021 NWSL champions) along with some combination of Macario, Smith and Pugh.

Andonovski named a 23-player roster for the two April friendly matches against Uzbekistan. Twenty-one of those players are currently playing in the National Women's Soccer, with two based in Europe: Catarina Macarid and Lindsey Horan, who both play for French D1 Arkema leader Lyon. Andonovski selected 18 players to suit up for each of the two matches. Seventeen of the 23 players on this roster helped the USA win the 2022 SheBelieves Cup in February. Andonovski explained, "We have four games left before World Cup and Olympic qualifying and it's up to the players and staff to maximize every minute we get together on the field and in the meeting room. We have quite a few injuries in our player pool that we are dealing with, but that also means more opportunities for other players and the chance to continue to deepen our roster as we continue to work to find the best combination of players to take to Mexico in July."

Missing from Coach Vlatko Andonovski's 23-player squad were goalkeeper Casey Murphy (MCL knee injury) and captain Becky Sauerbrunn (recovering from surgery on a torn meniscus) while defender Tierna Davidson (ACL knee injury) and forward Lynn Williams (hamstring injury) are out with season-ending injuries. All four players were with the team Andonovski took to Australia in November and for the She Believes Cup, which the USA won in February (against New Zealand, Iceland and the Czech Republic). In all, there were six changes from the final She Believes Cup roster: In are Bella Bixby, Abby Dahlkemper, Imani Dorsey, Naomi Girma, Mewis and Horan. Out are Emily Sonnett (Washington Spirit) and Morgan Gautrat (Chicago Red Stars) in addition to Murphy (North Carolina Courage), Davidson (Chicago Red Stars), Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns) and Williams (Kansas City Current).

The roster featured just two players with 100 or more caps—defender Kelley O'Hara and midfielder Lindsey Horan—while another five players have 69 or more caps. Conversely, the roster features 14 players with 15 caps or fewer, including nine in single digits. Goalkeeper Bixby did not play either game against the Uzbekistanis and is still waiting for her debut cap.

U.S. Women's National Team April Friendlies Roster by Position (Club; Caps/Goals):
GOALKEEPERS (3): Bella Bixby (Portland Thorns FC; 0), Aubrey Kingsbury (Washington Spirit; 0), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars; 79)
DEFENDERS (7): Alana Cook (OL Reign; 7/0), Abby Dahlkemper (San Diego Wave FC; 77/0), Imani Dorsey (NJ/NY Gotham FC; 1/0), Emily Fox (Racing Louisville FC; 11/0), Sofia Huerta (OL Reign; 10/0), Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC; 0/0), Kelley O'Hara (Washington Spirit; 150/2)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyonnais, FRA; 108/25), Jaelin Howell (Racing Louisville FC; 4/0), Rose Lavelle (OL Reign; 69/18), Catarina Macario (Olympique Lyonnais, FRA; 15/5), Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC; 36/5), Samantha Mewis (Kansas City Current; 83/24), Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit; 5/0), Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit; 25/2)
FORWARDS (5): Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit; 6/3), Mallory Pugh (Chicago Red Stars; 70/21), Margaret Purce (NJ/NY Gotham FC; 12/2), Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit; 2/0), Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC; 13/1)

Uzbekistan was the 55th different country the USA has played as women's soccer continues to grow around the globe, and the eighth from the Asian Football Federation, following: Australia, China PR, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Korea DPR, Korea Republic and Thailand.

Uzbekistan played in the Turkish Women's Cup during the February FIFA window this year, defeating Lithuania 1-0, falling to Ukraine 2-0 and drawing with Venezuela, 0-0. In 2021 in friendly games, Uzbekistan defeated India, 1-0, lost to Belarus, 3-1, drew with Belarus 1-1, and defeated Iran 5-0 followed by a 1-1 draw. Earlier in 2021, they beat Equatorial Guinea 5-0, lost to Nigeria 1-0 and defeated club side CSKA Moscow 1-0. In Asian Cup qualifying in 2021, the Uzbekistanis downed Mongolia 12-0 and lost to South Korea, 4-0.Later this summer, Uzbekistan will play the qualifying rounds for the 2023 Asian Women's Cup in China PR and was drawn into Group C with Thailand, the Maldives and Sri Lanka. The group winners and the top five second place teams in the 24-team pre-qualifying tournament will advance to the final tournament.

Uzbekistan's national women's team is coached by legendary former Japanese international Midori Honda, who represented Japan in the first-ever Women's World Cup in 1991. Honda (56) debuted for Japan at the age of 17 in 1983 and played 44 times for her country. She has been coaching in Japan's top league since 2001 and was also an assistant coach for the Japan U-20's at the 2012 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Japan, a tournament that the USA won and at which Japan finished third.

All of Uzbekistan's 23 players for the tour play domestically (19 players) or in Turkey (4), where three players play for Trabzonspor and one for Kocaeli Byana. Two players compete for PFK Sevinch at home, which won 11 First Division titles in a row from 2006-2016, before the streak was broken by FC Metallurg, which has two players on the roster. Reigning champions FC Bunyodkor have five players on the roster while FC Sogdiana has eight players on the roster.


UZBEKISTAN WOMEN'S NATIONAL SOCCER TEAM ROSTER BY POSITION

GOALKEEPERS (3): 1-Tilovova Laylo (PFK Sevinch), 12-Saidova Zarina (FC Bunyodkor), 13-Uzganova Nigora (FC Sogdiana)

DEFENDERS (7): 2-Nabieva Yulduz (FC Bunyodkor), 3-Kuchkarova Ugiloy (FC Sogdiana), 9-Irisboeva Ziyoda (FC Bunyodkor), 11-Mirzayorova Mukhlisa (FC Metallurg), 17-Zarbieva Tanzilya (FC Sogdiana), 21-Tojiddinova Shokhida (FC AGMK), 22-Khusniddinova Solikha (Kocaeli Bayan FK, TUR)

MIDFIELDERS (7): 4-Zaynitdinova Shakhrizoda (Trabzonspor, TUR), 5-Panjieva Maftuna (FC Sogdiana), 6-Turdalieva Irodahon (FC Sogdiana), 10-Ablyakimova Ilvina (FC Bunyodkor), 14-Takaboeva Setora (Trabzonspor, TUR), 15-Vokhidova Madina (FC Qizilkum), 19-Kamoltoeva Nozima (FC Sogdiana)

FORWARDS (6): 7-Kudratova Nilufar (PFK Sevinch), 8-Ergasheva Dildora (FC Sogdiana), 16-Juraboeva Diyora (FC Metallurg), 18-Norboeva Aziza (FC Bunyodkor), 20-Zaripova Kamila (Trabzonspor, TUR), 23-Khabibullaeva Diyorakhon (FC Sogdiana)



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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