The Week We Conclude with Our NWSL Season Five Preview and announce another UWS Franchise that will play in the Western New York area this summer.
NWSL Season Five Preview—Part 2
This week, we preview the remaining five NWSL teams as the league's fifth regular season started last week: FC Kansas City, Sky Blue FC, Houston Dash, Orlando Pride and Boston Breakers Last week we looked at Portland Thorns, Washington Spirit, Chicago Red Stars, North Carolina Courage and Seattle Reign this week. We are presenting the teams in order of last season's regular season finish.
FC Kansas City—Tied for Sixth--7-5-8 for 26 points
FC Kansas City won league crowns over Seattle in the 2014 and 2015 finals and head coach Vlatko Andonovski was looking forward to some top shelf returning talent, including U.S. internationals Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux—who sat out last year on maternity leave—along with former international goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart and national team pool midfielder Erika Tymrak, who scored two goals this winter for title winning Melbourne City. After losing Lauren Holiday after the 2015 season, Andonovski saw Heather O'Reilly move to Arsenal after the 2016 season ended. However, after their opening game last weekend, in which both Leroux and Rodriguez scored in a 2-0 win over Boston at home, the Blues have to deal with another loss, as Rodriguez tore her ACL in the second half and will be lost for the season. Andonovski said after the game, “I'm extremely sorry for what happened to Amy. She worked so hard to come back from pregnancy and looked better than ever before. It is unfortunate that she is not going to be able to play this season. We'll miss her on the field, in the locker room, and in training. Her enthusiasm is contagious." Rodriguez is a significant setback for a team in desperate need to improve on their scoring rate—netting only 18 last season, with only the Boston Breakers behind them (14 goals). Shea Groom had 8 goals last season and will now have help only from LeRoux. Christina Gibbons, who played at Duke University and was the fifth overall pick in the 2017 NWSL College Draft, will be looked upon to play significant minutes in defense. With only two internationals on the roster (Desiree Scott of Canada and Katie Bowen of New Zealand, though Scott counts as a Canadian Federation Allocation rather than an import signing), Andonovski has considerable room to add a few imports—most likely prioritizing a forward and a midfielder—during the season.
Sky Blue FC—Tied for 6th Place 7-5-8 for 26 points
Imports and 2016 rookies Leah Galton (England) and Raquel Rodriguez (Costa Rica) adjusted well to the professional game last season after collegiate careers in the U.S. at Hofstra and Penn State Universities respectively, with Galton scoring 3 goals and 4 assists and putting herself firmly on England's National Team radar. Sky Blue, coached by Northern Irishman Christy Holly, needs to step up and support Australian international Sam Kerr, who was phenomenal last winter at Perth Glory with 10 goals. In defense, the side still resides on American veterans Kelly O'Hara and Christie Rampone. Kailen Sheridan (Canada) was a good selection from Clemson University in the draft at goalkeeper but this team lacks depth and could use an infusion of new talent in the back and some international flair up front to support Kerr. Like FC KC, with three internationals signed, they could add an import during the season.
Houston Dash—8th Place—6-4-10 for 22 points
Here we go again—the Dash enters its fourth season with a strong fan base—an average attendance of 5,696 for third in the league—but still looking for their first playoff berth despite having American international midfielders Carli Lloyd—after her loan spell with Manchester City—and Morgan Brian in the midfield. Canadian forward Janine Beckie had 3 goals and 2 assists in 14 games around Rio Olympics duty and look to her to have a breakout season; she is joined by fellow Maple Leaf and rookie Nichelle Prince (Ohio State University). American forward Kealia Ohai had 11 goals and 4 assists and was capped during the off-season. Brazilian imports. Poliana, Andressa and Bruna Benites of Brazil. along with English international Rachel Daly—who had a solid first year with 4 goals and 4 assists in 16 matches—are key imports. Other imports include Irish international and ex-Glasgow City forward Denise O'Sullivan (2 goals and 2 assists in 2016) and South African international defender Janine Van Wyk, a new signing for 2017. Waldrum also has a few new Americans: American forward Sarah Hagen was a late pickup on wavers after Orlando Pride cut her—she played collegiately at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and for two successful seasons at Bayern Munich. Cami Levin (ex-Stanford and Gothenburg of Sweden) also came to the Dash from Orlando this week, in a trade for a 2018 College Draft Selection. The Dash is strong at goalkeeper with Australian international Lydia Williams starting but Mexican international Bianca Henninger was jettisoned for rookie Jane Campbell (Stanford), who was capped at the full level against Russia earlier this month, after being an institution on various youth international level teams. Waldrum reportedly lost the dressing room last year—the Dash have the talent but if they start out slow—it could be bye bye Randy, who has made no secret that he wants to coach a major international side like the U.S. or Canada (sorry Trinidad and Tobago—that was just a temp arrangement that ultimately didn't help the Dash or T&T).
Note: Daly and Ohai scored in the Dash's 2-0 opening weekend win over Chicago Red Stars but then the Dash were blasted 5-1 in Seattle (who they have never defeated in 8 games) on April 22.
Orlando Pride—Ninth—6-1-13 for 19 points
For better or worse, Orlando's 2017 season can be summed up in one word—Marta. The Brazilian superstar signed last week from Rosengard of Sweden. In three seasons in WPS from 2009 through 2011, she won three titles and played in every final. She could have the same effect as Kaka has had on Orlando FC's MLS side—both on the field and off. Marta's signing is a coup for the league but expectations will be huge, particularly as the long held assumption by many that they were a shoe-in to host the 2017 Final Game was confirmed this week, which will be held on Saturday, October 14. The Final will be played at the new Orlando City Stadium, a privately-funded, 25,500-seat stadium features a natural grass playing surface and a four-sided canopy roof to keep noise in and weather out, as well as North America's only safe-standing supporters' section. It also features 49 rainbow colored seats in Section 12 as a tribute to the victims of the tragedy at Pulse Nightclub on June 12, 2016. NWSL has used a designated site arrangement to give the host club time to prepare and presell tickets since 2015's final in Portland. Former U.S. and Australian national team coach Tom Sermanni has some other well-known players on the side with 2015 World Cup winners Alex Morgan (4 goals and 1 assist in 15 games) up front when she returns on loan from Lyon around early June, Ashlyn Harris (1.33 GAA in 15 games) in goal and Ali Kreiger in defense, who was traded from the Washington Spirit during their offseason fire sale. Marta will have two Brazilian teammates Monica Hickman Alves (Brazil) and Camilla Martins Pereira (Brazil). There will be three Australian internationals on the side as well this season: Alanna Kennedy joins holdovers Laura Alleway and Steph Catley. Rookie Rachel Hill, whose rights the Pride acquired in January, is currently finishing up her senior year at the University of Connecticut and will join the team at a later date.
Note: After losing to Portland Thorns 2-0 on April 15 before 16,145 Rose City fans, Orlando hosted Washington on April 22 as 14,452 saw Marta enter the game in the 59th, for her historic debut in NWSL. Danish international Line Sigvardsen-Jensen gave the Spirit the lead a minute later, but another substitute—rookie Danica Evans (ex-University of Colorado/University of Portland)—scored for the Pride to give them a share of the points (1-1).
The Boston Breakers—Tenth--3-2-15 for 11 points
The Beantown team has 12 new faces this season after a tremendous clear-out of the old guard by Liverpool head coach Matt Beard. Last season was not a reflection of Beard's coaching ability but rather indicates how truly poor the team was that he inherited. Former Reds American goalkeeper Libby Stout (2.10 GAA in 10 games) and English international forward Natasha Dowie were quality additions and Dowie scored 9 goals for Melbourne Victory this past winter. They are joined by another former Red: Portuguese international and ex-Florida State University midfielder Amanda Da Costa—a former Tribal Football contributor when she played at Liverpool. Midfielder Rose Lavelle—the top draft pick in the 2017 College Draft—has been a revelation in midfield for the U.S. National Team this spring and could be a superstar in Boston. Morgan Andrews of USC—number three pick in January—is from New England and has U.S. youth national team experience. They are joined by other new Breakers signings including: Canadian international Adriana Leon (ex-Western New York Flash and FC Zurich) and New Zealand midfielder Rosie White, who both led the Breakers with four goals and one assist each during the 2017 preseason, Canadian defender and Olympic bronze medalist Allysha Chapman, Norwegian forward Emilie Haavi, and defender Amanda Frisbie, a little used backup the past few years with FC Kansas City and Western New York who then won the
2016 Úrvalsdeild championship in Iceland with Stjarnan, after a collegiate career at the University of Portland. Look to Boston to struggle early as they find a balance and harmony; a late season push led by Leon and Lavelle could fall short.
Western New York Flash's Departure has resulted in two area UWS Sides
With the Western New York Flash leaving Buffalo/Rochester for North Carolina in 2017 last January, the Flash organization joined UWS in March for a Buffalo-based club. Now Rochester (an hour east where most Flash WPS/NWSL games were played in a soccer specific stadium) has also joined the 2 year old semiprofessional loop. The Rochester Lady Lancers—taking the name of the original NASL franchise from the 1970's—will play their games at the Wegmans Sports Complex. UWS League Director Joe Ferrara, Jr. said: “We are so excited to have the Rochester Lancers join United Women's Soccer…The entire Lancers organization have shown a passionate commitment to the sport of soccer and the city of Rochester. Historically, soccer in Rochester is on par with any city in the United States. There are certain criteria in a UWS sports franchise that we want our clubs to embody and the Lancers have it all. From professionalism on and off the field to community and public relations, the Lancers will be a positive beacon in the league." Monroe Community College Assistant Women's Soccer Coach Loren Inglese (a Rochester native) will serve as the Lady Lancers' General Manager and Head Coach while MCC Head Women's Soccer Coach Sal Galvano will be Associate Head Coach. There should be some good derbies this summer between the Buffalo and Rochester franchises, as well as another new Northwestern New York side—the Syracuse Developmental Academy—who joined in February.
Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribalfootball. His latest book is Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.
Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey