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The Week in Women's Football: Priestman named Canada coach; FA Cup final review; LA gets new NWSL team

We look at the selection of the new Canadian Women's National Team head coach, who is someone very familiar to fans of the women's game in England and Canada, review the 2019-20 FA Cup Final from Wembley and have some news from the NWSL, including a few player trades.

Bev Priestman is named as Canada's women's national soccer team head coach

Thirty-four year old Bev Priestman—who has been with the women's national team programs of New Zealand, Canada and England—was appointed as Canada's women's national team head coach on October 28, replacing Kenneth Heiner-Moller, who resigned in July to return to his native Denmark for a coaching education role with the Danish Football Federation. Priestman was with Canada for five years as a coach and now will lead the nation in its quest for a third consecutive Olympic Games medal next summer in Tokyo. Priestman, a native of Consett, England, was the head coach of the women's under-17 and under-20 teams in Canada and assisted now Canadian men's national team coach John Herdman at the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics. She followed Herdman from New Zealand to Canada when he was appointed women's national team coach in the fall of 2015. For the last two years, she has been the head coach of England's under-18 and under-17 national teams and an assistant for Phil Neville at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup in France, where the Lionesses finished fourth. She was a candidate to replace Neville who resigned earlier this year but the FA went with successful Dutch WNT head coach Sarina Wiegman. Priestman now will lead Canada in her first full national team head coaching role.

Priestman told the media on October 28, "I'm extremely privileged, excited and honored to lead a team who have a rich history in the women's game. It definitely feels like I'm coming home....I understand the landscape, country and people I will be working with." She said that she would keep things simple with her tactical plans as there are only 9 months before the rescheduled Olympic Games in Japan, which Canada qualified for in February by finishing second to the Americans in CONCACAF qualifying.

This reporter asked her about her thoughts—with the explosion of interest and top quality players in the FA WSL over the past 12-18 months (as she has been coaching in England for the past two season) and the success of the launch of the national men's Canadian Premier League (CPL)—on developing a Canadian national women's league in the country. Interestingly, she talked about continuing the relationship with the NWSL where the CSA pays for about a dozen national team player salaries every year (a total of 9 in 2019) with Christine Sinclair of Portland and Sophie Schmidt of Houston being most prominent of the group. Priestmen replied that, "There is still a willingness by the CSA to bring a pro team to Canada, with the right climate and situation." The distinction between a professional team and a national league is crucial. Priestman did not talk about a league and neither did Canada Soccer President Steven Reed or CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani (of Canada), who was also on the call. We can assume that a Canadian women's league (ala the CPL on the men's side) looks far off in the future. In a country that has more female soccer players than men, with a team that is ranked 8th in the world by FIFA and always prioritized the women over the men with national team funding (to the expressed disgust of one former Canadian men's national team coach who confided to me his frustration in the past), why haven't there been more efforts for a national league?

As a possible benchmark, the Canadian Premier League completed its second season this fall in a bubble in remote Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island in Eastern Canada. After having 7 teams in the first season in 2019—from Halifax, Nova Scotia to suburban Victoria, B.C.—the league added an eighth team in the Capital City of Ottawa. Against all expectations, it held a successful tournament labeled The Island Games in September. The CPL was able to stage a fall tournament when the Canadian Football League (gridiron code that was founded in 1958 but traces its roots from earlier leagues back to the 1930's and their teams compete for the Grey Cup symbolizing the national champion, which was first awarded in 1909), could not organize any games this year, essentially because the Canadian government would not loan it $30 Million dollars to do a 'bubble' tournament in Winnipeg.

Despite not having a national men's league since the Canadian Soccer League in 1987-1992, the CPL has launched nicely and is active in the international player loan market in CONCACAF and Europe, while two-time league champion FC Forge of Hamilton is doing well in CONCACAF club play. Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver have teams in the U.S. Soccer Federation-launched Major League Soccer.

Vancouver has been discussed for years as a possible location for a Canadian-based expansion team but talks with the NWSL fell apart again in the summer of 2018. Vancouver Whitecaps GM Bob Lenarduzzi, who once played at Reading before a long career in the original North American Soccer League with the Whitecaps primarily, explained his team's efforts to join the NWSL in 2018, "We spent close to two years just trying to put all the pieces together, to actually launch a women's team. It was something that we dedicated a lot of time to. We did make some significant strides. We had some partnership sponsors, companies that were prepared to step up in a pretty significant way. That was coming together nicely. Ultimately we were in dialogue with the NWSL throughout the whole process. We thought we were aligned with what their thinking was, and they were aligned with what our thinking was, and primarily that came down to–we wanted to make sure that we could provide spots for as many Canadian players as possible…. Players that were coming back from elsewhere, and the kids that are in our (Girls Elite) REX program, to be promoted from. At the very end, we couldn't come to an agreement on [it]….Being a Canadian franchise, our objective again, we didn't want to be another franchise. We wanted it to be something that was representative of our country, and primarily that would mean, we'd have as many Canadian players on the roster as possible." The Vancouver Whitecaps were longtime members of the USL's now defunct W-League, winning league titles in 2004 and 2006, finishing runners-up in 2001 and 2010, and finished third in 2002 and 2011. They had numerous Canadian national team members in their squad along with selected international from abroad and were strongly committed to the advancement of the women's game, particularly Lenarduzzi.

According to reports, the major obstacle was that the Whitecaps wanted to field a primarily Canadian franchise but had push-back from NWSL, which ultimately wants to see Americans on every team, since it is started and still has U.S. Soccer Federation investment funds.

Priestman has a bachelor's in Science and Football from Liverpool John Moores University. For England, she most recently served as their coach of England's women's under-18 team that will feature in the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in India, rescheduled for next year due to the global pandemic. Priestman will move to Vancouver which will be her home base.

Priestman is three years younger than Canadian national team captain Christine Sinclair, the all-time women's international goalscoring leader. She won the position over Rhian Wilkinson (38), who led the Canadian and U-17 Women's national team to the semifinals in Uruguay and played 181 times for Canada between 2003 and 2017. Wilkinson has also worked with the U-21 national side and assisted the full Canadian team in France last summer. Other noted candidates reportedly were: Daniel Worthington, Kenneth Heiner-Møller's other assistant coach, a 40-year-old Englishman who has been with the Canada Soccer national team programs since 2010. Worthington was the Head Coach for Canada at the 2015 Pan-Am Games in Toronto, just after the WWC in Canada, and finished fourth with a young roster, many of whom are in the full national team pool. Other names mentioned were Laura Harvey, now U.S. U-20 national team coach. Another native of England where she led Arsenal to three league titles and one FA Cup between 2008 and 2012, she coached seven successful seasons in the NWSL in Seattle and Salt Lake City, taking the Reign to the NWSL title game in two consecutive seasons in 2014-15 with the best regular season title each year. Jill Ellis, English ex-pat, who led the U.S. to two consecutive Women's World Cup titles in 2015 and 2019, inevitably is linked to any top national team job and will be for a while. A list of finalists for the position has not been released at press time.

2019-20 FA Cup Final

Manchester City defeated Everton 3-1 in overtime on November 1, with a first half goal from U.S. international Sam Mewis to start the squad in the right direction before French international scoring sensation Valerie Gauvin knotted the tie for Everton in the 60th minute. City lifted the Cup with goals from substitutes and English international Georgia Stanway and Canadian international Janine Beckie in overtime. Man City manager Gareth Taylor said after the game that he was never concerned about the final result despite Everton's second-half fightback, "We dominated huge portions of the game. It was always tight. I still felt comfortable at 1-1. If we kept sticking to our principles I knew we'd be OK. I'm super proud of the players and this builds us a great platform."

The game was an historic 50th edition of the Women's FA Cup Final but unfortunately was played before an empty stadium due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Everton Manager Willie Kirk said after the game, "First of all I'm immensely proud of the players, the staff and everything that went into the preparations for the final. Unfortunately someone's got to lose today. We matched them all the way into extra time and even created chances up until the final whistle. City are deserved winners, but they had to be deserved winners because we pushed them hard. They had that little edge."


A Shortened but Overall Successful 2020

The 2020 NWSL season is now over after completing the Fall Series with 4 games each for the league teams, divided into three team regional pods. Besides staging a summer bubble competition that was the first of its kind in America while becoming the first professional sports league to begin playing again in late June—ahead of the NBA, Major League Baseball and Major League soccer—and a fall series staged in each of the 9 clubs home venues, they have seen also seen record television viewing figures. The NWSL Fall Series games on national network CBS averaged 383,000 viewers. The league's seven contests on CBS, which also streamed live on CBS All Access, were the seven-most watched games in NWSL history, and year-over-year, NWSL domestic television audiences were up nearly 500%. A record 653,000 viewers watched the NWSL Challenge Cup final in which Houston defeated Chicago 2-0 on national television. The league also saw significant additional streaming audiences on Twitch, with the result that more people were watching the NWSL and professional women's soccer, week-in and week-out, than at any moment in history. NWSL mentions on social platforms also increased by 152% year-over-year, with NWSL coverage in news media showing a 55% gain.

Commissioner Lisa Baird, who started her new job in March as the pandemic shut down all sporting events, has done a phenomenal job, particularly in keeping sponsors involved and adding to the leagues list. The NWSL also supported player and team protests to support Black Lives Matter from the opening day of the tournament, setting the stage for other leagues which started later in the summer (including Major League Soccer, the NBA and Major League Baseball) to continue this important fight.

Expansion update

Further good news for the league is that two new franchises are entering the league over the next two seasons, Racing Louisville FC in Kentucky for 2020 and Angel City Football Club in Los Angeles in 2021, with Sacramento Republic (USL Championship which is also moving to MLS) also still likely to join over the next year or two..

For Angel City, they recently added more well-known investors to their club including Tennis legend and a long-time leader of women's and LGBTQ+ social activities icon Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss (a former Women's Tennis Champion and the long-time CEO of World Team Tennis), WNBA Legend Candace Parker and her daughter Lailaa, Gold Medalist and Alpine Skiing Legend Lindsey Vonn, Gold Medalist and NHL-All Star PK Subban, Latin Pop Superstar Becky G, Actress and Activist Sophia Bush, Actor and Late Night host James Corden, Model Jasmine Tookes, MLS/US Soccer legend and Sports Broadcaster Cobi Jones, NFL All-Pro Ryan Kalil, Media Investor and MLS Co-Owner Ben Grossman (Minnesota United), Private Investor Deirdre DeLany, and Media Executive Brian Sullivan.

They join previous investors like Academy Award-winning actress and activist Natalie Portman, technology venture capitalist Kara Nortman, media and gaming entrepreneur Julie Uhrman, and venture capitalist, 776 founder & Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian along with14 former U.S. women national team players including Julie Foudy, Abby Wambach and Mia Hamm.

NWSL Player Updates

In player news, a big three way club trade was made with Crystal Dunn—a U.S. 2019 Women's World Cup Winner and 2015 NWSL MVP with Washington—going to the Portland Thorns from the North Carolina Courage by way of OL Reign, who sent goalkeeper Casey Murphy to North Carolina. In Washington, Dunn played for current Thorns coach Mark Parsons. The Thorns sent the Reign an international roster spot for the 2021 season and Portland's natural first-round pick in the 2022 NWSL College Draft. OL Reign will receive $150,000 in allocation money, $50,000 on January 1, 2021 and additional allocation money conditioned upon Dunn's future playing status in the NWSL. The Courage, besides receiving Murphy, received allocation money of $140,000, which will be paid over two years: $65,000 in 2021 and $75,000 in 2022.

This trade allowed Dunn to live in Portland with her husband, much like fellow national teamer Becky Sauerbrunn did the year before. On a media call during national team camp the week of the trade, she called Portland, "an amazing city with so many fans that energized her" when she played there as an opposing player. She was also happy to rejoin Parsons, who was her first professional coach.

The 2021 season will mark Dunn's seventh season in the NWSL. Dunn (28) began her professional career with the Washington Spirit (2014-16) and played the last three seasons (2018-2020) with the North Carolina Courage while playing one season (2017) with Chelsea in the FA Women's Super League. Individually, Dunn won the NWSL MVP in 2015 along with the Golden Boot, scoring a league-best 15 goals, earned NWSL Best XI accolades in 2015 and 2018, and NWSL Second XI honors in 2016 and 2019. During her NWSL career, Dunn has appeared in 89 games (81 starts), recording 32 goals and 20 assists. With North Carolina, Dunn won back-to-back NWSL Shields and NWSL Championships in 2018 and 2019. In three seasons with the Courage, Dunn appeared 35 regular-season matches (32 starts), recording 15 goals and nine assists. In 2020, Dunn appeared in five games (four starts) during the NWSL Challenge Cup, tallying one goal. She also helped lead Washington to the 2016 NWSL Championship game, scoring two goals in the final match. For U.S. Women's National Team, Dunn has made 104 appearances, tallying 24 goals and 17 assists. Dunn also won the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in 2012.

Murphy joins the Courage from OL Reign where she has been the team's starting goalkeeper since signing a contract with the team in May of 2019. During her first year in the NWSL, the 24-year-old made 20 starts, recorded six clean sheets, and made 79 saves. Against the NC Courage in the 2019 NWSL Semifinal, Murphy made a season-high and NWSL career-high 11 saves. NC Courage head coach Paul Riley said, "Casey is a young, super talented goalkeeper. She has a ton of fantastic qualities and as she garners experience; we thoroughly expect her to be banging on the USWNT door. She comes to a team with a consistent, dynamic lineup and that will help her settle and grow into a bonified exceptional professional goalkeeper." Murphy played in six matches and had three clean sheets during the shortened 2020 season. She made six saves during the Challenge Cup and 18 saves during the Fall Series. Murphy was drafted 13th overall in the 2018 NWSL draft out of Rutgers but decided to play for Montpellier in the Division 1 Féminine in France in 2018 and 2019 before coming back to the States. She made 29 total appearances over the two years and was named the French League's Goalkeeper of the Year in 2018. She was also voted to the Best XI.

In Murphy's case the trade is obviously done with the expansion draft in mind, with Racing Louisville FC being able to select players off of each team's roster after a certain number have been protected by the clubs. The Courage now has three top flight keepers in Murphy, Steph Labbe of Canada and Caitlyn Rowland. The club could protect 11 players from selection and they later named Murphy, leaving Labbe and Rowland vulnerable to selection. We will cover and explain the somewhat complicated expansion team draft process later this month, as it is set for the evening of November 11.

The Thorns also signed Finnish international defender Natalia Kuikka to a two-year deal, beginning with the 2021 NWSL season. Following a standout collegiate career at Florida State from 2015-18, Kuikka, 24, signed with Damallsvenskan side Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC of the Swedish first division. Across all-competitions with Göteborg FC, Kuikka has appeared in 45 matches, tallying six goals. Göteborg FC currently sits atop the 2020 Damallsvenskan standings and Kuikka has played in all 19 matches, scoring four goals. In 2019, she helped Göteborg FC finish runner-up in the league, appearing in 19 matches. Thorns FC head coach Mark Parsons, "Natalia is a modern, ball-playing defender with a great range of passing, who also has the characteristics of a no-nonsense defender who loves to defend. Her character and team-first attitude will add to the strength of our locker room."

At the international level, Kuikka has earned 52 international caps, tallying three goals with the Finland Women's National Team, and was named Finland's Women's Player of the Year in 2017. She featured at the 2013 UEFA Women's Championship, playing in all three matches of the group stage and also played in the 2014 U-20 FIFA Women's World Cup. At Florida State, Kuikka appeared in 79 matches (78 starts), recording nine goals and 11 assists. During her season senior in 2018, Kuikka helped guide the Seminoles to a National Championship and was named to the College Cup All-Tournament Team, while also earning United Soccer Coaches All-American Second Team honors.

Chicago Red Stars news

The Chicago Red Stars made a major trade with expansion side Racing Louisville FC and one of their loanees to Europe is out with a significant injury. On October 23, they traded U.S international forward Savannah McCaskill, Japanese international midfielder Yuki Nagasato, the 5th overall selection in the 2021 NWSL Draft, and an international slot for 2021 and 2022 to Louisville. In exchange for full roster protection in the 2020 NWSL Expansion Draft. This means that Chicago will have no players selected by Louisville during that draft.

Chicago Red Stars goalkeeper Emily Boyd has suffered tears to her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL) in her knee. Selected 15th overall by Chicago in the 2018 NWSL College Draft, Boyd has made 13 appearances for Chicago. She has five clean sheets and 28 saves in her career. Boyd joined Danish side HB Køge on loan following the Challenge Cup and played in 8 matches. Koge is currently tied for the league lead with Brondby with 26 points after 12 games, but Koge has a sizeable advantage in goal difference (+18 to +8). Long-time power Fortuna Hjorring is a point behind with 25 points after 12 games in what promises to be a very interesting conclusion to the season.

James Clarkson is awarded a Contract Extension in Houston

In Houston, head coach James Clarkson—who took on the role in 2019 and led the club to unprecedented success in 2020, including the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup title in July and second place in the Fall Series—has signed a new contract with the club. The 2021 season will be the Wisbech, England native's 14th season with the Houston Dynamo/Dash organization and he has compiled a record of 14-6-15 (W-D-L) record across all competitions, including a mark of 7-1-2 in 2020. His leadership was crucial during the 2020 campaign, which was interrupted on multiple occasions by the global coronavirus pandemic. He took on the Dash role in 2019 after spending more than a decade with the Houston Dynamo Academy, most recently as the director of youth development. Clarkson oversaw the creation of the Dynamo Academy program in 2007, helping develop 10 players who have signed professionally with the first team in MLS.

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 your copy today.

Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey

Tim Grainey
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