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The Week in Women's Football: Valerenga leads in Toppserien; USWNT hire goalkeeper coach; Brazil, Sierra Leone update

This week, we take a quick look at the top four sides in Norway and some of their key players. U.S. Soccer has hired a full-time women's goalkeeper coach who is originally from the U.K. and Sky Blue FC has sent a second rookie to Paris FC on loan for the rest of 2020, with a quick preview of PSG's derby foe in France. We have some updates on the U.S. Women's College game as it navigates through the Coronavirus Pandemic. We also look at improvements in Saudi Arabia for more opportunities for women to play in a national league, in Brazil and Sierra Leone in Africa for more equitable pay for their national teamers with still some way to go in Kenya at the league level.


Valerenga leads in Toppserien with Three Teams within FOUR Points of the Top and with a Game in Hand

In Norway's Toppserien, Valerenga of Oslo (28 points from an 8-4-1 W-D-L record after 13 games) heads the table with two-thirds of the 2020 season completed. New Zealand international defender C.J. Bott joined the club this year from Vittsjo of Sweden, after playing in the 2019 Women's World Cup. Dutch defender Maruschka Waldus has played around the world, including at the University of Alabama and then with spells in the NWSL at Sky Blue FC in 2015, in Sweden with Mallbacken, in Germany with Turbine Potsdam, for Fylkir in Iceland and two campaigns with the Western Sydney Wanderers in the Australian Westfield W-League. Cameroonian international Ajara Njoya shares the team lead in scoring with 4 goals and has played in Russia, briefly in the NWSL with the Western New York Flash (now Carolina Courage) and two seasons in Sweden's second tier Elitettan with Sundsvall. This is her second season at Valerenga after playing in 2018 at Sandviken in Norway. She has appeared with her country at the last two Women's World Cups. Njoya is tied with Serbian international defender Dejana Stefanovic on four goals; Stefanovic is in her third season in Norway after a season in France with ASPTT Alb. Vålerenga will also play in Champions League qualifying in 2020-21 later this year.

Recent University of Colorado graduate Jalen Tompkins has joined Valerenga in goal. The American said about her move to Scandinavia: "Becoming a professional soccer player has been a dream since I was a kid. Soccer is my passion and I am incredibly happy to come to such a professional club. The team has welcomed me very well." Tompkins finished the 2019 season as Colorado's all-time leader in wins (49), saves (369) and save percentage (.841). She also played the most games as a goalie (85) and started the most matches (82). Her career 0.90 goals-against average ranks second and her 4.34 saves per game ranks third all-time at the school. Tompkins helped lead CU to three NCAA Tournaments in her four years in goal. She was Pac-12 All-Freshman in 2016, posting a career-high 15 wins and had 12 victories last season. Tompkins has shared goalkeeper duties thus far in Norway with fellow American Hannah Seabert (25), who is in her second season at Valerenga after two seasons in Denmark with Fortuna Hjorring, where she won a league title in 2017-18. Seabert played collegiately at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.

Rosenborg of Trondheim is the last remaining unbeaten side in the Toppserien, with 26 points for second place on a 7-5-0 record. Norwegian forward Marit Clausen (24) is joint top of the Golden Boot table with 8 goals and has been with the club since the 2012 season. She has been capped at the U-17 and U-19 level for Norway. Her teammate Julie Blakstad is joint third with 6 goals. The 19-year-old joined the club in the offseason from Fart, who were relegated last season, and is a full international for Norway and also played at the U-17, U-19 and U-21 level for her country. Her former club is struggling in Division 1 and with only 1 point in 11 games and 9 points from the safety zone, Fart is looking very likely to slip down another division at the end of the season.

Lillestrom is third on 25 points (8-1-3), with Sophie Haug (a U-17 and U-19 Norwegian international) leading the side with 6 goals (tied with two others for third place) in the goalscoring table. Haug won five consecutive titles with the side from 2015-2019. Emile Haavi is in her 8th year with the club and played 7 games with the Boston Breakers in the NWSL in 2017 and has played in the last 3 Women's World Cups with Norway as well as at the 2012 WWC U-20 event. Haavi has won 7 domestic league titles, at Lillestrom (6) and Roa (1). Haavi and Sweden's Mimmi Lofwenius are joint 8th in the league with 4 goals. Lofwenius has played in Norway since 2014 and won three Toppserien league titles with Lillestrom in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Lofwenius was capped by Sweden at the U-17 and U-19 levels. The coach of Lillestrom is iconic 1995 Women's World Cup winner Hege Riise, who has led the side to 3 titles since taking over the head coaching position in 2017, and at one time was an assistant coach to the U.S. women's national team.

Alvadsnes finished in second place for three consecutive seasons (2015, 2016 and 2017) but, after falling off from the top two the past few seasons, they are well-placed again for a title challenge this year, currently sitting in fourth on a 7-3-2 (W-D-L) record for 24 points, but only four points behind top club Valerenga, who have played one more game. Their leading scorer this team is veteran forward Elise Thorsnes (32) with 6 tallies. Thorsnes played for Norway in their last three Women's World Cup Finals and was with the Utah Royals in 2018; she spent two seasons in Australia with Canberra United, including in the 2019/20 season when she scored 2 goals. Twenty-year-old Nigerian international and 2019 WWC team member Rasheedat Busayo Ajibade is second with 5 goals in her second year with the club. She also played in the U-17 Women's World Cup Final in Costa Rica and was captain at the 2016 U-17 FIFA Finals side in Jordan. She also played in the 2018 FIFA U-20 World Cup Finals in France, scoring the only goal in a 1-0 Group match win over Haiti.


U.K. ex-pat Philp Poole joins the U.S. Women's National Team Coaching Staff

U.S. Soccer has hired Philip Poole as its women's national team full-time goalkeeper coach. He was with the team for the 2020 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament on a part-time basis. Poole (38) has been involved with U.S. Soccer since 2012, when he left his job as the Wake Forest women's program's associate head coach. He was the goalkeeper coach for the 2014 U.S. Under-20 Women's World Cup team and U.S. U-23 national team for three years (2017-19). The Newcastle, England native went to college at Wingate University in North Carolina.


Sky Blue FC Sends a Second Rookie on Loan to Paris FC

Sky Blue FC has reached an agreement with Paris FC of Division 1 Féminine in France to loan rookie defender Kaleigh Riehl to the French side through February 2021. Riehl will join fellow Sky Blue rookie forward and Canadian Evelyne Viens at the club. Riehl was acquired by Sky Blue with the 11th overall pick of the 2020 NWSL College Draft. She made her first professional appearance and start in the club's second 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup match against Utah Royals FC on July 4.

Paris FC finished fifth in the Division 1 Féminine for the 2019-20 season with a record of 7-3-6. They are currently tied for 5th with 1 win and 1 tie after 2 games in the new season. Their 22-year-old goalkeeper, Natascha Honegger, was born in Switzerland and played for their U-19 national team but then opted for Brazil during the Tournoi de France earlier this year. Two other Swiss nationals are on the side, both of whom are full internationals with Switzerland: 27-year-old midfielder Coumba Sow—who won 5 national league titles at home with Zurich FC—and Esseosa Aigbogun, who is in her third season with Paris FC after playing at Turbine Potsdam. Honegger and Sow are both in their second season with FCP. Paris is led by two veterans in attack—long-time French international with over 160 caps Gaetane Thiney (34), who is in her fourth season in Paris after many years with Juvisy in France, and Finnish international Linda Sallstrom (32), who is in her third season with Paris FC after years in Sweden with Vittsjo (4), Linkoping (5) and Djurgarden (2).


Update on NCAA Division 1 College Soccer.

A few weeks ago we reported that most college women's soccer leagues were postponing play for this fall because of the Coronavirus (see: https://www.tribalfootball.com/articles/the-week-in-women-s-football-nwsl-returns-college-football-suspended-for-2020-uws-moves-abroad-4338896). One of the few leagues still playing, the Atlantic Coast Conference, is still struggling with scheduling difficulties due to the pandemic. Soccer America reports that North Carolina State University, which advanced to the third round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, will not compete at all this fall, citing a deleted roster from injuries and international students who have not returned to school since they were sent home in March. N.C. State switched to online classes for the remainder of the fall semester and closed its campus residence halls in response to the spread of COVID-19 since classes started in early August. On the men's side, Boston College of the ACC has also had to postpone its fall season, again due to a small squad of players and the difficulty of bringing players back from abroad as they have two players each from Costa Rica, Iceland and Italy and one each from Croatia and Germany.

N.C. State's traditional rival and 21-time NCAA Champions (but losing finalists in 2018 and 2019) University of North Carolina Tarheels announced that, though they will play this fall, their two senior English imports—Alessia Russo and Lotte Wubben-Moy—will not return due to the uncertainty of the season. On September 10, Russo signed with Manchester United of the FA Super League on a two-year contract. Russo was with the English U-20 Women's World Cup side that won the Bronze medal in France in 2018. She previously played at Brighton and Hove Albion and Chelsea. The next day Wubben-Moy, who has been capped by England at every level and was just recently called into her first full national team camp, signed with Arsenal; she had appeared with the Gunners in 13 games in 2017 before going to the States and UNC. We did state in our article a few weeks ago (see above link) that some international players would likely make the decision to stay home to get more games and that clearly happened with UNC's two top caliber English internationals, as the FA WSL has already played two rounds of the 2020-21 season. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the ACC attempts to hold their regular season and conference tournaments but the NCAA is not holding their national playoffs in the fall; even with the announcement that the NCAA plans to hold their champions in the spring season (see below), that is not a given as all collegiate sports season has been so chaotic in their scheduling this year, again due to COVID-19.

Soccer America also reported the NCAA Division 1 has some proposed dates and formats for national championships in the spring of 2021 for seven fall sports that could not hold championships this fall due to COVID-19 related postponements. These fall sports include: men's and women's soccer as well as men's and women's cross country, women's field hockey, women's volleyball and men's water polo. Most women's soccer leagues postponed their league seasons this fall. For all sports, the proposed tournament fields were reduced by 25 percent. For men's soccer, that resulted in only 36 teams, down from last year's 48, and only 12 at-large entrants. For women's soccer, there will be 48 teams competing for the Women's College Cup title, down from 64 in 2018 and previous years, with 17 at-large teams in the tournament. Leagues that are still playing soccer in the fall—notably the ACC, Big 12, SEC and Sun Belt—will be considered for playoff selection along with a handful of teams from other conferences that are playing non-conference schedules. Preliminary round games in the playoffs will be set to reduce travel and with state health and safety guidelines considered. As always, particularly with college sports which have been so badly disrupted this year, these plans are subject to change—sometimes it seems on a daily basis—in order to adjust to conditions with the COVID-19 pandemic. The key dates are:

Women's College Soccer Teams for the tournament selected—April 25, 2021

Women's College Cup Finals—May 13-17

In the SEC, Florida had to postpone its first women's soccer game at the University of Missouri on September 26 (which would have allowed only 368 fans) after three players tested positive for COVID-19, while others had to quarantine after being exposed to the trio. In the Big 12, two games—Kansas State vs. Texas Tech and Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State—were postponed due to positive COVID-19 cases and limited rosters. It seems unrealistic that these Conference Championships will be real reflections of team strength rather than a measure of the school's [or the local area's] COVID-19 management. The idea of spring championships—though welcome—is looking a bit of a reach right now.


Saudi Arabia Boosting Women's Football

We are pleased to report that things are starting progress for the sport of women's football in Saudi Arabia, which has been one of the world's most restrictive countries regarding a wide range of activity for women, including traveling outside of the country independently, driving, participating in many sports, etc. In 2008, a law was passed prohibiting the creation of a women's national football team. Saudi Arabia only sent its first female athletes to the Olympics in London in 2012. Women were only allowed to attend sporting events in public stadiums beginning in 2018. Last year a team called the Saudi Greens Team (after the color of the national flag) competed in the Global Goals World Cup (GGWCup), which was a tournament that was launched to champion the role of sport in achieving the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goal (SGD) No. 5. The Saudi Arabian women's squad finished second in the tournament held in New York City

Her Royal Highness Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, the first female Saudi Ambassador to the United States, expressed how delighted she was of the team and showcased her support by participating in a panel discussion organized by the GGWCup. Nike was a sponsor of the team. In another positive move for women in the country, In December 2019, Jeddah Eagles won the first edition of the Jeddah Women's Football League. The league started in October as the first women's competition organized by the Saudi Arabia Football Federation. The teams competing included:

Miraas Team

The Storm

Kings United

Jeddah Eagles

Jeddah Wave F.C

The White Lion

Each team played 10 games during the season.

A team from the Kingdom participated in a regional futsal competition last year. Now that FIFA no long bans wearing the hijab on the field (which was effective from 2007 through 2012), we hope to see a full national side competing in Women's World Cup qualifying competition, possibly as early as for the 2023 games in Australia/New Zealand. In February 2020, the FA decided to launch a national league. The new league will not be run by the national football federation however but rather by the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) and will be known as the Saudi Women's Football League, for which teams will compete for the Champions Cup. Teams will play off in preliminary rounds to decide regional champions and then advance to a knockout stage for the tournament title. The total prize money was set at 500,000 Saudi riyal ($133,251). Most of the games in the inaugural season will take place in Riyadh, Jeddah and Damman, but the SFA said there is "potential for more depending on registrations."


Brazil's Football Federation will pay its men and women national team players on an equal basis.

This year, the Brazilian Soccer Federation (CBF) has begun paying men and women on its national team members the same per diem and bonuses while on international duty, as was reported this month by Soccer America. Somewhat condescendingly, the CBF [Brazilian Football Federation] announced it as "part of the journey of transformation" towards equality in soccer, in a country that once banned the sport at the federal government level for decades. CBF president Rogerio Caboclo explained, "The CBF has equaled the bonuses and daily allowances between men's and women's soccer, which means the women players will earn the same as the men. The agreement began with the Tournoi de France in March, a four team tournament involving Brazil, France, Canada and the Netherlands, for which the last games had to be played in front of closed doors at the onset of the COVID-19 restrictions in Europe (and every match was televised in North America). The equal bonus structure will apply for next year's Olympics with both sides in the Finals. Cabocio further explained, "What men will receive at the next World Cup will be proportionally equal to what is proposed by FIFA. There is no more gender difference, as the CBF is treating men and women equally." Proportionally is the key word though in that the total amount paid will not be the same, as the 2018 Men's Champions France received U.S.$38 Million compared to U.S.$4 Million for the 2019 WWC title. Such an agreement is similar to what Australian and Norwegian national teams reached with their federations in the recent past, while the U.S. women are still in a court battle with the federation to come up with a more equitable national team players' contract that mirrors what the men receive, which is driven largely for game bonus payments on the men's side, whereas the women receive compensated for playing in the NWSL, which the federation started in 2013.


Sierra Leone Provides Significant Payments to National Team Players to Provide Equal Funds as with the Men's National Team players; Kenya Struggles with Wage Disparity at the League Level.

Sierra Leone in Africa is another football federation which this month announced an equal pay formula for their women's national football team members to match the men's side on appearance fees and winning bonuses, which is an initiative begun by the national government. Significantly, the agreement includes payments of $2,000 for each player for their participation in the WAFU Zone A Tournament which the Sierra Queens hosted earlier this year, which were their first competitive games for 10 years. Sierra Leone women's international player Rashidatu Kamara says she can now achieve her dream of getting a college degree following her pay increase. Kamara told BBC Sport Africa, "I didn't believe when I received it, it was indeed unbelievable. I have never before received such amount of money in my life…. I have [a] diploma in banking and finance and I'm hopeful that I'll now earn more money to achieve my dream of having a college degree which will help me to plan my life after football….I believe it will motivate all female players in the country to do more. It'll also encourage parents to allow their girls to play football." The 21-year-old plays in Liberia and won the league and FA Cup titles with Earth Angels. At the WAFU regional tournament, Sierra Leone was unbeaten in their group against Cape Verde, Guinea and Senegal, but did not advance to the knock-out stage.

Elsewhere in Africa, Kenya is trying to reduce the pay gap between men and women at the league level. The 16 team Kenya Women's Premier League (KPWL) struggles with low sponsorship income, a lack of direction from the federation and general apathy (or worse) towards the women's game, which results in frequent late payments. Male footballers on average earn three times what the women do. At Vihiga Queens, they are funded by the country government and pays consistently and well, with each player earning between 23,000 (US$212) and 30,000 Kenyan Shillings (US$276) every month. At other clubs, players depend on match day allowances which range from a low of 800 Kenyan Shillings (US$7) at Spedag FC to 2,500 Kenyan Shillings (US$23) at Gaspo FC

Kenya's women's soccer infrastructure has been making great strides in the past few years, with players starting to go abroad, the league more stable since a relaunch in 2018 and the national team losing narrowly to eventual African 2020 Olympic Games Qualifying Champions Zambia in the semifinal round (3-2 on aggregate). This year, Kenya participated in the Turkish Women's Cup, defeating Northern Ireland's U-19 side 2-0 while falling to Ghana 3-1 and to 2019 Women's World Cup finalists Chile (5-0). We would expect Kenya to make similar pay equality movements to match countries like Sierra Leone, which should be congratulated for their commitment to the women's game.


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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