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The Week in Women's Football: NWSL Review Part 2

This week, we continue with Part 2 of our review of the first third of the 22-game 2022 NWSL Regular Season, looking at the six sides that are currently outside of a 2022 playoff spot, though all six sides range from one point to three points behind six place OL Reign (10 points): NJ/NY Gotham FC, Washington, Louisville, Kansas City, Orlando and North Carolina. We look at each team, with some quotes from players and coaches, including some from this reporter, along with new signings and off-the field news, including some unique and innovative jersey designs by some of the NWSL teams for the 2022 season. (For part 1 see: The Week in Women's Football: NWSL Review Part 1; Thoughts on future expansion; Berman responds - Tribal Football).

NWSL Regular Season Standings (as of June 13, 2022)—Part 2

Eight of the NWSL teams have played 8 games thus far, with San Diego and Washington each playing 9 games and Gotham FC and North Carolina each playing 6 games. This review is roughly for the first one-third of the 22-game regular season.

NJ/NY Gotham FC (3-0-3, 0 points, Seventh)

Gotham FC opened fast with a 3-0 opening game win on the road at Orlando on May 1, with goals by McCall Zerboni, Midge Purce and Kristie Mewis, but then were shut out in consecutive matches by San Diego (4-0) and at home to Louisville (1-0). They then had consecutive 1-0 wins over Angel City away and Washington at home at the end of May/early June. They only have five goals in six games but their dynamic attack should come alive this summer, led by U.S. international Midge Purce and American-born Nigerian international Ifeoma Onumonu. Estelle Johnson, their 2019 WWC Finals player for Cameroon, was called into the national team for the African Women's Nations Cup Finals to determine the 2023 WWC qualifiers from Africa, and Cameroon is expected to qualify for their third consecutive finals. Gotham are tied with OL Reign for the fewest goals allowed in the league (6), which should be a big help in adding points through the rest of the season and moving up into the top six playoff picture.

Washington Spirit (1-5-3, 8 points, Tied for Eighth)

Another team that is currently just out of a playoff spot, Washington Spirit Head Coach Kris Ward didn't lose a game in his tenure as head coach until the Challenge Cup Final defeat to North Carolina but then had a loss (Angel City FC by a 1-0 scoreline) and two ties at Portland (1-1) and OL Reign in Seattle (0-0)—the latter two on the road—in their next three games.

On June 1, the Washington Spirit was able to escape their 2021 championship game rematch against Chicago with a point in a 1-1 draw. After allowing a goal in the opening ten minutes of play from American forward Ella Stevens (24), Washington was able to net an equalizer in the final ten minutes for its fourth consecutive tie when Andi Sullivan took a free kick from just outside the box and Sam Staab was able to head the cross home. Ward explained to this reporter on June 2 that, with the four consecutive ties, "In the end [I see] more positives than negatives to take away from it [the four straight ties]. The Portland game, we were going with a reduced roster, given that result was very positive [though] we did enough to win. In Seattle, we didn't play well at any point in time in that game but we still got a point. It was the not the end of the world for us. The Orlando match was disappointing [giving up a late tying goal] but it is a learning experience. Players talk about wanting to do more, wanting to be relied on more, wanting to make a jump into the national team but this is an experience to go, 'I still have work to do.' I'm happy from the response last night. It's extremely hot at Segra [Field in Leesburg, Virginia—the home of Loudoun United FC of the USL Championship second division men's league and Old Glory D.C. of Major League Rugby—the stadium holds 5,000 and is artificial turf] where there is no water. If I had the ability of Seattle and Portland to water the field [which are both artificial turf fields] it changes that field dimensionally. We've played on it in rainstorms and it is not bad when it is soaking wet….To come back and battle was really, really positive in the end. I thought we did enough to win but I'm not disappointed in the effort they showed or how they went about it. [We take it] a day at a time and there are some positive things from the last game to build upon, with the exception of the Seattle game,"

On June 4, the Spirit fell to Gotham FC 1-0 on the road before tying their fifth game in six matches with a 0-0 result against Chicago [their second battle in a week] in the Windy City on June 8.

The Ashley's (Hatch with 4 and Sanchez with 2) have combined for six of the teams eight goals, to which they have added young English forward Tinaya Alexander, who was the 14th overall pick by D.C. in the 2022 NWSL Draft. A native of Reading, she played for five seasons at Louisiana State University, earned First-Team All-SEC honors in 2021 and was named the Louisiana Sports Writers Association Player of the Year after tallying nine goals and six assists in 20 games. Alexander assisted on 22 goals in her career with Tigers, tying her for second-most in school history.

On June 4, The Washington Spirit signed midfielder Marissa Sheva to the active roster as a short-term COVID-19 replacement player. Sheva previously played for the NWSL's Utah Royals FC in 2020 after a brief time with Deportivo Alavés Gloriosas in Spain's Primera División, the top-tier women's league in Spain. At Penn State University, Sheva tallied 13 goals and nine assists in her four seasons in State College, seeing playing time in 92 matches, 60 of which were starts.

In early March, Angela Salem joined the Spirit as an assistant coach. Salem retired from playing professional soccer prior to the beginning of the 2022 season. Salem spent 12 years as a pro, including stops in various leagues in the United States, Australia and Finland. Most recently, Salem spent four seasons with the Portland Thorns. In 2021, she helped the Thorns to the NWSL Challenge Cup, the NWSL Shield, and the International Champions Cup. She was also named a finalist for the NWSL Most Valuable Player award and a member of the NWSL Best XI. She played for a season with the Spirit back in 2015.

Angela Salem is her new job as a Washington Spirit assistant coach. Photo Credit: Les Young Productions

Salem explained her move into coaching to the local Washington area City Paper, "I always said I didn't want to coach, and then I always found myself coaching," She expected to have "a year of normalcy," and put her Master's Degree in Clinical Mental Health to use at the University of Colorado-Boulder as a therapist, but the urge to be around the sport she played professionally for over a decade was too strong. "Since she was hired in March, Salem has helped from the Spirit bench—discussing the game at hand, concocting adjustments, and preparing players with vital information before they enter as substitutes." She has joined the coaching staff led by first-year head coach Kris Ward, Major League Soccer and USMNT veteran Lee Nguyen, and former English professional Paul Crichton, who played primarily at Grimsby Town, Burnley and Doncaster Rovers and joined the Spirit last season after coaching at USL Championship club Miami FC as an assistant coach for a couple of seasons.

Salem further said, "You just miss being on the field, and being around very competitive, driven people who are trying to achieve a goal, and I think it's a really rare environment to be around. It's really contagious when you're in it, because it just pushes you to want to be better in any area. And so, I think that was the biggest piece of just being surrounded by driven people who wanted to share a common goal."

In other news, the Washington Spirit announced its 2022 front-of-jersey partner, effective at the start of the regular season on May 1. The iconic John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will take center stage on the defending NWSL champions' 10th Anniversary Kit. It is the first partnership of its kind for the nation's performing arts center. This new partnership aligns with the Washington Spirit's focus on being a proud representative of our nation's capital and deepens its support for and involvement in the greater Washington, D.C. community. Washington Spirit Majority Owner Michele Kang explained, "The arts and sports have both served as unifying beacons of light in the District [of Colombia] throughout a colorful and illustrious history. Whether it be through the long list of world-class athletes who have competed for D.C., the 12 league championships the District's seven major professional sports teams have combined for or the seemingly unending list of acclaimed operas, musicals, festivals, dance and theatrical performances, Washington, D.C. is known across the nation as a unique cultural hotspot. We're honored to collaborate with the Kennedy Center and are excited for the multitude of ways in which this will deepen the connection between the sports and arts communities in this region."

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Racing Louisville FC (2-2-4, 8 points, Tied for Eighth)

Scoring has been a bit hard to come by this season for Racing Louisville but should pickup with solid scorers in Denmark's Nadia Nadim (one goal from the penalty spot after playing two games thus far after returning from an ACL injury that she suffered last season) and England's Ebony Salmon on the side; so far this season, the club has scored only eight goals scored in eight games, tied for seventh in the league with Washington. Their defense needs to tighten up as well as their 12 goals allowed are second from the bottom, behind the 18 allowed to date by the Orlando Pride.

Racing Louisville have made some important international signings of late, include Alex Chidiac (The Week in Women's Football: Sh'Nia Gordon interview; Ukraine update; NWSL Challenge Cup - Tribal Football) and Jamaican national team defender Satara Murray (28), who signed a two-year contract with an option for 2024. She joined from Bristol City of the English Super League. During Bristol City's 2021-2022 FA Women's Championship (second division) campaign, Murray appeared in all 22 matches with the Robins, plus three cup games, as the club finished third in the league (just missing promotion to the WSL, which they were relegated from at the end of 2020-21, by four points behind London City Lionesses) and reached the fourth round of the FA Cup and the final of the FA Women's League Cup. Murray also played in the NWSL with the Houston Dash in 2019 (9 appearances) and then moved to Norway's Kolbotn in 2020. Murray also played four seasons for English powerhouse Liverpool. She totaled 66 appearances for the Reds, spending three alongside current Racing captain and center back Gemma Bonner. A graduate of the University of North Carolina, Murray is a two-time All-American who won the 2012 NCAA College Cup with the Tar Heels, earning defensive player of the tournament honors. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Murray was eligible to represent the United States, England, Guyana, Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda at the international level. She debuted for Jamaica in an October 2021 friendly against Costa Rica, a 1-1 draw that also featured Racing forward Cheyna Matthews.

In June the Kansas City Current acquired a pair of Kansas City area natives from Racing Louisville in forward Cece Kizer and defender Addisyn Merrick. In exchange, Louisville will receive one of Kansas City's international slots through the 2023 season and $150,000 in allocation funds, with an additional $25,000 should Kizer meet certain performance-based criteria. This trade gives Racing two international slots to work with during the NWSL's current transfer window, which opened June 1.

Racing Louisville FC midfielder Freja Olofsson has signed a new three-year contract running through the 2024 season, after being a key member for the expansion side in 2021 in her first season in America. She said, "I feel like I grew a lot last year personally and as a football player by developing things I wasn't as good at. With that being said, it took almost a whole year for me to adjust to things. That's another reason why I wanted to stay and give it more time. I feel very honored that the club wants me here. I think that's always a good thing as a player. I really believe in what the club is doing and working toward. I really enjoy being a part of this organization and working with everyone." She has also enjoyed discovering the United States, "Being here is such a great opportunity to explore America. I'm just enjoying seeing different parts of the country when I have the chance. That's been one of my favorite parts about being here." She has been capped by Sweden at the youth level.

Rookie midfielder Savannah DeMelo is a top candidate for end of season Rookie-of-the-Year honors as through the first six matches, she led the league in tackles, fouls won, fouls won in the attacking third of the field and possessions won in the middle-third. The 24-year-old also ranks fifth in chances created, sixth in recoveries and 16th in interceptions. She scored her first goal in a Racing uniform on a 27-yard free kick against first-place San Diego on May 18th at home that stood as the game-winner. She was called up into the U.S. U-23 squad in June for a 3-Nations Tournament in Sweden, including India. She played at USC in Los Angeles and was on the 2016 and 2018 U-20 Women's World Cup Finals sides in Papua New Guinea and France, respectively.

Defender Rebecca Holloway made her Racing debut against Kansas City (a 1-0 loss on the road on May 30) after arriving in early May. The Northern Ireland international most recently played for former FA Women's Super League side Birmingham City WFC, where she totaled 65 total appearances. Holloway helped Northern Ireland reach the UEFA Women's Euro 2022 tournament in England.

Defender Erin Simon was waived by the club on June 13 to allow her to join another club, rumored to be in Northern Europe. Simon (27) was selected by Racing Louisville in the 2021 NWSL Expansion Draft, Simon made 29 appearances for the club with over 1,300 minutes. However, in the 2022 regular season, she only appeared in 2 games. Simon also represented Sky Blue FC and the Houston Dash in the NWSL as well as England's West Ham United. Racing's head coach, Kim Bjorkegren said, "Erin has been amazing here. She's always working hard and has been team-first in every situation presented. We will miss her, but at the same time we are happy to see she will have a new opportunity."

Off the field, Racing Louisville has a unique mint version of their kit for 2022 with a Kentucky and mint version: a partnership in the city that goes back generations. At a kit reveal party Thursday—coincidentally, just more than a week away from the 148th Kentucky Derby — Racing Louisville FC unveiled the newest way to honor that long-lasting relationship, via the club's Mint Kit that will be worn for most away matches over the 2022 and 2023 seasons. The new kit features a white top with mint-colored fleur de lis in the same formation as the center mark of Racing's crest. The fleur de lis, or lily flower, is a symbol firmly embedded in Louisville's history (much of the area was claimed by France in the late 1600's by explorers) and culture—just like the signature ingredient in the famous mint julep. Tops will be matched with mint shorts and white socks. Racing's familiar lavender is still included on the Nike logos and team badges as well as a lily stitched into the jersey.

Defender Nealy Martin—in her second season with Racing Louisville, who made the roster in 2021 through an open tryout from U of Alabama—display's Racing Louisville's mint uniform. Photo courtesy Racing Louisville FC.

Kansas City Current (2-2-4, 8 points, Tied for Eighth)

A surprise in the Challenge Cup as a semifinalist, Matt Potter side only has 5 goals for in 7 games while allowing eleven goals. Kristen Hamilton has three goals to lead the side after joining the side mid-last season, after six plus years with the Western New York Flash/North Carolina Courage franchise. Her long-time scoring mate with the Courage and the Flash—American international Lynn Williams—is lost for the year due to a ACL tear during the Challenge Cup preseason tournament.

American defender Mallory Weber tore her ACL in the regular season opener on April 30 and is a big loss to the team. An original member of the Kansas City Current, Weber signed an extension last July, extending her contract with the Current through the 2023 season.

On May 30, the Kansas City Current earned the team's first shutout and win of the NWSL regular season with a 1-0 victory over Racing Louisville FC. The Current had several players return from absence after COVID protocol, including midfielder Lo'eau LaBonta and head coach Matt Potter, who made his return to the sideline. LaBonta scored the lone goal in her 100th NWSL regular season appearance from the penalty spot after Canadian international Victoria Pickett was fouled. Adrianna Franch (31) was in goal for the clean sheet. The game drew 6,484 fans, the highest attendance this season.

Early in June the Current acquired a pair of Kansas City area natives from Racing Louisville in forward Cece Kizer and defender Addisyn Merrick. Kizer grew up in Overland Park, Kansas, leading Blue Valley Northwest High school to three straight Class 6A Kansas State Championship games. She played collegiately for Ole Miss where she still holds records for career goals (48) and points (119). The forward was selected with the 13th overall pick in the 2019 NWSL Draft by the Houston Dash. She played 22 games for the Dash in 2019 and the 2020 Challenge Cup before going on loan to Kolbotn in Norway. Kizer returned to the NWSL and was selected by Racing Louisville in the 2021 Expansion Draft. She scored the first goal in Louisville's history in the team's 2021 Challenge Cup debut April 10. She led the team in games started (22) and was second in goals scored (5) and minutes played (1,889). She was seen by many as the best and most consistent player on the expansion Louisville side last season. She comes to Kansas City with two assists in seven games played so far this season. She said about her move, "Returning home to Kansas City is a dream come true. The Current have built an incredible organization with their investment in facilities [see more below] and the amazing fan base. I can't wait to join the team!"

Merrick is also a Kansas City area native, having grown up in Lee's Summit, Missouri. Crossing over the state line, she played collegiately at the University of Kansas where she led the team to the 2019 Big XII Championship and was named the Big XII Defender of the Year. Drafted in the fourth round of the 2020 NWSL College Draft by the North Carolina Courage, Merrick appeared in seven matches for the Courage in the 2020 Challenge Cup and Fall Series. Merrick was the first player selected by Racing Louisville in the 2020 Expansion Draft but missed much of the season due to an injury.

On May 31, in significant off-the field news, the KC Current released new renderings for the first stadium purpose-built for a National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) team. Since the project was first announced, the club's leadership has been working to create a state-of-the-art facility with the goal of creating the best player, fan and partner experience in the world.

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Riverfront Stadium Entrance Renderings. Courtesy Kansas City Current/Generator Studio.

The club has added seating for a total projected capacity of 11,500 along with in-stadium amenities like a Concourse Club and Scoreboard Bar.

KC Current Stadium - Riverfront Aerial.jpg

Riverfront Stadium Aerial Renderings. Courtesy Kansas City Current/Generator Studio.

Team President Allison Howard said, "Elite facilities are an essential part of the future for this team. Our new stadium will be an incredible place for athletes to compete at their highest level and the additional amenities will ensure that Kansas City fans have an experience worthy of the passion they bring to every match."

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Riverfront Stadium East Upper Stands Renderings. Courtesy Kansas City Current/ Generator Studio.

The privately-funded soccer-specific stadium at Berkley Riverfront Park will be the first soccer stadium purpose-built for an NWSL team. As part of a 50-year lease agreement with Port KC, the stadium will be built on a 7.08-acre site on the east end of the park in Kansas City, Mo. in partnership with primary design and construction partners Generator Studio, JE Dunn and Monarch Build. Generator Studio and Monarch Build are also partners in building the Current's training facility, which will open in June. The training facility, exclusively privately-funded by team owners, will be located in Riverside, Mo. and features comprehensive team training features such as a world-class locker room, elite weight and cardio rooms and multiple outdoor pitches.

The Kansas City Current released their latest edition of secondary kits called the "Electric kit" with an all-new design. The jersey is a base white with accents of "Heartland Red" and teal as well as a patch commemorating the 10th anniversary of the National Women's Soccer League. The red represents the passion for the city and sport in the Heartland. The jerseys will be paired with white shorts and trademark teal socks.

KC Current release new 'Electric' secondary kit

Canadian international and Kansas City Current midfielder Victoria Pickett in the new team 'Electric' secondary kit for 2022 . Photo courtesy of WDAF-TV of the Kansas City KC Current release of the new 'Electric' secondary kit.

Orlando Pride (2-2-4, 8 points, Tied for Eighth)

New head coach Amanda Cromwell had the team playing competitively after a poor Challenge Cup series (2 ties in 6 matches) despite Marta being out for the season with an torn ACL, though former American international forward Sydney Leroux has been strong, scoring twice including the game winner in a 1-0 win over Angel City on the road on May 8. Canadian international goalkeeper Erin McLeod (29) has one shutout (in the road win over Angel City FC) and English international Amy Turner (30) and American Toni Pressley each have one goal from the back. The defense needs to tighten up as they have surrendered a league high 18 goals in eight matches, six more than second to last place Racing Louisville in the same number of games

Unfortunately, we had another case of the suspension of coaches and more turmoil (will we ever see the end of this?) on June 7 as head coach Amanda Cromwell (ex-U.S. international and UCLA coach) and Sam Greene (who was an assistant to Cromwell at UCLA and director of Soccer Operations there) were both suspended pending the conclusion of an investigation into alleged retaliation in violation of the NWSL Policy to Prevent and Eliminate Workplace Discrimination, Harassment, and Bullying. Orlando changed coaches in 2021 when Marc Skinner returned home to take the Manchester United head coaching job but Orlando had been the only team (exempting the two expansion sides in California) to not have any player or front office abuse scandals in the past few seasons (Portland's was indirect from when Paul Riley coached there but the long-time GM of both the Thorns and MLS Timbers Gavin Wilkinson, was relieved of his Thorns duties but not from the Timbers, something which a fair number of Timber/Thorns fans felt was disingenuous). The NWSL even imposed a transfer ban on the team, though they were allowed to sign Brazilian Thais Reiss (see below)—who was already on their practice squad—and release English international Amy Turner (with four full caps) in mid-June from the last months of her two-year contract, who is reportedly headed back to the WSL and possibly to Manchester United, as current Reds coach Marc Skinner originally brought her to Orlando last summer. She started 12 of the side's 14 final matches in 2021 but missed some of this season due to injury.

The Pride has named current assistant Coach Seb Hines (34) to serve as interim head coach. Hines is a native of England who played with Middlesbrough for over 10 years, around loan spells at Oldham and Coventry City. In 2015, he was loaned to Orlando City in MLS and played with the club thru 2017. An English youth international, he began coaching in Orlando City's youth teams before joining the Pride in 2020 as an assistant.

The NWSL (and arguably any of the professional women's soccer leagues) have been a pretty undesirable option for college head coaches over the years because they would be giving up job security and—at some schools—solid six figure annual salaries, to take a professional job in an industry that changes coaches frequently but also because of the concern of teams folding (Boston Breakers did a few years ago in the NWSL and the old WPS shut down for good after three seasons). Long-time Santa Clara coach Jerry Smith, whose team won the College Cup title last season, was recruited at various times by professional teams but wasn't willing to give up the security of college coaching. Amanda Cromwell left her head coaching post at UCLA after nine successful seasons to take the Orlando Pride helm ahead of this 2022 NWSL season and Matt Potter left the U.S. U-23 women's national team but previously coached at the University of Oklahoma, Washington State and Scottsdale Community College in Arizona. Cromwell had coached at UCF in Orlando for over a decade before her UCLA stint but this situation will send a chilling message to head college coaches who might be considering a move to the pro ranks as Cromwell didn't make it past one-third of her team's games in her first season.

Cromwell replaced Becky Burleigh (who took the job when Skinner left after retiring at Florida), who also won a NCAA crown in 1998) but Burleigh didn't want to continue after the 2021 season.

Orlando is winless in its last three games and lost 5-0 last weekend to the Houston Dash on June 3. How the team responds and if they add more talent—particularly from abroad—will be key to how they finish, but there is still lots of time left for a run and they are currently only a point out of a playoff spot.

In June, the Pride signed Brazilian midfielder Thais Reiss until the end of the 2022 season. She started the season as a training player. Orlando Pride General Manager Ian Fleming said, "Thais has shown a great amount of patience and perseverance over the course of this season, and she has fully earned this contract with the work that she has put in on the training pitch every day. We are excited to have her available to play now and look forward to having another high potential young player make their professional debut as a member of the Pride." Thais is a native of Curitiba in Southern Brazil and she will occupy an international roster spot for the Pride—for which each NWSL team has been allocated five—an increase of one over 2021. Internationally, Reiss played for Brazil's U-17 and U-20 youth national teams, playing in both the 2016 U17 Women's World Cup in Jordan and 2018 U-20 World Cup in France.

North Carolina Courage (2-1-3, 7 points, Twelfth)

They Courage won the 2022 Challenge Cup but seem to have had a hangover with three losses and one tie in their first four games and only three goals scored but Debinha—really replacing Orlando's Marta as the top Brazilian talent in the game, particularly as the latter will miss the season with injury—will get this side going.

On the front line, 20-year-old Mexican international Diana Ordonez has contributed two goals in their last two games, a 3-0 win at Louisville on June 4 and a 1-1 tie away in Houston on May 29, while young Brazilian international Kerolin—the MVP of the Challenge Cup Final this season—has one goal in three games.

Jamaican international Havana Solaun (29), who scored the Reggae Girlz' only goal in France in 2019 in a 5-1 loss to Australia, could be a major force in attack—she scored five goals for the D.C. Spirit in 2017 and ten goals two years later for Klepp in Norway.

On March 31, in a huge signing for the club and the NWSL, the Courage signed France women's national team striker Valerie Gauvin from Everton of the WSL. Gauvin is a regular presence for the French first team, putting up 17 goals in 37 appearances for Les Bleues. Gauvin represented France in the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup, scoring the opening tally for the French against Brazil.

The Sainte-Clotilde, Réunion (in Southern Africa) native has scored prolifically for Everton in England's WSL since signing with the Blues in August 2020. The 25-year-old recorded five goals and one assist in 15 appearances (10 starts) at Everton for 2020-21 but missed much of the past two seasons due to an injury. In the 2021 season, she had no goals in 12 games (3 starts). Hopefully, she will be fully recovered when she joins the Courage this summer. Prior to her time at Everton, Gauvin spent several seasons with Montpellier of the French Division 1 Féminine and registered 31 starts in 52 appearances (2,756 minutes), tallying 26 goals and three assists in that span.

There is still plenty of time for the Courage to make up ground quickly and they have games in hand; head coach Sean Nahas is not one to rattle easily. Gauvin could be the replacement for the former scoring from long-time front line leaders Kristen Hamilton and Lynn Williams (both K.C. Current) and Jessica McDonald (Racing Louisville).

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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