This week, we present part 2 of our look at the first third of the 2023 NWSL Regular Season, with interesting team news and results, reviewing the Houston Dash, Angel City FC, Racing Louisville, Orlando Pride, Kansas City Current and the Chicago Red Stars.
Last week, in part 1, we examined the top six teams so far this season: Washington Spirit, OL Reign, Gotham FC, Portland, San Diego and North Carolina Courage. (see: The Week in Women's Football: NWSL results; shake-up at OL Reign; Stoney ponders MLS future - Tribal Football).
We also look at some expansion news from Boston, which is heavily favored to be one of the next two cities selected by the NWSL. We also look at news from Kealia Ohio, who played for years in Chicago and Houston, and has invested in Burnley of the EPL, along with their third division women's side, which she is particularly interested in. We also look at the list of W-League franchises for this summer, including a number of expansion clubs in the amateur league.
Note: The standings in both part 1 and part 2 are as of May 14, 2023.
Update from last week's column: We discussed Olympique Lyon's Catarina Macario's interest in going to the NWSL on loan to receive more playing time ahead of the 2023 WWC as she recovers from an ACL injury. On May 23, she said that she would not be ready for the Women's World Cup, explaining on Twitter that: "The desire to return to play for my club and country has driven my training and fueled my everyday life. However, what's most important right now is my health and getting fit and ready for my next club season." This is a loss for the Americans, though her return was a long shot, as she has eight goals in 17 matches for the full national team. Macario closed by saying: "I'll be cheering hard for my teammates at the World Cup, and I look forward to dedicating myself to fight to earn a spot for what I hope will be a long future on the U.S. national team,"
Houston Dash (2-3-2, 9 points, Seventh)
The Dash is second in the league with ties (along with Washington and Portland with three and behind Racing Louisville's four) and were unbeaten until game five, when their match was abandoned due to thunderstorms in the area against North Carolina, only the third time in league history that a game was unable to be finished. The game was called in the 52nd minute at Houston's Shell Energy Stadium and recorded officially as a 1-0 loss for the Dash, even though there were about 40 minutes still yet to play. As the first half was played in its entirety, the match is considered complete and will not be rescheduled. Captain and Canadian international midfielder Sophie Schmidt made her 100th career regular season appearance after starting in the Courage game. Schmidt became the 75th player in NWSL history to reach that milestone.
In their seventh game on May 12, they fought back from a first half deficit at home to defeat the Portland Thorns 2-1, with goals by American Joelle Anderson (24—ex-Pepperdine University in Malibu, California and in her second season with the Dash) in the 59th minute and the winner from English international Ebony Salmon in the 71st minute, from a Maria Sanchez assist.
Canadian international defender Allysha Chapman (who is approaching 100 caps with her nation) made her 100th NWSL appearance in the Portland game. After playing for two seasons in Sweden, she joined the league in 2015 with the Dash and enjoyed stints with both the Boston Breakers and the North Carolina Courage before rejoining Houston in 2018.
The Dash has signed a third Mexican WNT member in goalkeeper Emily Alvarado, to go along with forwards Maria Sanchez and Diana Ordonez. She signed in early April for one season with the Dash, with an option for 2024. Alvarez (24) played for the Dash as a youth and was acquired from Stade de Remis Féminines in the French First Division. She played in 17 matches this season and 22 matches in the 2021-22 season; starting every match for the side while she was there. Stade de Reims is currently in sixth place in the 12-team top tier in France with 32 points from an 10-2-9 (W-T-L) record; last season they finished seventh with 33 points from a 10-3-9 record. She is a native of El Paso and played collegiately at Texas Christian University. During her senior season, Alvarado appeared and started in 15 games and ranked fifth nationally among goalkeepers with at least 10 games played with an 0.882 save percentage. Alvarado finished her collegiate career ranked 13th nationally with a 0.54 goals against average and became the TCU's All-Time career leader in shutouts with 21, after posting nine during her final season. The First-Team All-American also was as a 2020-21 MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist, was named to the 2020 All-Big 12 First Team and was named the 2020 Big 12 Goalkeeper of the Year.
Alvarado made her senior debut with the Mexican Women's National Team on May 26, 2019, in an international friendly against the U.S Women's National Team. The Mexican-American product has made 12 appearances for El Tri Femenil since her debut, including matches during the CONCACAF W series in the summer of 2022 in Monterrey, Mexico. At the age of 16, Alvarado made history as the youngest member to represent Mexican Women's National Team during the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup in Canada.
Angel City FC (2-2-3, 8 points; Eighth)
Angel City signed two-time WWC winning American midfielder Julie Ertz, who missed last season while on maternity leave and recovering from an injury. She signed a one-year contract. She was originally on the club's player negotiation list but then became a free agent. Ertz said: "I am so thrilled to be joining one of the most exciting clubs in the world in Angel City FC. From the moment they traded for my rights up until now, they have been unwavering in their support of my journey. I cannot wait to get to work with the team and finally experience the amazing game day atmosphere."
Angel City head coach Freya Coombe said about this very important signing for the second-year franchise: "Julie is a world-class player who has proven herself time and again at both club and national team levels. In addition to her quality on the ball, she will help us defend higher up the field and against opponent transition. Her leadership and World Cup and Olympic medal-winning experience will undoubtedly help us on our quest for a championship."
Ertz has 118 international caps, including two against Ireland during the most recent international break, which marked her return to the USWNT for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. She was drafted third overall in the first round of the 2014 NWSL Draft by the Chicago Red Stars. During her seven seasons in Chicago, Ertz made 95 appearances as the Red Stars made seven straight playoff appearances, though she was sidelined with an injury for most of 2021. Ertz played collegiate soccer for the Santa Clara University Broncos and spent her youth career at the Sereno Soccer Club in the Phoenix, Arizona area, where the team won nine state titles, and where she lives with her husband Zach, who plays with the NFL Arizona Cardinals.
Ertz scored in her second regular season match, a 3-3 tie against Portland away, when Thorns goalkeeper Bella Bixby scored with a backheel in the 97th minute to snatch two points away from Angel City (see part 1: The Week in Women's Football: NWSL results; shake-up at OL Reign; Stoney ponders MLS future - Tribal Football).
Ertz supplies excellent midfield support for forwards Savannah McCaskill and Mexican international Katie Johnson, which has been a real need for the team this year. Angel City head coach Freya Coombe said: "Julie [Ertz] will be able to complement Savannah [McCaskill] since they've played together before [in Chicago] and they have a knowledge of each other's tendencies already. In addition to that, Julie will add the aerial presence in the center of midfield as well as the ability to defend in transitional moments." McCaskill and Johnson have combined for three goals thus far this season and the two each scored once in the last 22 minutes as Angel City fought back from a 2-0 half time deficit to Racing Louisville at home on April 15 in front of 18,007 fans. Early in the season, the two have at times have needed more service and Ertz fills that need nicely as she can play as an attacking mid or as a defensive mid.
High-school forward and U.S. national team WWC Finals prospect Alyssa Thompson has three goals in seven games and has quickly become one of the stories of the season and some coaches feel that she will win a late ticket to the Women's World Cup Finals this season (see more in: The Week in Women's Football: NWSL Draft review; Angel City sign 'generational talent' Alyssa Thompson - Tribal Football.) Thompson talked to the media in the second week in May about adjusting to the professional game while still in high school: "Sometimes it's hard to manage and sometimes I feel like I got it down, it's been day-by-day. Right now, Angel City is really helpful with my school obligations, while getting me acclimated to the environment, which has been really nice… Yes, it's definitely hard, but it's nothing too bad. The club makes sure that I get to leave practice for school and handle my interviews in the mornings before practice, so I get to go to school and be with my friends. Also, the team helps me on what things to know, while teaching me recovery modalities… I'm taking it day by day, working hard in training, then going to school and working on my school work, then going home and being able to be with my friends and family." She said that the biggest difference was when the team played on the road, when she said that it felt "the most isolating," since she didn't have family around.
Forward Clarisse Le Bihan (28) of France, who had 16 national team caps from 2015 to 2017, is still looking for her first goal in her second season with the L.A. club after playing 20 games last season and in only two this season, totaling 71 minutes, though she did start both Challenge Cup matches and played 148 minutes in those games against OL Reign—a 0-0 tie and a 0-2 loss. She had played professionally for 13 years in France with Montpellier (six seasons) and Guingamp (seven seasons).
In unfortunate news, forward Simone Charley was lost for the season after suffering an Achilles injury in the Orlando game on April 2. She appeared in 22 games last season and scored two goals. She scored five goals in 2021 with Portland.
On April 7, assistant coach Melissa Phillips announced that she was leaving the club to take over as head coach of Brighton & Hove Albion FC in the Women's Super League, which has recently moved above the relegation zone in 9th place with 16 points in the 12-team league, with one game remaining. Phillips explained her move: "Angel City is an incredible organization and I'm truly disappointed my time there didn't last longer. I'd like to express my sincere thanks to [owner] Julie [Uhrman], [general manager] Angela [Hucles Mangano], [head coach] Freya [Coombe] and all the staff and players for such [a] world class experience. The opportunity to be a head coach at Brighton in the WSL was something I couldn't turn down. I wish the club all the best moving forward and will always be a huge fan." Phillips previously served as the Head Coach for the London City Lionesses and was a collegiate assistant coach at both Penn State U. and the University of San Francisco.
Off the field, Angel City FC has partnered with women at the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood in Southern California through the Twinning Project, providing playing kit and training. The Twinning Project is a UK-based group that brings together professional clubs and inmates for sports-based intervention efforts. Hilton Freund, chief executive of the Twinning Project, explained that: "What we do is we twin professional soccer teams with a local jail or local prison to up-skill and provide education and opportunities to those serving custodial sentences." Angel City FC's coaches will deliver and host a six-week course for 12 inmates out of a total of 4,000 women at the facility. Team general manager Angela Hucles Mangano said: "We like to push the limits and boundaries to really inspire change and do things differently."
Twelve women were selected based on their dedication to physical health. They wake up at 5:45 every morning to work out, using water bottles as weights. The women will have a graduation at the end of their six weeks, earning a leadership certification. Since 2018, the organization has delivered hundreds of refereeing and coaching courses in prisons across the United Kingdom.
We applaud the club—which has been such a visionary for its high-profile ownership group, marketing and sponsorship—for reaching out to a disadvantaged group in an innovative and important way. Well done on this new and important project.
Racing Louisville FC (1-4-2, 7 points, Tied for Ninth)
Only one loss in their first five games would seem to be a real plus but the four ties resulted in Racing dropping a total of eleven points in their first five games and mired them near the bottom of the table; they desperately need to gain some wins, particularly before the WWC this summer, when they will lose a number of players, even though the league will basically shut down the regular season (holding only one game) but continue with the Challenge Cup. The number of players that they will lose to teams around the world shows the talent on the side and they do have time left to make a run for the playoffs, with a 3-0 win at home over Chicago on May 12 a nice start, with Chinese international midfielder (with over 120 caps and 40 goals for her national team) Wang Shuang (28) scoring her first NWSL goal from the penalty spot in her second season with the club (to become the first Chinese players to score in the NWSL), as did American midfielder Parker Goins (24), who played at the University of Arkansas, as well as an own goal by Chicago goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher on another penalty kick from Savannah De Melo that bounced off of Naeher's back. This was the biggest win in the club's history (in their third season). Head coach Kim Bjorkegren said after the game, "We want to be a top-six team that can fight for the final in the end. You have to start to win. We can't just talk about good performances. [It was] A super important three points."
Racing's defense has been strong, allowing nine goals in seven games, tied for fifth with North Carolina, and goalkeeper Katie Lund has played every minute and leads the league with 29 saves and has two shutouts.
The club points out that they will likely lose five-to eight players to WWC teams this summer and the team has players from all six regional confederations: From UEFA, Hanna Glass of Sweden, if she recovers from injury, should be at the WWC (with other Europeans on the side including Elli Pikkujamsa of Finland, Rebecca Holloway of Northern Ireland and the injured Nadia Nadim of Denmark); from CONMEBOL, Brazilian midfielder Ary Borges; from CAF in Africa, Nigerian forward Uchenna Kanu and South African forward Thembi Kgatlana; from the AFC in Asia, Australian international midfielder Alex Chidiac and Wang Shuang of China (both in their second seasons with Racing); and from Oceania Abby Erceg, New Zealand's all-time caps leader, but who is retired from national team duty. From CONCACAF, besides the Americans on the side, Satura Murray of Jamaica has a shot at the Finals side while midfielder Savannah DeMelo of the U.S. is expected to make the squad.
Racing Louisville FC added veteran midfielder Jordan Baggett (26) at the end of April in exchange for future draft picks from the Washington Spirit. Washington received Racing's natural second-round pick in the 2024 NWSL Draft, in addition to a conditional natural third-round pick in the 2025 NWSL Draft. Baggett, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 NWSL Draft, has spent her first four years in the league with Washington, making 35 appearances. The Colorado native has five goals in 26 career starts and registered her first career assist in Washington's 1-1 draw at Racing Louisville last August. She won the NWSL championship with the Spirit in 2021 but was limited to three matches that season because of injury.
Before turning pro, Baggett won the 2017 national championship in college with Stanford University. She was a first-team All-American in 2018, helping the Cardinal reach its second consecutive College Cup. A long-time fixture in the U.S. Youth National Team, Baggett played for the U-20 and U-23 squads.
Orlando Pride (2-1-4, 7 points, Tied for Ninth)
The Pride struggled to start the season, and came away with four consecutive losses with one goal for and 10 against, but they broke out of the slump in Los Angeles with a 3-1 win over Angel City FC to release some pressure on former EPL player and now head coach Seb Hines. Orlando leveled the match in the 26th minute off a corner kick from Brazilian import Adriana Leal da Silva, finding Mikayla Cluff who scored the first goal. In the 43rd minute, Haley McCutcheon doubled the advantage with a header inside the box to the bottom left corner.
Messiah Bright (23) scored her second goal of the season on May 6 as Orlando won their second consecutive game (1-0) at home against Racing Louisville. Bright scored 50 goals in 102 appearances at Texas Christina University and the rookie has been a revelation thus far this year. Attacking midfielder Erika Tymrak, who became the only player to record an assist in all 11 seasons of the league and who has played in the NWSL since the first year in 2013, was very positive about Bright's transition to the professional game and the Pride: "It's tough being a rookie in this league because you're used to being the star at your college and then you come into probably the most physical league in the world. It's a transition, but Messiah has done so well and she shows a lot of promise."
Orlando defender Emily Madril is the only draftee from the 2023 NWSL Draft to appear in every minute of play thus far this season (630 in 7 games). The team needs more goalscoring as they have only five goals from their seven matches, tied with Houston for the lowest total in the league.
Canadian youth and full national team forward Amanda Allen (18) signed professional forms with Orlando, even though she had committed to play for Syracuse University this fall, but training with Pride recently changed her mind. She received her first senior cap against Brazil in November of 2022. A number of teenagers have signed with teams this year (see above and last week's column: The Week in Women's Football: NWSL results; shake-up at OL Reign; Stoney ponders MLS future - Tribal Football).
Allen trained with the Pride in March during her high school spring break, and it became clear to her that the professional game was where she needed to be. She explained her decision to Jeff Kassouf at The Equalizer: "I decided to join the Orlando Pride because they were very clear with their intentions to help me develop into the best person and player I can be. It really wasn't a question for me when the opportunity presented itself."
New general manager Haley Carter said: "To be able to have a player with the ceiling as high as Amanda's, it's really exciting. Especially for a club like us. We're very serious about player development; that's a priority for us. Yeah, we have a young roster, we are concerned about results, but long-term investment, building a culture and a club that can be sustainable over time, takes time. Making decisions like this really aligns with our long-term strategic vision for the club. That we [are] a club that invests in players and helps them develop over time on and off the field and really embraces the notion that, while they're with us, they will improve. Amanda's ability to improve is exponential in this training environment."
Allen represented Canada last year at the U-17 World Cup in India in which Canada finished third, and she converted a penalty kick in Canada's final group-stage match. She made her senior Canadian national team debut on November 11, 2022, against Brazil. She was on the senior team that lost to France 2-1 in April but did not play and is considered a long-shot to make the Women's World Cup Finals side this summer. She made her first appearance with the Pride in the 86th minute in their 1-0 home win over Racing Louisville on May 6.
Kansas City Current (2-0-5, 6 points, Eleventh)
Matt Potter was released as Head Coach two games into the season. Assistant Coach Caroline Sjöblom was appointed as Interim Head Coach, effective immediately. Potter was named head coach of the Current in January 2022. (See more in The Week in Women's Football: Are Sydney FC the A-League's greatest? KC Current coach axe - Tribal Football).
Since Sjoblom took charge, they won their first three games, all by 2-0 scores, with one win coming in the Challenge Cup. They finally lost in a regular season match on May 7 to Angel City in Los Angeles before a sellout crowd of 19,219. Scottish international Claire Emslie (29) had a goal and an assist as did South Korean international Jun Endo (22) to stake the home side to a 3-0 lead, but with an hour left the Current had reduced the deficit to one goal as American midfielder CeCe Kizer scored a goal and an assist, but the Current could not score an equalizer. Kizer came to the Current after last season began from Racing Louisville and has three goals thus far this season. She has played for the U.S. U-23 national team and could work her way into the full national team after the 2023 Women's World Cup. She played collegiately at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) and entered the NWSL in 2019 with the Houston Dash—she played 5 games in 2020 with Kolbotn in Norway.
This reporter asked interim head coach Caroline Sjoblom on May 13 what she was most proud of from her team during that four-game unbeaten run since she has been in charge and she replied: "I think it is the way that we play in the attacking half, the way we control the ball, the way we keep possession; we don't force the pass away, we are brave, we create a lot of chances but we need to be a little more patient. I am really proud of the style of play in the attacking half—it is really difficult to play against our offensive line."
I followed up and asked if she had implemented any of her tactics from her time coaching in Sweden, particularly with AIK in Stockholm, who she led to a Elitettan (second tier) title in 2019, after winning a Swedish Second Division (fourth tier) title in 2016 with Tyreso—two years after they were relegated from the top tier Damallsvenskan for tax irregularities but had made the UEFA WCL Finals, losing 4-3 to Wolfsburg of Germany with Brazil's Marta, Carolina Seger of Sweden and other top Swedish and international talent (Tyreso is now in Division 1 or the third tier). Sjoblom replied: "For midfielders we have started to plan some things, how they can connect the ball and work the gaps and spaces between the forward and midfield line and how to play with wing backs/outside backs. We have started to sprinkle in more and more things but I need to be aware that the players understand it and have time to practice it." She said that it was still early in the process or "journey" but she is implementing "pieces of the puzzle."
She also has ideas on tactics from watching men's games in Europe. She also wants her forwards to attack defenders with speed in one-on-one situations. She is now the second head coach from Sweden in the league, along with Racing Louisville's Kim Bjorkegren. In San Diego as an assistant this season is long-time Swedish coach Jackie Bachteler, though she was raised and went to college in America, her playing and coaching career to date has been in Europe, primarily in Sweden with a short spell in Cyprus as a head coach. This could be a growing trend in coaching talent imported from Sweden, a country that has for decades had a progressive and successful WNT and dynamic league. We will continue to monitor this trend in the American game.
The Current fell on May 14 at home to the San Diego Wave (2-0)—the first loss under Sjoblom—but drew their largest home crowd in team history (12,969) to Children's Mercy Park, where Sporting Kansas City of Major League Soccer plays. It surpassed their previous record set on April 1 when they lost to the Portland Thorns (4-1) in front of 11,301 fans, again at Mercy Park.
Chicago Red Stars (1-1-5, 4 points, Twelfth)
Chicago has lost five games in the regular season, plus a Challenge Cup match, as well as a 5-2 exhibition loss to Mexico's WNT in April (see last week The Week in Women's Football: NWSL results; shake-up at OL Reign; Stoney ponders MLS future - Tribal Football).
With forward Mallory Swanson out indefinitely due to a knee injury sustained while on WNT duty in April, a number of players have stepped up with goals. Chicago scored four goals against the Kansas City Current in game two, with Penelope Hocking (23—ex-USC and Penn State who was Chicago's first round draft choice in 2023 at number seven overall) scoring a brace in the win. Hocking and Ella Stevens (25—in her fourth season with the club) both have two goals, while defender Arin Wright (30—a nine year veteran with the side), Allison Schlegel (23--ex-Penn State University and a 2023 second round draft choice by the Red Stars), Japanese international and 2011 Women's World Cup winner Yuki Nagasato (35—who has played for the Red Stars since 2017 with the exception of the 2021 season in Louisville) and Canadian international Bianca St-Georges (25—in her fourth season with the Red Stars) all have scored once for Chicago to offset the loss of Swanson—she had one goal in two Red Stars games that she played in.
Alyssa Naeher became the first goalkeeper to appear in 150 regular season matches on May 12 in Chicago's 3-0 loss at Louisville. She is also close to capturing the all-time regular season saves record from former fellow U.S. international Ashlyn Harris, who retired after last season with Gotham FC.
Off the field—as has become typical—there was more turmoil as the Chicago Red Stars fired their new General Manager Michelle Lomnicki on May 5, less than four months after she was appointed to the position, because of a "lapse of judgement to not share important information with club leadership."
The Athletic reported that local youth club Chicago Empire FC, where her husband, Wes Lomnicki, is sporting director and where she had coached, had employed former Utah Royals head coach and former Chicago Red Stars assistant Craig Harrington, who was suspended in January from coaching in the NWSL for two years because of inappropriate conduct while he was head coach of the original Utah Royals. Harrington—who was jettisoned by Club America in Mexico last season after he made inappropriate comments to players during a match in Liga MX Femenil—even reportedly took his players to a strip club while coaching in the NWSL. Harrington had worked with Chicago Empire both before and after his short stint with the Royals; he was rehired again in January. Michelle Lomnicki, who was named associate GM of the Red Stars in January 2022, worked as a female technical and performance consultant at Chicago Empire until she was named as the Red Stars GM in January 2023.
Lominicki (36) played for the Red Stars in the NWSL from 2013-15 after playing one game for the team in the WPS in 2009—when now Chelsea head coach Emma Hayes was in charge of the team—and she also played in Germany with Freiburg in 2010. She played collegiately at the University of Colorado. She told The Athletic: "My performance consultant role with Chicago Empire involved being a reference for girls in the club as they dealt with items such as competitive anxiety or college recruiting. I had no role in any hiring decisions for the club."
U.S. Soccer confirmed that coaches sanctioned by the NWSL on January 9 after an extensive report into abuse in conjunction with the NWSLPA, including Harrington, were added to the federation's risk management list following that announcement. When reached by The Athletic, Mary Jane Bender, the Illinois Youth Soccer Association (IYSA) executive director, said that the organization had received information that Harrington was rostered as a coach for a team in the Midwest Regional League and a staff member confirmed his employment as a coach. Bender also noted IYSA had looked at the Empire FC website and Harrington was listed as the club's director of coaching. IYSA sent a notice of disqualification to Harrington, recognizing the NWSL's two-year suspension (his disqualification for participation in youth soccer in Illinois runs through January 9, 2025). Bender said Chicago Empire FC was copied on this letter, along with the IWSL, U.S. Youth Soccer and the federation itself.
A spokesperson for the Chicago Red Stars said the club's affiliation with Chicago Empire FC ended in November 2021. However, Chicago Empire FC's references to the Red Stars were still on the youth club's website as of May 1, 2023. By May 4, every reference to the affiliation, as well as Lomnicki's role as consultant, were removed.
Rare though this is for me to say, I have to side with the Red Stars on this one. Harrington was banned by the NWSL and has been accused of player abuse in two countries, yet still was hired for a youth soccer club. This is partly why FIFA needs to monitor coaches moving around, but it is difficult to track, particularly with the youth clubs, some of whom don't have any relationship or even follow the professional leagues. We said late last year that we expected Harrison to end up coaching in Europe but we never expected him to return in Chicago, even if it wasn't in the NWSL (see: The Week in Women's Football: Examining the Yates report; offering our own recommendations - Tribal Football). Hopefully this will be the last that we hear of him coaching girls/women.
NWSL Expansion News
White Stadium, located in the largest park in Boston, Franklin Park, which is also the home to the Franklin Park Zoo, seats 10,000 people and is set to be renovated and could serve as the home of a new NWSL team. The City of Boston recently announced a request for proposals that would allow a private entity to lease and fund the renovation of one half of the stadium. The city would then fund the construction of the other half, as well as training and fitness areas, physical therapy facilities, locker rooms, community space and offices for the Boston Public Schools Athletics' Department. Boston is widely viewed as the most likely city to be the NWSL's 15th expansion franchise, starting play in 2025 or 2026.
Other U.S. Football News
Kealia and J.J. Watt invest in Burnley of the EPL and in the Women's National League-Premier Division (third tier)
Former Red Star and Houston Dash forward Kealia (Ohai) Watt and her husband J.J.—who just recently retired from the NFL Arizona Cardinals—have invested in English Premier League side Burnley for a minority stake.
J.J. Watt said: "When you invest in a club that's been around since 1882, you must have great respect for its history and tradition. We understand that not only are we investing in the squad and manager, we're investing in the town and its people. We take that responsibility very seriously and intend to work hard in earning their trust and support." Kealia played in the NWSL from 2014 to 2021 with the Houston Dash and Chicago Red Stars. She also played for the USWNT in 2016 and scored the winning goal for the U.S. U-20 WWC side in the Championship Final Match in Japan in 2012 against Germany (1-0). Kealia said: "In the U.S., I've seen the NWSL grow into something really incredible and we'd love to be a part of growing the women's team here and be a part of their journey."
J.J. Watt watched his first Premier League match over a decade ago and was a fan of long-time Chelsea and Ivory Coast forward Didier Drogba [who ended his playing career a few years ago with a final year and one-half stint with Phoenix Rising of the USL Championship], and understands why some fans may have some reticence about Americans buying into English teams.
He explained: "I don't blame them for having cynicism. I would if I was in their shoes. Think about it. You've had the best league in the world, and it's been around for over 100 years, and it's kind of your national treasure. I absolutely understand why you'd be skeptical of Americans coming in and wanting to be part of it, but having said that, our experience has been unbelievable. We haven't met one single person who hasn't been incredibly welcoming, so we're very thankful. But we understand the situation and we want to continue to earn that trust and show that we are going to honor and respect that tradition and history."
Burnley's majority shareholder and chairman Alan Pace is a fellow American and, after he took over in December of 2020, he talked about his integration efforts into the community.
Burnley played this season in the Women's National League-Premier Division, the third division. They finished in third place in the North Division, finishing two points behind both North Division Champions Nottingham Forest and Wolverhampton, but Forest moved to the championship game versus the South Division champion Watford of London, with a much better goal differential (+63 to +44) than Wolves. The Bees of Watford moved up to the second division with a 1-0 win on May 20 in Milton Keynes.
W League Expansion for 2023
The USL W League (registered as amateur in the U.S.) begins its second season in May and will feature 65 teams across ten divisions. The newly announced NorCal, Northwest and Valley divisions will join the South Central, Great Lakes, Heartland, Metropolitan, Mid Atlantic, South Atlantic and Southeast divisions for 2023. New this season, the league has established four regional conferences: Eastern, Central, Southern and Western—which will affect the 2023 playoff structure. Each team will play 10 to 12 matches (depending on the size of their division) against divisional opponents over the course of the regular season. Upon the start of the playoffs, conferences will be used to regionalize match ups with player welfare in mind.
Amanda Vandervort, USL Super League and W League President said: "We are thrilled to have the W League in 20 new communities across the country. The W League is an important step along the USL women's pathway, and the growth showcased during this off-season is a clear indication of the league's continued commitment to creating opportunities for women from coast to coast."
Mid Atlantic Division
Northern Virginia FC
Patuxent Football Athletics
Virginia Marauders FC
FA Euro New York
Long Island Rough Riders
Morris Elite SC
Paisley Athletic FC
Kings Hammer FC
Racing Louisville FC
St. Charles FC
Great Lakes Division
AFC Ann Arbor
Cleveland Force SC
Detroit City FC
Flint City AFC
Midwest United FC
Bavarian United SC
Chicago City SC
Chicago Dutch Lions FC
Green Bay Glory
RKC Third Coast Soccer Club
South Atlantic Division
Asheville City SC
Greenville Liberty SC
North Carolina Courage U23
North Carolina Fusion
South Central Division
Birmingham Legion FC
Chattanooga Red Wolves SC
North Alabama SC
South Carolina United FC
South Georgia Tormenta FC
Southern Soccer Academy
Tennessee Soccer Club
Florida Elite Soccer Academy
FC Miami City
Miami Athletic Club
Palm City Americanas
Swan City SC
Tampa Bay United SC
Capital FC Atletica
Lane United FC
Oly Town FC
PDX Football Club
Oakland Soul SC
San Francisco Glens SC
Stockton Cargo SC
The Olympic Club
Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham is on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.
Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey