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The Week in Women's Football: UWS amateur league growth in North America; Pugh reflects on Washington Spirit decision; NWSL PA established

This week we present a look at the amateur UWS league in North America, which has grown from 11 clubs to 20 since its inaugural season in 2016, as well some news from the NWSL, including thoughts from Mallory Pugh on leaving college at age 19 to play professionally with the Washington Spirit rather than in Europe.


UWS starts its second season after considerable offseason expansion

The United Women's Soccer League (UWS) has seen an increase of teams this season, up from 11 in 2016—it's inaugural season—to 20, as well adding as its first Canadian team in Calgary, as it works to establish itself as a natural successor from the USL W-League as the top semipro loop in North America. The W-League folded after the 2015 campaign, completing 21 consecutive seasons with 18 teams in its final season. This year, with a brand new division in the Midwest with 7 new franchises—three in Indiana, a trio from Michigan and one from Northwestern, Ohio (Toledo Ohio)—the league will hold a four team national final tournament the weekend of July 21-23. In the East Conference, the TSF Academy Valkyries did not return from 2016 but three new sides came in: New York Surf, Rochester Lancers and Western New York Flash, while Syracuse Development Academy joined the WPSL after declaring in February that they were bound for the UWS. In the West Conference, So Cal Crush and Calgary Foothills replace the Colorado Pride and Colorado Storm, who had both played in the W-League.

Below we highlight some of players and key aspects of teams in each of the three Conferences

East Conference

Defending East Conference champions New Jersey Copa F.C. got off to a strong start in defending their United Women's Soccer (UWS) regional title in 2016 with a 6-0 win over expansion side Rochester Lady Lancers on May 13. Last year, NJCFC fell in the Championship Final to Santa Clarita (California) Blue Heat by a narrow 2-1 margin. New Jersey Copa returns UWS Player of the Year and forward Krystyna Freda, who after a tryout last season with the NWSL Western New York Flash, played with Apollon Ladies in Cyrus and re-joined Copa for their second game. Last season Freda tallied 15 goals and 3 assists to lead the league. Forward Jeanine Nunez, who will be a senior at Adelphi University this fall, also is back for her second season, as is midfielder Jackie Bruno (ex-University of Massachusetts and now an assistant coach at Wagner College on Staten Island). Copa has two young goalkeepers, both with three years of collegiate eligibility left, with Penn State goalkeeper Bristol Pizzuto as a new addition, joining returnee Andrea Leitner (University of Albany).

Long Island Rough Riders have 31-year-old Sue Weber-Alber as captain again in the center of the defense, returning for her eighth season with the club. Weber-Alber played at Hofstra University and in WPS. U.S. U-23 international goalkeeper Diana Poulin (ex-St. John's University) also returns to the Rough Riders backline.

Western New York Flash look to capture their fifth national championship in their fifth different league in team history, having joined UWS after their 2016 NWSL championship franchise was sold to interests in North Carolina. Incoming freshman Florida State forward Maddie Pezzino is the all-time girl's goal scoring leader at the high school level in New York State (251 goals) and played two seasons in WPSL with the Empire Revs.

New York Surf announced in April that they will serve as the amateur affiliate of the NWSL's Sky Blue FC this year.Midfielder Furtuna Velaj, an Albanian international with 24 caps, played collegiately at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut before playing in Canada, Finland, Germany and Norway. She once played for the Boston Breakers in WPSL Elite in 2012 after the WPS folded. Amy Marron brings experience as a SUNY-Purchase (State University of New York) head coach and played semi-professionally with Alamein FC of the Playstation 4 National Premier League in Australia last year in Boroondara, Victoria—suburban Melbourne—where she was the team's first international player. The NPS is a second tier soccer league with both male and female divisions—formerly known as the amateur state leagues—with Football Federation Australian bringing in a major sponsor and trying to standardize the structure across the country. Typically these teams are feeder leagues for the Australian W-League, which plays in the winter.

New England Mutiny, a club founded in 1999 and which won a title in the W-League in 2000 and made WPSL finals in 2004 and 2007, has captain and forward Kate Howarth (ex-University of Miami and Boston Breakers in the NWSL) returning for her fifth season. Howarth led the team in points last season (nine goals, four assists) and was second in league scoring behind UWS Player of the Year Krystyna Freda. She is now second in all-time club scoring (32 goals, 12 assists) behind top franchise scorer Mary-Frances Monroe (36 goals, 21 assists) in career points. Monroe played in the WUSA and WPS—mostly with the Boston Breakers—and one season in Sweden with Orebro.

New York Magic are looking to a rebuild after a difficult 2016 season, in which they finished bottom of the league with a 0-2-8 (W-D-L) record for two points. They signed veteran forward Mami Yamaguchi, the 2007 MAC Hermann Trophy winner from Florida State University. Yamaguchi led the Seminoles to the NCAA National Championship for the first time in school history as the ACC Offensive Player of the Year and a First Team All-American. She made 18 appearances for the Japanese Women's National Team, scoring eight goals. She played briefly in WPS with Atlanta Beat but before that played in Sweden at Umea, with Marta for one year before the Brazilian came to the U.S. to play with the Los Angeles Sol. Another new member of the team is Canadian goalkeeper Sierra Bonham, a two-time Summit League Goalkeeper of the Year from North Dakota State University and now an Assistant Coach at St Cloud State University in Minnesota

Lancaster Inferno, who finished fourth in the East Conference last season with a 4-1-5 record for 13 points, needs to replace Costa Rican international Carol Sanchez, who is now playing in Colombia with Independiente Santa Fe. Defender Alexandra Plaintive is a native of France and did graduate studies at Franklin and Marshall College in the Pennsylvania city and has French League experience with ESOF La Roche- sur-Yon.

Coralia Monterroso is a Guatemalan international defender who played in Canada at the University of New Brunswick and is back for her second season in Lancaster. Forward Haley Crawford had five goals in her first collegiate season at James Madison University in Virginia last fall. Tessa McKibben (ex-St. Francis University) returns to the club she played for before playing with Saarbrucken in German's second division.

Midwest Conference


Grand Rapids FC is relying on three local players in their inaugural season at this level: defender Clare Carlson, midfielder Marti Corby and midfielder Annie Steinlage. Carlson finished her Grand Valley State University career as a 3-time All-American and was part of three Division II National Championship sides. Corby registered for the 2017 NWSL Draft after scoring 61 goals at GVSU and receiving a call-up to a U-23 USWNT camp. Out of 184 registered players, Corby was not among the 40 drafted by NWSL teams. Steinlage played collegiately at Michigan State University and the University of Virginia and led the Cavaliers to the Final Four. In 2013, she was drafted by the Western New York Flash (NWSL) before joining Finnish side Vaasa IFK.

Michigan Legends FC is led by head coach Saimir Rada who is a former professional player in Albania who holds a UEFA 'A' license. Defender Avery Hay was a star freshman last season at DePaul University in Chicago.

FC Indiana has always been a destination for international talent and Shek Borkowski, who now coaches Puerto Rico's National Women's Team after 5 years with Haiti, has some exceptional players this season. In goal, former Minnesota Golden Gopher Tarah Hobbs (All-Big Ten Second Team) and Andrea Vera, who was with Ecuador at the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, will compete for time. Puerto Rican WNT players include defender Kelley Johnson and forward Laura Suarez. FCI captain and Indiana University midfielder Annelie Leitner will suit up for her fifth season, after playing for her native Austria this spring during the 2017 Cyprus Cup.

The Detroit Sun started their first year as a pro-am side on a strong note with a 3-0 road victory over FC Indiana on May 14, a nice debut for the club and Skipper Mukhtar as head coach. Mukhtar has won multiple Michigan youth state championships and led his teams to the 2014 USL W-20 & 2015 WPSL W-20 National titles as well as the 2015 WPSL Great Lakes Division crown while with Motor City FC. The Sun has a diverse roster led by University of Iowa and U.S U-20 Women's National Team midfielder Natalie Winters. Other top signings include 2016 Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year Rachel DeLuca from the University of Detroit, U-20 Colombian Women's National Team midfielder Maria Jaramillo and Bulgarian Player of the Year Evdokia Popadinova. Muhktar told Tribal Football.com that Popadinova: "has a professional attitude, is always on time, has a work rate of 100 miles an hour all time, knows how to receive a ball and has a positive attitude. She shows that you don't have to get paid to be a professional." Popadinova, 20, is now in school at the University of Northwestern Ohio in Lima after spending time at Bristol Academy and London Bees the last two seasons. The Sun also has six players from nearby Ontario, Canada; Windsor, Ontario—across the river from downtown Detroit—has always been a hotbed of amateur soccer.

Coach Muhktar was a long time youth coach in the state, beginning when he was quite young. He has made a decision some years ago to focus on coaching women rather than men, explaining that: "They appreciate what we [coaches and team officials] do. Guys have to be given something to respond." He further said that his goals for the Sun are: "To win a national championship, have the girls go back to college soccer in the fall as better players and more fit." Caitlin Clem, who recorded the shutout in the win over FCI with 5 saves, is a goalkeeper from the University of Wisconsin and has played for Muhktar at the club level before and: "loves his competitiveness. I get to learn a lot from the variety of players [at the Detroit Sun]." She played with local Lansing side Michigan Chill last summer in WPSL, winning a division title and hopes to play professionally after this fall season. Showing her dedication, Clem drives 90 minutes each way to suburban Detroit for practices, plus weekend games either in Detroit (with one scheduled across the river in Canada) or on the road.

Toledo Villamidfielder Veronica Zaciek (ex-Virginia Wesleyan) scored two first half goals in a 3-0 first round road win over Indy Premier SC on May 13. TVFC goalkeeper Sam Tiongson (ex-University of Toledo) made two saves in the shutout.

West Conference


In the first West Conference match of the season, Real Salt Lake women prepared for their opening league game against Southern California Crush FC on Saturday May 20 with an international exhibition match against Liga MX Femenil team Club Pachuca on May 17 in St. George, in southern Utah. The visiting Mexican side came away with a 2-1 victory. Longtime RSL Women midfielder Annie Hawkins played at Gonzaga University and with QBIK in Sweden.

Note: Pachuca's other games in the States are scheduled against WPSL sides San Antonio Athenians and FC Austin Elite as well as a Southern Utah selection in St. George,

The Liga MX Femenil plans to launch in September with a radical change in model, fielding 16 teams affiliated to the men's first division league (Chiapas and Puebla are not fielding teams for monetary reasons). The team will not field foreign players at first (except Mexican-Americans are permitted) with primarily U-23 players, with four U-17 and two overage players. We will follow this league as it will be interesting to see the amount of commitment from these strong men's organizations, some of which are among the richest in all of Latin American.

Southern California Crush is led by former Loyola Marymount forward Jamie Bell, who spent time in Russia with FC Engergia. Trinidad and Tobago international Janelle McGee (ex-Cal State Dominguez Hills and New Mexico Highlands University) is new to the team but played in the UWS last summer with the Colorado Storm.


UWS Teams - 2017 Regular Season

UWS East Conference - 2017 Regular Season

Team

Team

W

L

T

PTS

GF

GA

+/-

Division

New England Mutiny

NEM

2

0

0

6

8

3

5

2-0-0

LI Rough Riders

LIR

1

0

1

4

4

1

3

1-0-1

New York Surf

NYS

1

0

1

4

3

2

1

1-0-1

New Jersey Copa FC

NJC

1

1

0

3

6

3

3

1-1-0

Western NY Flash

WNY

0

1

2

2

3

4

-1

0-1-2

New York Magic

NYM

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0-0-0

Lancaster Inferno

LAN

0

1

0

0

2

3

-1

0-1-0

Rochester Lancers

ROC

0

2

0

0

1

11

-10

0-2-0

UWS West Conference - 2017 Regular Season

Team

Team

W

L

T

PTS

GF

GA

+/-

Division

Houston Aces

HOU

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0-0-0

Real Salt Lake Women

RSL

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0-0-0

Santa Clarita Heat

SAC

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0-0-0

Calgary Foothills

CALG

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0-0-0

So Cal Crush

SO CA

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0-0-0

UWS Midwest - 2017 Regular Season

Team

Team

W

L

T

PTS

GF

GA

+/-

Division

Detroit Sun

DET

2

0

0

6

5

1

4

2-0-0

Toledo Villa

TOL

1

0

0

3

3

0

3

1-0-0

Grand Rapids FC

GRR

1

1

0

3

4

3

1

1-1-0

Fort Wayne Gryphons

FTW

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0-0-0

Michigan Legends

MICH

0

1

0

0

1

3

-2

0-1-0

FC Indiana

FC IN

0

1

0

0

0

3

-3

0-1-0

Indy Premier

INDY

0

1

0

0

0

3

-3

0-1-0

NWSL News

NWSL Players Association is Established

The non-allocated National Women's Soccer League's Players' Association has been established to represent those players not under National Team contracts, the Americans are members of the U.S. National Team Players Association, while the Canadians have their own union (Canadian Women's National Team Players' Association). The new union will also represent any amateur players on NWSL rosters, an occurrence that sometimes takes place during national team dates, as teams bring in players from their reserve teams or UWS or WPSL teams. A big issue for the non-allocated players is salary—the minimum salary is only about $15,000 for a six month season—an increase from $7,200 from 2016 and up from $6,000 in the inaugural season of 2013, which has resulted in some players going abroad where they can save more money as their housing and other expenses are frequently covered, which is rarely the case with the NWSL clubs. (The highest official salary for a season in NWSL is only $39,700, according to multiple reports.)

The mission statement of the NWSL PA reads as follows:

"We are proud to announce the official formation of the National Women's Soccer Association (NWSL) Players Association. We, the non-Allocated Players of NWSL, vow to build on the opportunity that has been afforded us, as well as to work to achieve those goals that have not yet been attained. We honor the vision and progress of those who came before us…Pledge to work with the League and Allocated Players to advance continued improvements in women's soccer…Commit ourselves to doing all in our power for the betterment of our members so that we may best contribute to the common goal; a world-class product on the field, and to be role models and inspire the next generation off the field."

Later on Monday May 15, NWSL released a statement which read: "We respect the players' right to organize and form a players association, and look forward to establishing a relationship with their leadership that will serve the league, the players and our fans alike."

This union's founding is a positive benefit and should protect the younger players near the end of the roster, who don't have the stability of multi-year contracts, and sometimes viewed from the perspective of "they should be happy just making the team." Though the NWSL clubs are sincere in trying to treat their players as professionals, the NWSL PA should help drive consistency of best practices across the league.

Mallory Pugh

The major talking point of the league this week has been U.S. National Team winger Mallory Pugh signing with the Washington Spirit and giving up her college career at UCLA, where she did not play last season—her first—while she played in the U-20 Women's World Cup in Papua New Guinea. She said in a media press conference on May 19, when this reporter asked her how she made the decision to play in NWSL versus going abroad, that: "Clubs in Europe are great, but leaving college at age 19, staying here was the best decision. The league is going to grow as well as women's soccer in the United States. I wanted to help and grow individually as a player with competitive games every weekend."

She did not name any teams that had pursued her, but it was reported that Paris St. Germain and Lyon were the primary suitors. Pugh is sponsored by Nike and said that her two biggest inspirations growing up—which she didn't name--wore Nike, again emphasizing the importance of branded shoes to young athletes.

In her first professional match, Pugh played the last 35 minutes for Washington in a 1-0 loss to visiting FC Kansas City in front of a D.C. are crowd of 3,714. Pressure unfortunately will be on Pugh to help the Spirit pull off the bottom of the table, where they have only four points on a 1-1-4 (W-D-L) record. However, head coach Jim Gabarra is likely to receive more heat and possibly his marching orders this season, as he has been blasted by some fans and media for discarding some popular players during the off-season from a side that lost the NWSL Final last season on penalties.

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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Tim Grainey

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