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The Week in Women's Football: NWSL Review Part 1; Thoughts on future expansion; Berman responds

This week, as we review the first third of the 22-game 2022 NWSL Regular Season in Part 1, starting with the top six teams who—if the season ended as of June 13—would be in the playoffs: San Diego, Chicago, Portland, Angel City FC, Houston and OL Reign. Last season, Portland, OL Reign, Chicago, Washington, Gotham FC and North Carolina made the postseason, so expansion sides San Diego and Angel City, along with surprisingly consistent Houston, would be in at the expense of Washington, Gotham FC and North Carolina. However, the league is looking very competitive, with the bottom six sides only between one and three points adrift of a playoff spot. Next week in Part 2 we will look at the other six teams: NJ/NY Gotham FC, Washington, Louisville, Kansas City, Orlando and North Carolina. First though, we look at some thoughts on future expansion for the league, including questions directly asked of new NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman. Then 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.

NWSL Expansion Talk—Likely not for 2023 but strong interest for 2024 recently talked with new NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman about adding NWSL franchises in the future, and we also add insights from noted American soccer writer and television analyst Grant Wahl [Sports Illustrated and FOX Sports] and The Athletic women's soccer reporter Meg Linehan.

This reporter was on a media call with new NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman on May 6, which was the day before the Challenge Cup Finals (which the North Carolina Courage won 2-1 over the 2021 defending league champions Washington Spirit).

I first asked Commissioner Berman about her thoughts on the outstanding and unique branding and marketing efforts that Angel City had done to date [this was a week after a 22,000-fan sellout on the opening night of the regular season for Angel City FC (Los Angeles) on April 29, in 2-1 win over the North Carolina Courage in Banc of California Stadium (home of the MLS side LA FC)], and what other unique approaches in marketing and branding that she would like to see done at the league and team levels. She replied, "Angel City showed us all what is possible last weekend and their branding and marketing is outstanding but [also] delivering on the commercial side, selling out the stadium with 22,000 people, their selling $35 Million in sponsorships before they even played a game. There are a lot of best practices there for the league to lean into. That really is the role of a league, not just to build a national presence but to act as a convener and facilitate the sharing of best practices between and among teams." She added that it was, "Not just Angel City, but Kansas City building facilities and sharing those [best practices along with] other success stores taking place, that we can share so the 'rising tide can [lift] all boats.'"

I then asked about the possible plethora of Division II leagues and teams that could start in 2023 and how that could affect future expansion, with more competitive and less expensive options for owners. She replied, "It's one of many data points. Any commercial plan or projection for the future—whether it is expansion, media or sponsorship—we look at all relevant data points. Division II growth tells us a lot about the depth of the soccer marketplace domestically but we also look at comparable properties in other similar sports leagues to help inform our strategies moving forward."

One question from The Athletic revolved around the possible conflict between new, dynamic ownership groups like that of Angel City FC and the San Diego Wave versus some of the long-time owners of clubs like in Chicago, Houston and New Jersey, who typically have been very cautious in their decision-making and spending—having both started within the first two years of the league's launch. Berman said, "The league is at an inflection point …on the rise. New owners and legacy owners, that is the case in every professional sports league where you have a dynamic between owners where their interests may not be 100% aligned on every issue. It's the job of a league to coalesce the Board of Governors to get to the right perspective. If you are a true believer in diversity of perspectives, you lean into that. I for one am excited to have input from institutional and legacy owners who built the history of this league for the last 10 years, which we all enjoy now, and new investors who have a different vision and different expectation. When you put all that together, you have the ingredients for success if you can find a way to have respectful discourse and discussion about the future of the league and that's what we intend to do."

She was also asked if it was too late for expansion for 2023 and she said that she thought it was. Amen to that. The two new California teams had a year to build out—teams like Houston and Kansas City (now Current—after their move from Utah) had months and, particularly in the case of Houston, has yet to make the playoffs in nine seasons, though they won the Challenge Cup in 2020. A few years ago, I talked with their original General Manager/Managing Director [from 2013-2019], former U.S. international forward Brian Ching, who said that the Dash only had a few months to prepare to enter the league [in 2014, for the league's second season] and they did not receive concessions [such a priority in college draft pick order, financial considerations and other factors that later expansion franchises received] and those were huge barriers to overcome.

Soccer Writer and Announcer Grant Wahl listed a number of cities that showed interest in being part of a future NWSL expansion from current Major League Soccer ownership groups:

  • Atlanta
  • Austin, Texas
  • Cincinnati
  • Salt Lake City
  • Toronto

Non-MLS prospective ownership groups in Columbus, Ohio and the San Francisco-San Jose area also have shown interest. Linehan said that the San Francisco-San Jose group has raised $10 million for their bid and includes former U.S. national team midfielder Leslie Osborne. This group originally was involved in the Sacramento NWSL expansion effort of a few years ago that was combined with a bid to join MLS, but when the ownership group fractured, the women's team ended up becoming the San Diego Wave while the men's side—Sacramento Republic—still plays in the USL's Division II Championship.

Canada has long expressed interest in joining the NWSL—efforts in Vancouver fell just short on a few occasions—but the country is serious about establishing a national women's league as they have done recently on the men's side (CPL) and that might preclude a NWSL franchise—though Canadian national team head coach Bev Priestman told me last year that she would like to see both take place.

Other possible expansion city names that Linehan adds for consideration are:

  • Nashville
  • Phoenix
  • Denver
  • Las Vegas
  • Minnesota
  • Miami
  • Boston
  • Philadelphia

I am based in Phoenix and have regular discussions with current minor league men's teams' leaders as a regular reporter for USL Championship side Phoenix Rising (once the home of iconic Didier Drogba for two seasons, where he ended his illustrious playing career, and a Division II powerhouse) and Valley United (an expansion franchise in NISA—Division III) along with various women's leagues officials about the city. Phoenix has shown little interest so far.

For Boston, Linehan said, "Berman name-dropping RedBird Capital Partners [in her conference call] was notable though, if only for their investment in Fenway Sports Group. In May 2021, FSG's wish list for future ventures included both NWSL and WNBA teams, though there's also no reason that FSG would be tied to Boston as their eventual market." My opinion is that—though the Breakers' name started in WUSA and continued through the WPS and the NWSL, and I have seen some great soccer in that city—I wouldn't touch that city with a bargepole right now and it would be a terrible choice as the city always has had ownership, facility, marketing and other problems.

Philadelphia had support when they were in the WUSA and WPS but they are technically within NJ/NY Gotham FC's territory and the club played one game there last season (as a tribute to South Jersey native Carli Lloyd, who was retiring) at the MLS stadium in suburban Chester and could hold more games there in the future. Philadelphia has always been a good soccer town so that is a long-term prospect, but Gotham would have a claim to some cash or considerations to give up their territorial rights.

It is always difficult to handicap expansion candidates in American soccer, particularly in MLS, but I think that Atlanta and Salt Lake City are likely to be the next pair of NWSL expansion franchises—for different reasons—and likely for 2024 or 2025. For Atlanta—which is an extremely well-run MLS franchise—they would add to the coverage of the league along the Southeastern U.S. seaboard, along with Cary, North Carolina and Orlando in Florida. If Atlanta joins, the city would have been represented in all three women's professional soccer leagues (WUSA, WPS and NWSL). They had solid support in the WUSA but horrible ownership in WPS—though they had the first dedicated women's soccer facility in America at suburban Kennesaw State University with that league's Atlanta Beat. Real Salt Lake's new owners have an option to join the NWSL to replace the Utah Royals, who played in the city for three seasons 2018-2020, before moving back to their original home of Kansas City after their owner was forced to give up his MLS and NWSL franchises for a string of abuse (including racial) allegations against him and key staffers. The team drew well in the city in spite of missing the playoffs in 2018 and 2019 (averaging close to 11,00 fans and second only to Portland among league teams), with 2020 shortened because of COVID.

The one outlier from the list above is Minnesota, which joined the USL's W League for this summer and drew over 5,000 fans to their first game; the club has raised $1 million, when team budgets are typically under $100,000 for summer amateur leagues (in many cases well under that figure). They could be a possibility for a NWSL franchise in the future but more likely could step up to one of the new Division II women's leagues planned for 2023—including the USL's own Super League. We will discuss the Minnesota Aurora more in the weeks to come.

NWSL Regular Season Standings (as of June 13, 2022)—Part 1

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.

San Diego Wave (4-3-2, 15 points; Tied for First)

The expansion San Diego Wave has been stellar on the field, jumping out to four wins in their first five matches, as U.S. international Alex Morgan has led the way for the team and the league with nine goals—four from the penalty spot—and Canadian 2020 Olympic Gold Medalist Kailen Sheridan has posted three shutouts in nine appearances.

Morgan scored all four goals (two from the penalty spot) in a 4-0 home win over New Jersey/New York on May 7, becoming only the fourth player in league history to score four goals in a match, while her 14 shots set a league record for most shots in a game. She scored two in San Diego's 2-2 road tie on June 4 in Kansas City, with one a penalty kick.

The only other Wave scorers through the first seven games, with one each, have been English international Jodie Taylor (an 87th minute winner on the road at Houston in a 1-0 win on May 1, with an assist to Mexican international Katie Johnson) and American defender Kaleigh Riehl (25), who has found a home in San Diego after time with Gotham FC, Racing Louisville and Racing Paris in her first two seasons as a pro. Taylor Korneick, who played at the University of Colorado and won a UWS Championship with the LA Galaxy Orange County in 2019, has been an absolute revelation this year for the Wave and scored both goals in the last 10 minutes to salvage a 2-2 home tie against the Portland Thorns on June 8 in the club's eighth regular season match. She was capped by U.S. youth international sides and was loaned by the Orlando Pride (who picked her third overall in the 2020 NWSL College Draft) to Duisburg in Germany after the 2020 COVID-impacted season, and then played 22 games for the Pride in 2021, scoring twice. Kornieck said after the Thorns tie, "We kept pushing and pushing and never let up; that's what got us here. I couldn't have done it without Chris' [Christen Westphal] amazing assist and the incredible energy from the crowd." She talked about her growth in the league and impact with the Wave when she said, "I'm playing with some of the best players in the league and under Casey [Stoney], I feel so grateful. I've seen my growth over the last two years and I owe it all to this team." On June 13, U.S. national team head coach Vlatko Andonovski revealed that he had told Kornieck the day before the Thorns match that she was being selected for the full national team for the CONCACAF WWC Qualifiers next month in Mexico. He was pleased with her response in the Thorns game and the two goals. He felt that her call-up was, "an excellent reward for her growth in the game" and that he has been pleased with her development over the last two years in the league, but particularly in San Diego, under head coach Casey Stoney, who believes in her and, as a result, "she has become a better player."

Racing Louisville defeated the Wave 1-0 on May 18 in the Kentucky city. Assistant Coach Rich Gunney (a native of Wales who coached at Fulham's Women's Center for Excellence before coaching Wales's men's futsal national team and then was an assistant coach for five seasons with the Portland Thorns—meeting then Thorns head coach and English native Mark Parsons during his UEFA A License coaching school—before joining the Wave) ran the bench as head coach Casey Stoney could not be with the team due to COVID protocols. Australian international Emily van Egmond said after the match regarding the parity in the NWSL, "I definitely think it's the strongest league in the world. Credit to Louisville, they came out and gave a good performance.….Our defense was solid tonight, we just have to take our chances and be ruthless, not only in our attacking third but, again, a set piece cost us tonight. We have to look to be better towards North Carolina [a game which the Wave won in Cary 1-0 on May 22].

San Diego could use some other scorers to step up, particularly while Morgan will be with the USWNT in Mexico in CONCACAF qualifying in July, but the team has a solid core of players throughout the pitch and Casey Stoney is proving to be a genius as a coach in a brand-new country and setting for her.

Chicago Red Stars (4-3-1, 15 points, Tied for First)

U.S. international forward Mallory Pugh has been on fire with a brace in their May 22, 4-2 win at Orlando and is third in the league among goalscorers with five of Chicago's 12 goals thus far this season. Very few people expected Chicago to be tied for the league lead at this stage, a tremendously surprising start to the regular season after a coaching change and large turnover of players in the offseason. In addition, the side is missing a trio of U.S. national team veterans: midfielder Tierna Davidson (out for the season with a knee injury), midfielder Morgan Gautrat (out with a calf injury) and defender Casey Krueger (on maternity leave).

U.S. international Alyssa Naeher in goal always gives this side a chance and had two consecutive shutouts in June (three in total) and the defense is tightening up after a slow start when they allowed five goals in their first three regular season matches; now they have surrendered eight goals in eight matches—tied for fifth in the league. They are building off of a strong Challenge Cup run in the preseason (second in the Central Division to Racing Louisville with 2 wins and 2 ties in 6 matches).

Recent acquisition from Adelaide United, forward Chelsee Dawber (22) has yet to play a game this season. It will be interesting to see if she meshes with former Japanese international and 2011 WWC Winner Yuki Nagasato (34), who played last season in Louisville following five seasons in Chicago and time in Germany (Potsdam, Wolfsburg and Frankfurt) and England (Chelsea), but has yet to score this season in 6 matches.

Pugh and Naeher, as well as long-time Red Star midfielder Vanessa Di Bernardo, are key factors for Chicago to continue with their string of six consecutive playoff appearances. So far, ex-Southern Methodist University coach Chris Petrucelli has positioned the Red Stars well in his first season, but new signings—during the transfer window and in the off-season—will determine a lot long-term about how Chicago will play and his squad-building philosophy.

Portland Thorns (3-4-1, 13 points, Tied for Third)

This veteran team, now coached by former Canadian international Rhian Wilkinson, has U.S. national team WWC winners Becky Sauerbrunn and Meg Klingenberg in the back, while third-year star Sophia Smith (6 goals and second in the league) and Canadian international and all-time global international scoring leader Christine Sinclair (4 goals) lead the offense; Smith is easily on track to surpass her 2021 season total of 7 goals while the Thorns as a team tops the league with 15 goals. Bella Bixby has been stellar in goal and has four regular season shutouts in eight games. Janine Beckie joining from Man City is a huge plus for the offense once she gets used to playing back in the NWSL, after struggling for much of her four seasons at Manchester City for playing time during the regular season, while winning two FA and League Cups at City.

On June 3, in a 3-0 win against Angel City FC in Portland in front of 14,493 fans, Sinclair scored a brace, which put her tied for second all-time on the NWSL goal scorers list with 57, even with Lynn Williams (Kansas City Current). It was her 150th NWSL appearance, and she became only the fourth player to reach that total with one team. Sinclair and Smith both scored 5 days later in their 2-2 tie in San Diego.

On June 12, Portland defeated Houston 4-0 on the road with Sophia Smith scoring twice (once from the penalty spot) and one from sixteen-year-old Olivia Moultrie, her first career regular season goal in her second year at the club; Moultrie also added an assist on Smith's second goal. Moultrie is now the NWSL's youngest ever scorer, replacing former Thorn (and now Olympique Lyon of France Australian international Ellie Carpenter, who was 18 when she scored for the Thorns in 2018). Moultrie's first Thorns' goal came in the 2021 Women's ICC on August 18, 2021, at Providence Park in a 2-2 draw against the Dash.

In early June, the club announced the lineup for the Women's International Champions Cup later this summer that Portland will host, with all the teams qualifying by winning their league or as a tournament champion:

  • Portland Thorns—2021 NWSL Shield winners and 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup winners
  • C.F. MonterreyTorneo Grita MéxicoApertura 2021 winners
  • Olympique Lyonnais—2022 D1 Féminine winners, 2022 UEFA Women's Champions League winners
  • Chelsea FC Women—2022 FAWSL winners and 2022 FA Cup winners.

Portland will be looking to defend their WICC title, after defeating reigning WICC champions Olympique Lyonnais in a thrilling 1-0 victory last summer in Portland. Olympique Lyonnais has participated in all three previous versions of the WICC, winning the tournament in 2019. Chelsea, including former NWSL Australian star Sam Kerr, and Monterrey will make their WICC debut. The tournament will take place from August 17 to 20 at Providence Park, and will consist of four matches played as two doubleheaders. In the first doubleheader, Olympique Lyonnais will face off against Chelsea in an all-European clash and the Portland Thorns will play against Monterrey in an all-North American battle. This will set up a European vs. North American final on August 20th, as the winners from the first doubleheader meet for the WICC title. A third-place match will also take place on the same day. The WICC matches will be televised live in both English and Spanish on the ESPN networks in the United States and will be broadcast globally in over 140 territories.

Angel City FC (4-1-3, 13 points; Tied for Third)

Five games into the 2022 regular season, expansion side Angel City FC was one of the top two sides on the league table. They have slipped a bit since but are still doing very well in their first season and, off-the-field, they continue to be a juggernaut and an amazing sensation that women's soccer has never seen before. They began with a sellout crowd of 22,000 in their regular season debut, a 2-1 win over the North Carolina Courage on April 29, in a national broadcast. The game was historic as it was the first women's professional women's game in Los Angeles since the L.A. Sol (with Brazil's Marta) played one season in the WPS in 2009 before folding. There was equally as much focus on the star-powered investors of Angel City who attended the match, including Hollywood stars Natalie Portman, Jennifer Garner (who admitted that she knew next to nothing about the sport—not the best PR stance from a team owner) and tennis icon and women's rights activist Billie Jean King, but the club won 2-1 to send everyone home happy. Canadian international defender Vanessa Gilles and Japanese international forward Jun Endo (22) both scored within the first 13 minutes, with Endo assisting on the first goal and American midfielder Savannah McCaskill supplying the final pass on the second goal by Endo. Brazilian international Debinha reduced the deficit for the Courage in the 51st minute but the ACFC defense held out for their first ever regular season win.

New Zealand international defender Ali Riley, who won two WPS titles and played for years in Sweden, said after that first match, "I have waited for a moment like this for 12 years. I hoped to get drafted by the L.A. Sol, but the team folded before I had a chance and I've been all over the world. To be here with my parents here watching this game and for us to win and feel the love, the support; I think we proved that anything is possible in women's sports. I think there were a lot of doubters, maybe about the club or about our particular team and I think we really showed tonight that if you believe and you have the support of the community and this amazing club and ownership group, I think the sky is the limit for us. I know it is only game one, but it is a moment I will never forget."

Angel City midfielder Dani Weatherholt (who joined after two seasons in Tacoma with OL Reign and four seasons with the Orlando Pride as well as one offseason with the Melbourne Victory in 2018-19) said after the match, "This organization is so much more than just sport. It's so much bigger than the game. I think you see the support we have for one another and feeling that support from your fans and from the organization, it leads into the team. We really love and support each other, and we're going to keep pushing to have a successful season." The game attracted the second largest home crowd in league history for a NWSL team's first game, just behind Orlando Pride's 23,403 for their first game against Houston in 2016.

American international forward Christian Press (33) has two goals in eight games and as a team they have scored only 7 goals in 8 matches, ninth in the league. However, Press was injured when she twisted her knee and tore her ACL in the 3-2 win at Racing Louisville on June 11. Prior to her departure, she had scored once and provided an assist on one of Savannah McCaskill's two goals. Two days later, U.S. national team head coach Vlatko Andonovski admitted in a media call that, even before her injury, Press was not in the CONCACAF W Championship Finals side of 23, though she was on the 59-player provisional squad; she had taken a break from the game after the Olympics and has not played with the nats since Japan. She is crucial to the U.S. attack with her 64 goals and 43 assists in 115 national team appearances and we hope to see her at the Women's World Cup Finals next summer, which the U.S. is expected to qualify for. The ACFC defense has been quite strong with only 8 goals allowed—tied for fifth with three other sides—and Bosnia and Herzegovina international DiDi Haracic has three shutouts in eight starts.

Houston Dash (3-3-2, 12 points, Fifth)

Head Coach James Clarkson was the only head coach in the NWSL to begin the 2021 season and then start the 2022 preseason (see: The Week in Women's Football: NWSL 2022 Season Preview - Part 2; Melb Victory win A-League Women's play-offs; - Tribal Football) but he didn't make it to the regular season opener after player abuse allegations were uncovered in a league investigation; the team is being led by English native Sarah Lowdon (see more below).

The Dash's current placement is a bit of a surprise given their Challenge Cup results (tied for third with Louisville in the Central Division with 2 wins and 4 losses). The Dash were unbeaten in six consecutive matches after their opening game loss at home to San Diego (3 wins and 3 ties) and allowed only two goals in these six matches to rapidly propel them up the table. Rachel Daly has been hugely impactful as usual and is tied for the team lead with Canadian international Nichelle Prince for 4 goals, with Prince scoring a hat-trick in the 5-0 demolition of Orlando at home on June 3 in front of 6,073 fans, with the first hat-trick in the club's history. Daly is set to play for England at this summer's Women's EURO so the team needs to rack up the points while she is here. Prince is expected to be with Canada in Mexico for the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers during the same period. In the Orlando game, goalkeeper Jane Campbell recorded her third clean sheet of the season and the 19th of her career.

The Dash dropped their first game of the 2022 NWSL regular season 1-0 to NWSL newcomers San Diego Wave FC in the season opener on May 1 in front of 7,722 fans at their downtown Houston home of PNC Stadium. The announced attendance was the fourth-largest in Dash history and the largest for a regular-season opener since the team's inaugural match in 2014, which drew 8,097 fans. In a May 21 2-0 road win in Portland, Daly scored the 40th goal for the Dash in her career in all competitions while Canadian international veteran Sophie Schmidt scored the second goal. They tied on June 7 in Los Angeles (0-0) against Angel City FC in front of another fantastic crowd of 16,739 for the expansion franchise, though the score belied the amount of attacking action from both teams, particularly late in the game, while Dash keeper Jane Campbell earned her fourth clean sheet of the season (number 20 in the league). At home they crashed to a 4-0 loss to a rampant Portland Thorns attack on June 12.

Their loanee from Argentinian side UAI Urgquiza, Paulina Gramaglia (19), has been hurt so the club re-signed Natalie Jacobs to a short-term Injury Replacement contact on May 6, after the club lost former Washington Spirit and Arizona State University midfielder Cali Farquharson, who was placed on the 45-day disabled list. Farquharson signed a one-year deal just before the Challenge Cup tournament started in mid-March, after trying out for the team during preseason.

Clarkson's replacement is (acting) head coach Sarah Lowdon, who is a native of Newcastle, England. Sarah Lowdon joined Houston as an assistant coach from Penn State University during the 2022 NWSL preseason. While at Penn State, she served as a volunteer assistant coach with the Nittany Lions women's soccer program. Lowdon spent 10 years as an assistant coach, director of team operations as well as an instructor at Sam Houston State and the University of Florida. Lowdon has previously served as an assistant coach with the Dash from 2014 to 2016 under now University of Pittsburg and Nigerian national team head coach Randy Waldrum.


Dash acting head coach Sara Lowdon (in middle). Photo courtesy of Houston Dash

On June 1, two days before the Dash's 5-0 win at Orlando, Lowdon talked about Rachel Daley's impact on the team, "She's been key for this club and an integral part of their success. It's great that she's finally scoring goals, because that's what she's great at. I'm just trying to put her in a position where, you know, she's difficult to play against. I feel like she's kind of hitting her stride, in terms of where we started with the start of the season for the Challenge Cup, where I think she kind of struggled a little bit in the sense of just trying to get shots on goal or trying to basically be, you know, kind of dangerous….We want [her] to hit her stride and go out with a bang and continue that with the Euros."

She also talked about Argentinian international Paulina Gramaglia's progress back from her injury at the South American U-20 Women's World Cup qualifying tournament in April (see above), "She's making great progress. I chatted with her yesterday…. I think she's somebody that's progressed since she got here, and she's happy. She's happy to be in Houston. We'll continue to monitor her and hopefully at some point, she will get her opportunity."

She also discussed scouting Orlando ahead of their first meeting this season on June 3 (which the Dash won 5-0 at home), "I have resources, obviously, I'm going to use them…. Yeah, I've spoken to numerous people about Orlando, that's what I do with every team. The coaching world is small, and so you try and get any edge that you can…. I watched Orlando last year [and] followed them very closely. I went to some of their games, when it didn't kind of clash with the college realm. So, I've seen them play quite a bit."

She commented on stepping in so suddenly to the acting head coaching role and the changes that that has necessitated in her role, "It's been a transition for sure. I think now, I have some sort of structure, if you like, in the sense of, you know, at the very beginning, it was kind of, I was just trying to manage, while still I'm trying to manage the situation clearly. But I think now I have a lot more clear understanding of my roles, I've been able to delegate some things, because at the end of the day, I still have assistant coach duties as well as head coaching duties and kind of merging those together. So it's been kind of obviously a whirlwind. In the end, you know, I'm just trying to be here for the players and the staff and give them what they need to be successful. That's kind of what I've tried to do is just be that person that they can come to, an open-door policy, if you want to come in and suggest something needs to be changed. Like I'm all ears…. I'm willing to be collaborative. Everybody's been great and that's half the battle when you've got everybody going in the same direction." She added that some players have come to her to suggest changes, "There's definitely been some things that players have asked for and some things that you know, just the other day, they're on the field, and they see things and we're on the sideline. If they have something, I am willing to listen to anything and take on any suggestions…. like they've told me before 'you're in the acting head coach role and we will respect what decision you make,' but this is kind of some changes that we think but again, 'We'll respect what you what you do', and they've asked me to put my own stamp on things. So that's what I've just tried to do."

Note: On June 15, the Dash named Spanish women's club team coach Juan Carlos Amoros as their interim head coach. He is expected to arrive in Houston at the end of June. He coached the Real Betis Women's side last season to an uninspiring tie for ninth place with Sporting Huelva on a 7-10-13 (W-D-L) record for 31 points. He has previously been an assistant at Tottenham Hotspurs Women's side in England. In 2018-19, Amorós co-led the Spurs to a second-place finish in the FA Women's Championship League (second division) and promotion to the FA Women's Super League. Amoros (38) does hold a UEFA Pro Coaching License, the highest-level coaching badge in Europe.

I find this to be a bizarre hire and Lowdon, who has done a nice job (including a run of six unbeaten games) in a difficult situation, will move from acting head coach to the first assistant for the new interim head coach when he arrives; until then she will continue as acting head coach—what a mess. If Houston wanted to hire a Spanish coach, they should have looked at Lluis Cortes, the current national team manager of Ukraine, who won the UEFA Women's Champions League title in 2020-21 at Barcelona, along with the Spanish League and Cup. Cortes was awarded the title of Women's Best Club Coach in 2021 by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS). I don't see that title on Amoros' CV. Cortes might have cost the club more but the Dash has now replaced a solid, albeit new, coach with a largely unknown coach from Spain with a club that is not highly rated there. This could work out fine but I am highly skeptical and could be another landmark bad decision by a club that has made a number of bad moves since its launch in 2014. The fan base, which has been solid from the start, deserves better.

Dash defender Ally Prisock, a U.S. youth national team member who played at the University of Southern California, appeared in 16 games for GPSO 92 ISSY in France in the 2021/22 season but was recalled early in March when her loan deal was originally for the entire French league season. Prisock joined the Dash in 2019 as a 12th overall selection of the 2019 College Draft. She has played in four Challenge Cup and eight regular season games so far this season, after playing in 30 games in her previous three seasons with Houston. On June 1, she was asked about her time in France on loan, "It was just a whole different [world]. I mean, I didn't speak the language. There was probably, maybe max, like five girls on the team who could actually speak like English where you could have a conversation. So, I guess learning how to talk to people and like, getting to know people without being able to communicate was something that I kind of learned. But yeah, it was a lot of fun…. it was a blessing, being able to be the captain and that was really cool…. Playing defensive-mid was not what I went in to do…. it's kind of what our team needed." She added that she learned to adapt to the team's needs and mold herself to that role. She said, that she would probably still be playing in France to end the season if Megan (Oyster) Montefusco had not been traded to the Orlando Pride in the offseason.

OL Reign (2-4-2, 10 points, Sixth)

The Reign had a chaotic start to their regular season through no fault of their own. They started in Washington D.C. on May 5 with the regular season opener and then had to play the Challenge Cup semifinal three days later, even though OL Reign earned the right to host it with the best points record in the Cup's group stage, in order to reduce team travel and because the Seattle Sounders of MLS were hosting the CONCACAF Champions League Final second leg (winning the title on aggregate over UNAM Pumas of Mexico City). They lost the first game and regular season opener 2-1 and then the Challenge Cup semifinal on penalty kicks after a scoreless deadlock.

This season, their goalkeeping has been phenomenal, led by Phallon Tullis-Joyce, who has four shutouts in seven games and as a team have allowed a league second best low (to Houston) of 5 goals in seven games. Tullis-Joyce played at the University of Miami and then was a starter for two seasons at Stade de Reims in France, making 46 appearances in total.

Later in the month, head coach Laura Harvey discussed the Reign's 0-0 tie against the Washington Spirit in Seattle on May 22—their third game against the Spirit in less than a month—and felt that the club was finally getting beyond the Challenge Cup impact of condensed matches, having to play the semifinal on the road, and was now able to get into a true rhythm of training, traveling and preparing for matches. She thought that the team performed well in the May 22 game but was not punishing them [in attack] but was creating more changes than any of her past teams in the league (in Seattle or Utah over ten NWSL seasons).

This reporter also talked with new signing Nikki Stanton (31), who grew up in the Seattle area and played at Fairfield University in Connecticut this year. Stanton, a veteran midfielder, played in 14 matches for Chicago during the 2021 season, helping the team to the NWSL Championship match. In 2020, she played for Club Klepp IL in Norway's Toppserien, where she started and played in 15 matches for the team and scored two goals. Stanton has also spent time with Perth Glory in the W-League in Australia. She was a mainstay in the midfield, playing on loan for the Glory in four consecutive seasons, and is nearing 100 appearances in the NWSL after spending four seasons with Sky Blue FC [from 2014-2017]. Prior to playing in the NWSL, Stanton spent time with the Seattle Sounders Women summer amateur side. This reporter asked her about how difficult her integration was into the team and her thoughts on playing professionally at home in Washington State, "I have been welcomed into the team. I knew Laura [Harvey, head coach of OL Reign]. Playing at home is an actual dream of mine." She was attracted to the team's core culture, which she described as, "like none other—competitive but we get along and push each other and feel respected and valued."

Coach Harvey latched onto the idea of Stanton's upcoming 100 league games mark and mentioned that original OL Reign defender Lauren Barnes reaching 15,000 minutes played in the league recently as a testament to the longevity of the NWSL, "In year three we celebrated and in year ten we celebrate—we are all still here. It is a place for the next generation and not being stressed. They haven't had that in the past and [they] don't have to worry that they don't have a place to play after college. I hope in 20 years we are still celebrating [as a league]."

Harvey felt that, with the strong start to the regular season by the two expansion franchises [see above], "The amount of players in this country who can play at this level, it's frightening the talent [level]. It's good for the game here and abroad."

On May 29, the Reign made a major acquisition from England's WSL—Kim Little—from Arsenal. The loan will begin on June 1, 2022 and run up until the start of Arsenal's 2022/23 season. Little previously played for the Reign for three seasons (2014-2016), leading the team to the NWSL Championship Final in her first two seasons. The midfielder made 63 regular season NWSL appearances, starting in all but one match under head coach Laura Harvey. Little scored 32 goals and had 16 assists in the regular season, making her the all-time leading scorer in NWSL history while in Seattle. She led the Reign in goals in 2014 (16) and 2015 (10) and was named NWSL MVP in 2014. The 31-year-old started 69-of-73 games for Arsenal (2017-22) in the Women's Super League, scoring 27 goals and captaining the team during her return to Arsenal. In the 2018-19 season, Arsenal won the WSL title. In her first stint in Seattle, she played alongside Wales international midfielder Jess Fishlock, defender Lauren Barnes and U.S. international forward Megan Rapinoe during all three seasons with Seattle. Harvey said about Little coming back to Seattle, "Bringing Kim back to the PNW [Pacific Northwest] is huge, Kim will go down in history as one of the best players to ever play in the NWSL and to have the chance to work with her again is exciting. I'd like to thank Arsenal [where she used to coach] for helping make this happen. This is a unique opportunity for us and one that we felt could be a huge impact on our squad in a crazy summer schedule. Kim's ability and experience will be crucial for us to help continue to push our performances forward and help continue the growth of our young squad." Prior to joining the Reign, Little was at Arsenal (2008-2013) and won five league titles in addition to three FA Cups with the club during that time. Additionally, the international superstar has played for both the Scotland and Great Britain national teams, nearing 150 games and 60 goals for the former.

In other player news, Tziarra King (23), who the Reign acquired ahead of the 2021 season in a trade with Utah, re-signed with the Seattle-based side for the next two years, with a club option for 2024. The NC State graduate was a first-round draft pick in 2020 and played well in her first professional season with the Utah Royals, a team that moved to Kansas City in 2021. She has two goals in six regular season matches this season.

After OL Reign acquired her rights in a college draft-day trade with Orlando ahead of this season, Phoebe McClernon signed a two-year deal similar to King's, which includes a one-year option in 2024. The 24-year-old defender was selected 14th overall in the 2020 NWSL College Draft from the University of Virginia. After playing in Sweden due to Orlando's withdrawal from the 2020 Challenge Cup, McClernon was a mainstay on the backline for the Pride in 2021. She made 25 appearances for Orlando, earning 19 starts and winning 75% of her tackles. McClernon wasn't shy in sharing her excitement for the opportunity in a club press release, "I am thrilled to be continuing my career with OL Reign! In addition to Laura Harvey's stellar reputation, it's clear that the club as a whole is striving to make OL Reign one of the best clubs in the world and I am extremely excited to be a part of that and learn from so many people I have looked up to for so long."

The Reign also signed first-round draft pick Zsani Kaján for the 2022 season with a team option for the 2023 season. Kaján was selected by OL Reign in the first round of the 2022 NWSL Draft, with the 8th overall pick, from St. John's University. The Budapest, Hungary native is a member of the Hungarian Women's National Team, earning her first cap with the squad at just 16 years old. In 2021, Kajan scored 17 goals and six assists and was named Big East Offensive Player of the Year and Second-Team All-American honors. She was just the third St. John's player to be named an All-American, joining NWSL standout and England international Rachel Daly on the shortlist.

At press time, it was announced that the Reign had acquired the NWSL rights to two-time Women's World Cup winner Tobin Heath from Racing Louisville for $50,000 in allocation money, a second-round pick in the 2023 NWSL Draft and a natural fourth-round pick in the same draft. The Reign and Heath still have to agree to personal terms. Heath played this season for Arsenal in the WSL but injuries limited her to only nine games in the league and four UEFA WCL games. Heath played from 2013-2019 with the Portland Thorns and her return to the Pacific Northwest is a big boost to Laura Harvey's side. Regular game time should also help her in her quest for a 2023 WWC spot as she is not in Vlatko Andonovski's CONCACAF W Championship squad for next month in Mexico.

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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