This week, we review the Round of 16 matches at the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup and present our projections for the quarterfinals, continuing on from last week's review of the Group Stage (see: The Week in Women's Football: World Cup Groups review; Marta class; Morocco inspire; Pauw must go - Tribal Football).
We also present part 2 of our look at the second third of the 2023 NWSL Regular Season, with interesting team news and results. We review the Racing Louisville, Orlando Pride, Houston Dash, Angel City FC, Kansas City Current and the Chicago Red Stars. We also look at some news on the expansion team front: the Utah Royals have hired a sporting director and Bay FC made an executive level hire, while Denver is exploring entering either the NWSL and the new USL Super League in the future.
Women's World Cup Round of 16 Matches Review and Quarterfinal Prognosis
For the Round of 16, UEFA had half of the teams (8), while CAF in Africa had three, two each came from AFC in Asia and CONCACAF and one was from CONMEBOL.
Saturday August 5
Switzerland 1 vs. Spain 5
This battle set Switzerland's strong defense against Spain's fluid play and creative attacks and Switzerland didn't have an answer as Spain won 5-1 and completed dominated the game, and even scored the lone goal for Switzerland; simply put, Spain looked superb. Spain had three times the possession (62 % vs. 27%) and led in shots (25 vs. 2), shots on goals (10 vs. 1) and corner kicks (11 vs. 0).
Head coach Jorge Vilda made five changes to Spain's lineup, including dropping goalkeeper Misa Rodriguez and giving Cata Coll her first international game. Defender Lail Codina also came into central defense for her first appearance at the World Cup. Defender Olga Carmona of Real Madrid sat out as she had a yellow card from the Group Stage, which would protect her from gaining another and missing the quarterfinal (if they won, which they did easily).
Unfortunately, Cata Coll lost her shutout after only 11 minutes when Laia Codina sent a no-look back to her goalkeeper from over 40 meters to the left hand side of the net, while Coll was in the middle of the field. Codina later redeemed herself by scoring for her side along with singles from Alba Redondo and Jenni Hermoso. The absolute star of the match was Aitana Bonmati of Barcelona, who had two goals and two assists and confused the Swiss defenders all night with her quick footwork, turns and technical precision.
Bonmati said about her Player of the Match award following the game: "I think for me it is innate. I like to communicate; I like to talk and I like to transmit that character to the whole team. When I have the ball, when I don't have the ball, when things are going badly, I always try to help my team."
Bonmati said the emphatic 4-0 defeat by Japan in their last group game had been on their minds: "When you lose like we did the other day, it is a really big blow but to win 5-1 in a World Cup knockout tie, be through to the quarter-finals and make history, that shows we are a team. It was not easy after the other day but today we saw the character of the players and I hope we have a lot of days left here."
The game attracted 43,217 at Auckland's Eden Park, a new record for a soccer match in New Zealand (men's or women's), which is fantastic as there were concerns that attendances would fall off once New Zealand was eliminated.
Despite Spain's perception as a favorite for this tournament and as a European powerhouse—due to being the current 2022 FIFA U-20 and U-17 Women's World Cup Champions (at the U-20 level they lost the final in 2018 to Japan and at the U-17 level have won the last two titles in 2018 and 2022 and finished third in 2016 and second to Japan in 2014), the Spanish league being a prime focus for top class players from around the world and Barcelon's two UEFA WCL titles in the last three years—surprisingly this was Spain's first knockout stage win in the World Cup or EUROS and they have never been in a quarterfinals before.
Spain next has to play Netherlands in the quarterfinals, which will be one of the highlights of the tournament, and the winner will be the favorite to make the final.
The Swiss WNT exit came in the Round of 16 as did their only previous WWC Finals appearance in 2015 in Canada, but there they played host Canada tough in a 1-0 defeat in Vancouver while Spain overwhelmed them in Auckland. The Swiss seem stuck in the second tier of European powers such as England, France, Germany, Spain and Sweden, even though many of their players are with clubs abroad. Energizing their league at home is a priority, with more funding and resources, as it is a bit of an afterthought for players considering leagues/teams in Europe.
Japan 3 vs. Norway 1
Japan was impressive in defeating Spain 4-0 in their last group game and they defeated another European side on August 5 in Auckland, besting Norway 3-1, with Hinata Miyazawa scoring a fifth goal in the tournament to lead the Golden Boot race. Japan is now rated as one of the final two in the championship match in Sydney as Japan continues their undefeated run in the tournament.
Norway has unfortunately performed to decidedly lower expectations in their fourth consecutive major tournament (EUROS/WWC). Iconic former player and head coach Hege Riise likely will be replaced and the federation needs to put together a comprehensive plan—utilizing top international coaching and administrative advisors—to be able to compete against the top teams in Europe, including England, France, Germany, Spain and neighbors Sweden—the team won a WWC in 1995 in Sweden at a gold medal at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. They have supremely talented players but, despite utilizing multiple coaches from home and abroad, have not been able to take them to a final four at a major tournament since 2013 at the EUROs and 2007 at the World Cup in China. Sophie Roman Haug (24) of Roma in Italy scored three goals and overall had a tremendous tournament and is a hope for the future of this side
Sunday August 6
Netherlands 2 vs. South Africa 0
The Netherlands moved on to the quarterfinals on August 6 and put an end to South Africa's wonderful run at the tournament. The Dutch led in possession (61% vs. 26%) but South Africa had more shots (14 vs. 12) and shots on target (7 vs. 5) by utilizing their speed on counterattacks. Jill Roord scored the winner in the 9th minute on a mis-clearance in the South African box, when she towered over the Banyana Banyana defense to score. In the 66th minute, Lineth Beerensteyn (26), who scored 11 goals last season for Juventus in Italy after five seasons at Bayern Munich, put a shot on goal that South African goalkeeper Kaylin Swart (28), who was about eight meters out from her goal to head off Beerensteyn's angle, wasn't set for and—even though it hit her hand—it ended up in the net. Swart grew up in South Africa and plays for JVW at home—the club that captain Janine van Wyk started and also plays for—and spent time at Menlo College in California for three seasons from 2015-2017.
South Africa should be proud of their tournament results and, in order to build on their second consecutive tournament finals appearance, the federation needs to fully support the women, beginning by paying each team member their $60,000 fee from FIFA for making the Round of 16. I expect to see more interest in their players from clubs abroad and Thembi Ktaglana of Racing Louisville was one of the stars of the tournament, scoring twice, and a constant danger with her speed. It will be interesting to watch her in the NWSL for the rest of the season. Head coach Desiree Ellis should definitely be retained—if she wants to stay—though undoubtedly, she will receive offers from national teams abroad, and possibly even from clubs in England and America.
Sweden 0 vs. USA 0 (4-3 on pks)
Sweden vs. the U.S. is always an interesting game, with such a long history between the teams. Prior to the game, the USA led the all-time series 23-12-7 (W-D-L) which started in 1987, though in the last 10 matches the USA is 4-4-2. These two teams have met on nine previous occasions in the Women's World Cup and Olympics, with Sweden moving on via penalties in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic games quarterfinals, which is exactly what happened again in Melbourne Rectangular Stadium in the Round of 16 on August 6 in their second ever knockout match. The U.S. played their best game by far of the tournament and could have won the game, holding a 51% vs. 33% possession advantage and for shots (21 vs. 8), shots on goal (12 vs. 1) and for corner kicks (9 vs. 3). Sweden's goalkeeper Zecria Musovic (27), who is in her fourth season at Chelsea, was outstanding in goal and made 11 saves to keep Sweden even throughout the 120 minutes. She won three league titles at home with Rosengard, has a degree in economics from Lund University and, through her parents, could have played for Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Sweden's head coach Peter Gerhardsson, after the game, felt Musovic's excellent performance may have gotten in the U.S. players heads during the penalty shootout. In the seven rounds of penalty kicks, Musovic didn't make a save but saw three American attempts miss, all to the same side of goal. Gerhardsson said: "When you come to a penalty shootout, it's the goalkeeper's game. [Mušović] likes when it comes to penalties, she knows it's her game. I don't know what she did, what mental thing that she did to make them put them over the bar and things like that. But I think goalkeepers like these kinds of penalties, they're mentally prepared, that's their game… She was good in the game. Even if she didn't save any penalties, I think for the other team, maybe they put it outside because they know that if it's not a good penalty, maybe she takes it."
Mušović was calm throughout the seven rounds of PKs and gave the ball to each Swedish shooter in person before their attempts and seemed very positive and non-plussed. Musovic said after the game: "To be able to perform in that way, it's a lot of hard work that's been put in over a lot of years that nobody sees. The main reason why I'm a goalkeeper is because I give my team the opportunity to win the game. I can only do my best and you can only love the feeling of when you're in the zone and stuff is happening in a way that you're just doing it… I had a really good feeling before the game. I know we were facing a really good opponent in the U.S., ranked No. 1 in the world. We had a good feeling in the squad, we know what we are capable of. It was the game style, just go out and do your best, have each other's backs and stay humble throughout the whole game."
I mentioned last week that the media was treating the U.S.'s Group Stage performance as the equivalent of Armageddon—well, the figurative end of the planet hit on August 6, at least for U.S. fans and media. Megan Rapinoe, who is retiring from the sport at the end of the NWSL season, badly skied a penalty in the shootout. Sophia Smith also missed the goal and Kelly O'Hara hit the crossbar—all on shots to the left of Mušović—with O'Hara coming on in the 120th minute (along with Kristy Mewis, who was making her first appearance of the tournament) and had played for only a few minutes in two group matches.
After the game, Rapinoe told Fox Sports: "I mean, this is like a sick joke. For me personally, this is dark comedy. I missed a penalty. This is the balance to the beautiful side of the game. I think it can be cruel and just not our day."
For Sweden, Lina Hurtig narrowly squeezed home the winning penalty kick, which Alyssa Naeher initially blocked and then swatted the ball from behind her as she was on the ground, but VAR ruled that the entire ball was over the line, but it was just by centimeters when the VAR data was shown. Naeher had scored herself in the sixth round but the U.S. was eliminated in the next round.
After scoring three goals against Vietnam in the first game and one in the second half in their1-1 tie with the Netherlands, the U.S. went four hours without scoring and that is the primary reason while the two-time defending champions are going home. For the USA, it marked a historic early exit, in the eight previous Women's World Cups, the Americans had never finished worse than third place, which it did three times, to go with four World Cup titles — including the last two in 2015 and 2019 — and one runner-up finish.
Now what is next for the Americans? A few people thought that U.S. Soccer would not make a change in head coach with the Paris Olympics—which the U.S. is already qualified for—less than 12 months off, but it has happened before in 2007. Greg Ryan was replaced by Pia Sundhage even though he only lost one game out of 55 when they finished third at the 2007 Finals in China; he faced internal team turmoil when he replaced starter Hope Solo for 1999 WWC star Brianna Scurry for the semifinal against Brazil, which they lost 4-0, and Hope aired her feelings to the media.
Under Sundhage, the next summer—again in China—the U.S. won the Olympic Gold medal. Andonovski may be gone by the time you read this. Remember that this is the federation that fired former Australian and New Zealand WNT head coach Tom Sermanni after a few losses at the Algarve Cup in the Spring while introducing young players—which U.S. Soccer wanted him to do—and this was part of Anonovski's downfall, bringing in 14 players for their first World Cup. Two-time WWC winning goalkeeper for Germany Nadine Angerer—now an assistant coach with Portland Thorns—told me just after Sermanni was dismissed that she couldn't understand it—she said that Germany lost games at the Algarve the year before they won a World Cup and that trying new players are what those tournaments are for.
I'm sure U.S. Soccer will receive a ton of applications for the job. Will they go with someone from the league? Laura Harvey of OL Reign, who has coached the US at the youth level (U-20 and U-23 level and was a candidate in 2019 when Andonovski won the job) would be a popular choice. A source within the national team coaching structure told me that Laura Harvey is the odds on favorite though Americans Randy Waldrum and Lorne Donaldson, who coached Nigeria's and Jamaica's national teams to the Round of 16 this summer, should be interviewed—Waldrum has reportedly applied for the job in the past and at one point was applying for most any national team coaching job that was posted. Another candidate could be current Australian WNT head coach Toni Gustavsson, who won two WWC titles as an assistant coach with the U.S. under then head coach Jill Ellis.
The source said that Gustavsson had been offered the job after Ellis retired in 2019 but he did not take it, likely because he thought that it would be too difficult to win three titles in a row and replace the legendary work that Ellis accomplished. Now would be a completely different situation however and his Australia side has made the quarterfinals (see below). Another candidate with an Ellis tie is current San Diego Wave manager Casey Stoney, who was a national team player for England and coached Manchester United in the WSL. She won over 125 caps for England but does not have the national team coaching background; I am on her media calls frequently and she has a very fresh and enlightening impression of U.S. youth and professional football and the game in general.
However, she has been fined frequently in her two years in the league for her comments about referees but my coaching source said: "Jill Ellis—now the President of the Wave—is a key to this decision and whoever Jill wants is who will be the coach."
Other candidates mentioned are unlikely, namely current England head coach Sarina Weigman and Chelseas head coach Emma Hayes, who has coached collegiately and with the WPS Chicago Red Stars over a decade ago. Those aspirational choices were couched under the "This is the best women's coaching job in the world." That was once the case but not so much now; the immense pressure on the coach—who has to essentially win an Olympic Gold Medal and a WWC title at every tournament or risk losing their job—is not appealing, particularly for national team coaches abroad who are doing well and appreciated.
In addition, the U.S. is not winning at the youth World Cup level like they once did—they finished second in the U-17 in 2008 and not made the last four since, falling in the Quarterfinals to Nigeria (4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 tie) last year in India, while at the U-20 level, they won their last title in 2012 in Japan, finished fourth in Papua New Guinea in 2016 and failed to make it out of the Group Stage in 2018 in France and in 2022 in Costa Rica. The American youth teams have some amazing talent, some of whom are now playing in the NWSL like Alyssa Thompson (18), who was a late selection for the 2023 World Cup team in Australia/New Zealand. However, the new coach needs to evaluate the youth team programs in the U.S.
We expect U.S. soccer to stay within the American game for their next coach, who I think will be Laura Harvey, but that domestic-based focus would eliminate interesting candidates like Alen Stajcic of the Philippines, Desiree Ellis of South Africa, Reynald Pedros of Morocco or even veteran men's coach Herve Renard of France.
Monday August 7
England 0 vs. Nigeria 0 (4-2 on penalties)
In another match that needed penalties to decide who advanced to the quarterfinals, reigning UEFA Women's EURO champions England defeated surprising Nigeria 4-2 on penalties after a 0-0 tie. They did lose Lauren James late in the game to a red card for stepping on Nigeria's Michelle Alozie while she was on the ground—an initial yellow card was changed to a red card by VAR. In the U.K. media, there were immediate comparisons to David Beckham's red card for England against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup in France. England head coach Sarina Wiegman said that James: "in a split second lost her emotions. Of course she doesn't want to hurt anyone. She's the sweetest person I know." James will miss England's next two games, but could return if they make the championship final.
Wiegman brought on Manchester City's Chloe Kelly to play as a lone striker and she again was the heroine, making the winning penalty kick in the shootout, after scoring the winner in overtime in the EUROs Final game last summer against Germany and the final penalty against Brazil in the Finalissimma title win earlier this year—the Super Cup between the winners of UEFA and CONMEBOL. Kelly said after the game: "It's amazing. Anything that's thrown at us. We've shown what we're capable of. We dig deep as a group and we believe in our ability. This team is special ... there's more to come."
Nigeria coach Randy Waldrum praised his team for their effort: "I'm so proud of them, to come in and play like we did tonight. The players right now obviously are in tears. They believed we could win and they expected to continue playing on… We gave everything. I certainly hope that people back in Nigeria appreciate the job that they've done while they're here and I would hope that they're happy, not upset that we lost."
For Nigeria, all credit to head coach Randy Waldron, his staff and all 23 players for their outstanding achievements this summer, who came within a couple of penalties of making the quarterfinals. The team was eliminated from the Round of 16 while being technically undefeated in four matches (the England match is officially recorded as a tie). The NFA needs to support the women's game at all levels, pay what the players are owed by the federation and their FIFA fees ($60,000 per person) and pick a coach and back her/him. It should be Randy Waldrum but I think he will have some much bigger opportunities and I'm not sure how he can ever trust the NFA after their backstabbing campaign of disrespect for him and his assistant coach Lauren Gregg, which we have documented over the past two months.
Australia 2 vs. Denmark 0
A huge crowd in Sydney of 75,784 saw Australia defeat Denmark 2-0 and Sam Kerr played her first minutes during the tournament, coming on as a substitute with 10 minutes left, after missing the first round matches with a calf injury. Caitlin Foord scored in the 29th minute on a breakaway by slotting the ball through the goalkeeper's legs. Hayley Raso scored with 20 minutes left in the game, her third goal in the last two matches, and Raso and Foord have combined for five of the team's last six goals. They definitely have the country behind them—on the day of the game, the iconic Sydney Opera House was lit up in yellow and green to support the team—and with Sam Kerr back, have a very good chance of making the championship game back in Sydney.
Denmark came up against a buzz saw in Australia in front of a huge home crowd, but overall, they are a team on the upturn and one of the most difficult sides to face in Europe. It didn't hurt Australia to have the insights of their Scandinavian coach Toni Gustavsson from Sweden in their game planning for Denmark.
Tuesday August 8
Colombia 1 vs. Jamaica 0
We did think that there would be a CONMEBOL team in the last eight, but that it would be Brazil, not Colombia. Colombia defeated Jamaica 1-0 to make the quarterfinals for the first time, in their third WWC Finals. Catalina Usme scored the winner in the 51st minute, easily trapping a long cross-field ball and slotting it into the goal; she has scored twice in the tournament. Jamaica went home after surrendering only one goal in four matches.
The Jamaican Federation needs to support the women's game, pay their players the $60,000 FIFA fees they earned, keep Lorne Donaldson and expand the local women's league at home, as the team is totally dependent on diaspora and players who grew up in Jamaica but who now play abroad. Jamaica tied the U.S. for the best finish among the six CONCACAF teams at this Women's World Cup, just a phenomenal achievement for a side that many discounted since last year when they qualified for the finals. The Reggae Girlz did CONCACAF proud.
France 4 vs. Morocco 0
France ended Morocco's magical and inspiration run through the 2023 Women's World Cup at the Round of 16, with three rapid-fire first half goals in a space of eight minutes, for a 4-0 victory. Kadidiatou Diani, Kenza Dali and Eugenie Le Sommer all scored between the 15th and 23rd minutes to wrap up the game, with Le Sommer scoring again in the 70th minute. Diani now has four goals in the tournament, all coming in the last two games after scoring a hat-trick in France's 6-3 win over Panama. Morocco head coach Reynald Pedros said after the game: "I am not disappointed because we were in the last 16 of the World Cup for the first time and we know very well that the further on you go, the harder it gets. I am very, very happy with the run we have had and I wish France good luck and hope they go on to be world champions." He should be very pleased as should all Moroccan fans and officials. The end of the game saw players and coaches mingling amiably, since Pedros—a former French men's national team player who was with iconic French midfielder Zinedine Zidane in the 1996 team that made the EURO semifinals—had coached six of the French players at Olympique Lyon: captain Wendie Renard, Le Sommer, Dali, Selma Bacha, Amel Majri and goalkeeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin, while some of the Moroccan players live and work in France and French left back Sakina Karchaoui has Moroccan parents; it was another high point and such a wonderful advertisement for the women's game by both teams.
France now will be tested in the Quarterfinals by Australia, with their huge local support, while Morocco head home to build on the model that they have quickly assembled for other nations in the Arab World and elsewhere, to support, invest in and grow their women's football program quickly and successfully. I think we will see Morocco again at future World Cups and they will build on an incredible first appearance this summer.
Quarterfinal matchups and Prognosis
Friday August 11
Wellington: Spain vs. Netherlands
Auckland: Japan vs. Sweden
Saturday, August 12
Brisbane: Australia vs. France
Sydney: England vs. Colombia
For the quarterfinals, last week we had projected that the Round of 16 winners would be Spain, Norway rather than Japan, Netherlands, Sweden, England, Australia, Jamaica rather than Colombia and Morocco rather than France. We were correct that five UEFA teams would move on and one (there are two) from Asia, but missed on Colombia, the lone representative from CONMEBOL.
For next week's semifinals, we think that all four matches are intriguing and interesting matchups. We predict that Spain will just edge Netherlands in a potential high-scoring game that could go to penalty kicks, and Sweden will upset Japan, stifling the latter's speed with their traditional tight back line and riding the hot hand of goalkeeper Zecria Musovic. In the Saturday matches, we think Australia will just edge France, again likely in overtime or on penalties. England will need to rely on their bench to defeat Colombia, but never bet against Chloe Kelly, who comes good in pressure situations. We do think that some of these projections could go sideways, but there really are no upsets with this final eight lineup.
NWSL Midseason Review—Part 2
This week, we present part 2 of our look at the second third of the 2023 NWSL Regular Season, with interesting team news and results. We review the Racing Louisville, Orlando Pride, Houston Dash, Angel City FC, Kansas City Current and the Chicago Red Stars. In part 1, we examined the top six teams so far this season: North Carolina Courage, Portland Thorns, NJ/NY Gotham FC, OL Reign, Washington Spirit and the San Diego Wave (see: The Week in Women's Football: World Cup Groups review; Benfica enter Gotham partnership; NWSL check - Tribal Football). We also have some news with NWSL expansion teams for 2024 and a possible future city.
Racing Louisville FC (4-7-4, 19 points, Tied for Seventh)
Racing has really started to make a run for the playoffs in their third season, their second under Swedish native head coach Kim Bjorkegren, with four wins, three ties and one loss in their last eight games—two were Challenge Cup games. They started the season without a win in their first five games. Second year player Savannah De Melo leads the team in scoring with five goals in 12 regular season games and made it onto the U.S. team for Australia/New Zealand, despite never receiving a cap until a friendly in the U.S. versus Wales match in San Jose just before the team left for New Zealand. Fellow WWC Finalist Wang Shuang (28) of China is second with two goals in 14 NWSL games. Paige Monaghan has three goals in her fifth year in the league (after four with Gotham/Sky Blue FC), while American Kirsten Davis (24) has two tallies in her second year with Racing.
Denmark international Nadia Nadim (35), who tore an ACL last year, returned after ten months to play in Louisville's 2-1 win at home over Kansas City just before the NWSL regular season summer break for the World Cup. She unfortunately did not recover in time for Denmark's WWC Finals side. Nadim has 103 professional goals over a 17-year career and has won league titles with the NWSL's Portland Thorns and French Division 1 Feminine side Paris-Saint Germain. She scored 38 goals in 103 appearances with the Danish national team, helping lead the Danes to a UEFA Women's Euro silver medal in 2017. She is a medical doctor in Denmark, speaks 11 languages, and is working on Spanish. She was born in Afghanistan and her family settled in Denmark when she was a child. At Racing she has 9 goals in only 19 regular season games.
Finnish international defender Elli Pikkujamsa (23) scored her first NWSL goal and Paige Monaghan (26) scored the winner in a 2-1 win over Kansas City on July 7 before the WWC break; it was the club's third win at home in a row, a first for the three-year-old club, in front of 5,097 fans in Louisville.
American forward Emina Ekic was called up by Bosnia and Herzegovina for friendlies in July against Greece (0-3) and Hungary (0-2), with both games in the Budapest region. The third year Racing player qualifies to play for B&H as her parents were born in Bosnia. She previously represented the United States at the under-23 level in 2019. She explained her decision: "Once I got drafted out of college, the focus turned to my professional career and international soccer. Since 2021, I have been trying to decide what I want to do. After sitting on it for two years, I really wanted to represent the country my family is from. It feels at home." In three seasons, Ekic has four goals and two assists in 46 appearances for Racing across all competitions and had four goals in six games with Melbourne City before she was injured last winter.
Racing Louisville FC announced the return of goalkeeper Hillary Beall and forward Riley Parker from their loan periods and signed defender Ella Shamburger and midfielders Taylor Aylmer and Maddie Pokorny to National Team Replacement Player contracts. The moves coincide with the departures of several Racing players for the FIFA Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, including Alex Chidiac (Australia), Ary Borges (Brazil), Savannah DeMelo (United States), Thembi Kgatlana (South Africa), Uchenna Kanu (Nigeria) and Wang Shuang (China). Racing's six WWC call-ups was the second most to OL Reign (seven) but set a new record of sending players to six different national teams, breaking the previous record of five by Portland in 2015 and OL Reign in 2019. Beall spent the winter and spring on loan with first-year club Western United FC in Australia's A-League Women, winning Goalkeeper of the Year honors while leading her team to the Grand Final. The 24-year-old Californian is in her second year with Racing.
Parker played on loan with Tigres of Monterrey, Mexico earlier this year and went to the University of Alabama. Shamburger was the 38th overall pick in the 2023 NWSL Draft (fourth round) by the Kansas City Current from Vanderbilt University. Aylmer played 12 matches this year for Finnish club Aland United, with one goal and two assists for the second-place side. The 24-year-old New Yorker has previous NWSL experience—she played in 30 games across all competitions for the Washington Spirit, starting 14 and tallying one goal and one assist. She won a NWSL title with Washington in 2021. Porkony played at St. Louis University and then won three titles in Denmark with HB Koge and scored their first-ever goal in the Champions League against Arsenal.
Racing Louisville FC and defender Satara Murray (29) agreed to a mutual contract termination. Murray appeared in nine regular-season games in 2022 for Racing. This season, Murray made one appearance for Racing in a Challenge Cup match in May. She grew up in Brooklyn, played at the University of North Carolina, in England and Norway and was selected for Jamaica's 2023 WWC Finals side.
Katie Lund, has been solid all season; she leads all the league goalkeepers in saves with 57 and has 5 shutouts in 15 games, behind Casey Murphy of North Carolina (7), Jane Campbell of Houston (6) and tied with Canadian 2023 starting goalkeeper Kaelin Sheridan, who also has five for the San Diego Wave.
Orlando Pride (6-1-8, 19 points, Tied for Seventh)
The club has made a huge midseason signing by bringing in another Brazilian in defender Rafaelle Souza from Arsenal of the WSL through the 2025 season. Along with fellow Pride players Marta and Adriana, Rafaelle was named to Brazil's 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup roster; Thais Reiss is another Brazilian with the Pride.
Orlando Pride VP of Soccer Operations and General Manager Haley Carter explained Rafaelle's signing: "Rafa and I were teammates in Houston and since then, I have watched her grow into one of the best defenders in the world. She is an incredibly intelligent player with the physicality and technical ability to make an immediate impact in our backline. Her leadership, on and off the pitch, also offers a major competitive advantage for the club. We could not be more thrilled to bring her experience, quality, and infectious, hardworking attitude to Orlando."
Rafaelle (32) joined London's Arsenal in January 2022 and played in 35 games with four goals scored, playing primarily as a center back. She previously played with Palmeiras at home in Sao Paulo and with Changchun Zhuoyue in China. She played with the Houston Dash in 2014, where she made 16 appearances with one assist in the team's expansion year, after being selected number 10 overall in the 2014 Draft, having played three years at the University of Mississippi; she currently ranks second in Ole Miss school history in career points (108) and goals (44), as well as single-season points (33) and goals (22).
The Pride also brought in another senior international and 2023 WWC player back to the league by signing Argentinian international forward Mariana Larroquette.
In 2021 she played with the Kansas City Current, scoring twice with one assist in 19 games. Following her time in the States, she spent one year with Portugal's Sporting CP before joining Mexican side Club León last year. While in Mexico, Larroquette totaled 26 appearances, scoring nine goals and finishing 10th in total shots (88) across Liga MX. The 30-year-old forward began her professional career at home, playing for River Plate of Buenos Aires from 2010-15; she also spent time at Universidad de Chile (Chile), UAI Urquiza (Argentina) and Lyn (Norway).
Malta international forward Haley Bugeja has moved back to Italy, signing a three-year contract with Inter of Serie A. She spent 12 months in Orlando, making six appearances since joining in July of 2022. She left Malta for Italy's Sassuolo in the summer of 2020, scoring 12 goals in her first season to finish among the top five scorers in Serie A. She was voted the Best Young Player in the Serie A and was also named as one of UEFA's top 10 women's players to watch. Bugeja's was injured during the 2021-22 season but still managed to score three goals.
Haley Carter explained her transfer: "Haley has demonstrated maturity and professionalism well beyond her years while here in Orlando and we value having had her as a member of our Orlando Pride family. It was important for us to do right by her and help identify an opportunity where she could earn more game time and continue her development on and off the pitch." This is a good move for Bugeja, arguably the best women's player to ever come out of Malta, as she knows the Italian league well and will have easier and shorter travel for national team matches, for who she is a crucial player.
Portland Thorns FC dropped a 3-1 road result to the Orlando Pride at Exploria Stadium on June 11. Sophia Smith recorded her sixth goal of the season in the match, while for Orlando, Adriana scored twice, Messiah Bright once and Ally Watt had two assists. Bright leads the side with four goals this season.
The Pride are playing better than in the past few years and have won three of their last five regular season matches before the WWC break. With their new signings, they could be well-positioned for a sprint to the playoffs in the last third of the regular season.
Houston Dash (4-6-5, 18 points, Ninth)
A massive signing for the Dash and the league was Brazilian international Andressa Alves, from Roma in Italy, who is joining after the 2023 WWC (see: The Week in Women's Football: World Cup Groups E & F preview; pressure on Marta - Tribal Football). Alves is signed through the 2024 season with an option for 2025.
TribalFootball.com had asked head coach Sam Laity before the Alves signing was announced: "about the prospect of mid-season signings for the Dash and squads throughout the league, and how it effects your team and preparation for opponents for the second half of season." Laity explained that, during the World Cup, they would lose a few players, mentioning Canadians Sophie Schmidt and Alyssa Chapman, Jamaica's Havana Solaun and Nigeria's Michelle Aloize [Andressa Alves of Brazil was signed in late June and will join the Dash after the WWC, while Nichelle Prince also made Canada's side for a total of five Dash players that were on the squad prior to June]: "I think we are in pretty good shape with trades and the  draft. We have a deep squad; Reign has 6-7 [seven WWC call-ups, not including Angelina, who was named as an alternate by Brazil] and Portland had a similar call up [five players] and they can handle the volume of players missing. Everyone else is probably missing 2-3 really dynamic players. It's not just national team players but also about the players who have done their work in the league for many years and they will contribute massive[ly] to all the teams when the WWC comes around."
We then asked coach Laity about the expected frenzy of signing during and post-World Cup—coinciding with the summer transfer window— (which has begun as we are seeing for Racing Louisville and Orlando as well as clubs in Europe): "I think we will see a number of players joining up after the World Cup. I expect to see a couple transferring. I didn't think anybody in Europe especially was going to be moving to the NWSL if they were on a WWC roster, just in terms of the change and challenges of moving from Europe to the NWSL, but after that, I think we could see it. For us, we will be looking for additions but it has to be the right addition, not an older player or veteran player at the end of their career. We are looking for a young hungry player with talent that we think we can improve."
During the World Cup, the Dash signed Austria's WNT captain and midfielder Sarah Puntigam, who is her nation's most capped player and moves from Cologne of the German Frauen-Bundesliga. She signed for the rest of 2023 with an option for 2024. With that limited contract, I have to think back to the only other Austrian international to play in the league—Nina Burger—during the team's first season in 2014, signed by now Nigerian national team coach Randy Waldrum. She was viewed was one of the worst transfers in the league (despite scoring four goals in 17 games for a last place team) and one European reporter told me that she couldn't understand the signing as Burger wasn't terribly highly rated within Europe.
Puntigam played for Cologne in Germany's Frauen Bundesliga in 2022-23 this season, she made 21 appearances and scored twice. She previously spent four seasons with French side Montpellier, contributing 10 goals and assists across 71 appearances. Puntigam joined Montpellier after spending four seasons (2014-18) with Bundesliga's SC Freiburg, making 79 appearances and scoring four goals for the club. She also played with Bayern Munich.
At the international level, Puntigam holds the national record for 134 caps and has 18 goals, fourth most-all time and third amongst active players. With Austria, Puntigam reached the European Championship semifinals in 2017 before losing on penalties to Denmark.
On May 26, in Houston's 2-0 road win over Kansas City, Dash goalkeeper Jane Campbell went over the 10,000-minute mark for minutes played during the NWSL regular season, just the fifth keeper in league history to hit that level, and the first to spend all 10,000 of those minutes with the same club.
Mexican internationals Maria Sanchez (3) and Diana Ordonez (2) lead the team in goals and the club in general needs to step up their scoring as they are bottom of the league with 10 goals in 15 regular season matches, though their defense is the best in the league with only 12 goals allowed. The Dash is tied with Washington with six ties, the second highest total in the league behind Racing Louisville's seven deadlocks, which is hurting them in the race for the playoffs.
In early June, the Dash put midfielder Shea Groom on the Season Ending Injury (SEI) list for the rest of 2023 after she suffered a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee. She only played 11 minutes this season in a late May loss to Kansas City away (2-0).
The first North American league to resume playing during COVID, and is a nine year vet of the league; she is out for the rest of the 2023 season with an ACL tear for the rest of the season. Photo courtesy of the Houston Dash.
Angel City FC (4-5-6, 17 points; Tenth)
It was not a surprise around the league when Freya Coombe was let go as head coach of Angel City halfway through the NWSL season (on June 15), as the club had an underwhelming record of 2-3-6 (W-D-L); under Coombe's reign, the club had really fallen off the cliff in year two. Angel City then named her assistant Becki Tweed as interim head coach. Tweed served as acting head coach in a 0–0 draw for Gotham FC against Chicago on September 4, 2021, after Coombe had left to take the Angel City job. The native of Bristol, England was also co-head coach of the Gotham FC Reserves team that won the 2021 WPSL championship. The team included five players now on NWSL rosters and Tweed won the WPSL Coach of the Year award. In 2022, Tweed served as an assistant coach for the United States in the FIFA women's U-20 World Cup in Costa Rica and also when the US team won the championship of the Sud Ladies Cup in France.
The head coaching role in Los Angeles will lure lots of interested candidates. OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey will see her contract expire at the end of 2023 (though she later extended it through 2025, and he is a prime candidate for the U.S. WNT head coaching role if/when Vlatko Andonovski resigns/fired (see above), and former Canadian international Carmelina Moscato recently departed Tigres UNAL of Monterrey in Liga MX Femenil. Lots of high profile coaches have been on display this summer at the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. The franchise will have many suitors. However, Tweed is undefeated in five matches since taking over as head coach, with three wins and two ties—including two wins over Southern California rival San Diego, one in the league and one in the Challenge Cup.
In Tweed's first game on the road in San Diego on June 17 on national television, Angel City fought back from a 1-0 deficit with goals by defenders Paige Nielsen and defender M.A. Vignola, for her first NWSL game-winner, with Scarlett Camberos (who joined this season from Club America in Mexico) contributing the assist. Vignola said after the game: "[This was] huge. This being San Diego and being our first win in a while, it means a lot. A road win is always big. It being San Diego makes it so much better."
She also commented on her new head coach: "I think we just fed off her energy [with] her taking this big step as our head coach. She wanted us to play to our potential. We know what we have on the field. As teammates we know what we can do. She really brought it out of us. This past week of training was the most competitive training session we have had in two or three months."
Tweed herself told the media after the game: "This group this week has been incredible. They were able to come together and focus on what they can control. They focused on soccer, and they came in with a real belief that we could come off the field with a win, even when we went down by one. We talked all week about how we could come together and how we could put in a complete performance… We were organized defensively, and we always believed that we could win the game. It's been an emotional and crazy week, but as a coaching staff, we've pulled together, and I think we've come up with a game plan that has allowed us to get back in the game. Our thought process was, 'How do we improve in the details and the moments where you win and lose games?' and that was a real focus for us. We wanted to stay compact and limit their chances but also focus on how we can break them down and be who we want to be in the attacking third. We want to really express ourselves and play to our strengths."
Also in June, the club added a world-class player in France Women's National Team midfielder Amandine Henry, who signed a three-year contract with an option for an additional year. Unfortunately, she missed the 2023 WWC Finals squad due to a calf injury. She is a very good signing for the struggling squad and she has played in the NWSL in the past with the Portland Thorns, scoring 3 goals in 32 matches, telling the media: "I enjoyed my previous seasons [2016 and 2017] in the NWSL because of the level of play, the dedication of the fans and great teammates, so I am excited to now be a part of Angel City. I can't wait to be a part of a new team, help write history, and win with the club." Henry spent the last six seasons at Division 1 Féminine club Olympique Lyonnais, where she scored 19 goals in 89 match appearances. She was also a part of the club from 2007 to 2016. Overall, Henry has helped lead the club to 13 Division 1 Féminine titles, eight Coupe de France Championships, and seven UEFA Champions League wins. Henry scored 13 goals in 93 games for France's WNT.
Canadian defender and 2023 WWC player Vanessa Gilles (27) has extended her loan with Lyon through June 2024. Gilles scored ACFC's first-ever regular season goal on April 29 in front of a sold-out home crowd. Since joining Lyon in September 2022, Gilles has 12 starts, with three goals and three assists. For Canada, she has 25 caps with three goals and won an Olympic Gold Medal in the 2020 Games in Tokyo. She joined Angel City from Division 1 Féminine team FC Girondins de Bordeaux after a four-year stint with the club. She played collegiate soccer at University of Cincinnati.
The team still has time to put a run to the playoffs together and their midfield has been better since U.S. international Julie Ertz joined after the season started. French midfielder Clarisse Le Bihan has improved her impact on the field of late (see more below) while Scottish international Claire Emslie, Mexican international Katie Johnson and American Savannah McCaskill gives Angel City a solid attack and former U.S. international Sydney Leroux has returned from a long-term injury and scored in the side's 2-1 home loss on June 5 to Chicago, her 40th career goal; Leroux is now 11th all-time in league scoring. Leroux has now scored for six different NWSL clubs. Only Jess McDonald (Racing Louisville) has scored for more clubs (seven). Leroux said after that match: "It's definitely been an emotional year. I didn't know if I would be able to put on this jersey again and be able to play the way that I know I can play, so to come on, to feel like I'm back, to not have any issues, and to play without pain, was really special. We wish that the score was a little different, but I think we showed that we can play tough and that's what we need to do, but for 90 minutes plus."
French import Clarisse Le Bihan talked about her second season in the league ahead of the club's 2-1 home win over current league leaders North Carolina on July 9: "It's been a big change for me on the pitch. The intensity of the league is different. People are faster, more powerful, and it's often so different from the way we play in Europe or France. It has been a big change, but I've been enjoying every part of it. It makes me a better player, because I've progressed in multiple areas. As for life off the pitch, it has been amazing to discover this city of Los Angeles and also to travel all over the country to play games and discover the culture everywhere. So far, I'm really happy with this experience and I'm feeling more comfortable on and off the field, with the language too."
Having a full preseason this year helped her as well: "It was really important for me to be there during the preseason and be around the group, working with them. It's easier for me to understand exactly what the staff wanted from every player and I've played in different positions too. I was always adapting myself last season and now that I had this preseason to train and was constantly with the team, I'm feeling more comfortable with everything on the field, from set pieces to the way we play and defend. It was something important for me and something I felt that I missed last year."
or replacement players during the Women's World Cup, the side signed veteran Elizabeth Eddy, originally from Newport Beach, California, who was selected in the 2014 National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) draft by the Western New York Flash, who she helped win the 2016 NWSL Championship. She has since played for the North Carolina Courage, Sky Blue FC, NJ/NY Gotham FC, and the Houston Dash. She has also played internationally in 2015 with Okayama Yunogo Belle in Japan on loan, in 2020 for Vittsjö of the
Damallsvenskan in Sweden, and most recently in 2021-2022 with Newcastle United of the A-league in Australia. She played at USC in Los Angeles. Another replacement signing was Kelsey Hill, a recent graduate of Pepperdine University, who has been training with the club since the beginning of the season. She appeared on ACFC's preseason roster during their exhibition match against Club América Femenil on March 8 at BMO Stadium, a 3-0 win for the NWL side.
Chicago Red Stars (5-1-9, 16 points, Eleventh)
Chicago's defense, even with U.S. international Alyssa Naeher in goal, has been leaking goals, surrendering a league worst 33, while scoring 19—tied for sixth best with Louisville in the league. They won two in a row for the first time this season in July with a pair of 1-0 wins over San Diego at home and Houston away, but then fell to Racing Louisville 2-0 in mid-July just before the WWC break. They should be encouraged that younger Americans Ella Stevens (25) has four goals in her fourth season, and rookie Penelope Hocking (23) has scored three and are leading the team in scoring. This club desperately needs some new signings in the post WWC feeding frenzy or coach Chris Petrucelli could be dispatched at the end of the season, though I think he has done a nice job in a turbulent ownership situation as the team is in the process of being sold, but they need a major influx of top talent for the rest of 2023 and 2024.
Kansas City Current (5-0-10, 15 points, Twelfth)
The Current has been very active in the transfer market this summer, with arguably their biggest signing being 2023 Brazil WWC player Lauren Eduarda Leal Costa (20), a defender who is more commonly known at Lauren, through the 2024 season with an option for 2025. In a separate transaction, Kansas City traded $100,000 and a 2024 international slot to the North Carolina Courage in exchange for relinquishing its exclusive rights for Lauren. Kansas City Current general manager Camille Ashton said: "Having the chance to bring someone of Lauren's class to Kansas City is an easy decision for us. She's a promising young center back with international experience and we believe she has the ability to elevate our relentless grit on the pitch. To have not one but two Brazilian national team players here in Kansas City [with Debinha] will make this an exciting brand of soccer to watch every match night."
Lauren made her senior team debut for Brazil on September 20, 2021. She has 11 caps for Brazil. She also helped Brazil to a third-place finish at the 2022 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Costa Rica. In 2020, at only 17 years old, Lauren started her professional career with São Paulo FC. She played 27 games with the club through two seasons before transferring to Spain to play for Madrid CFF in 2021, where she made 40 appearances.
The Current also signed Danish National Team defender Stine Ballisager Pedersen (29) to a contract through the 2024 season, with an option for the 2025 season, for an agreed upon transfer fee from Norwegian
Toppserien club Vålerenga IF. Ballisager is also playing in the 2023 WWC; she has played with Danish national teams since 2009 when she began playing for the U-16 team. She has appeared for her home country 43 times, with 41 starts and was named the Danish Female Footballer of the Year in 2013 and 2022. Ballisager signed her first professional contract with IK Skovbakken at the age of 18. She was transferred to Vålerenga in 2018 and has made 108 appearances for the club. She started every match for her club throughout her six seasons there. As Vålerenga's captain she helped the club to become Toppserien runners-up in 2019 and 2022 and win the championship in 2020. This is her first move outside of Europe.
The Current brought in former MLS and USMNT midfielder Lee Nguyen as an assistant coach. The midfielder played for years in Major League Soccer and internationally for clubs in the Netherlands, Denmark and Vietnam. During his eight years in MLS, he played in more than 250 matches, leading the New England Revolution to the 2014 MLS Cup Final and winning the 2019 Supporter's Shield (best record in the regular season) with LAFC. Nguyen has six caps with the U.S. Men's National Team. Previously, Nguyen coached for the Washington Spirit in early 2022, before coming out of retirement as a player to join Ho Chi Minh City in the Vietnamese V-League.
For the second straight season, the Kansas City Current II will play under the Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL) umbrella. They won the 2022 Heartland Conference and, in the postseason, Current II defeated FC Milwaukee Torrent 7–0, then Indios Denver FC 6–1 before falling to the Colorado Rapids Women 3-2 in the Central Region finals. After their head coach Huw Williams—the former general manager for the NWSL side—left the club after player abuse allegations surfaced, the Kansas City Current II club was left off the schedule for the 2023 season and played an independent schedule this past summer. The Current II intends to return as an expansion team for the WPSL 2024 season.
Kansas City General Manager, Camille Ashton said: "A fundamental mission of our club as we continue to grow is investing in the next generation of talent and providing a pathway to the professional game." The Kansas City Current have a stated ambition to be the best women's football club in the world. The development of a second team, the Current II, is the next step in that process. The club brought in some of the best collegiate and high-level high school players to train and play in a professional atmosphere against some of the best players in the world. The Current II roster for 2023 had 24 players from across the country, including 13 from the Kansas City metro area and two from Wichita, Kansas. They come from a variety of colleges including Wake Forest, Duke, U of Michigan, Princeton, Arkansas, St. Louis University, UCLA, the University of Utah and Oklahoma State.
Utah Royals looks to England for their first Sporting Director
2024 NWSL Expansion club Utah Royals signed Kelly Cousins (37), a native of the U.K. and former Reading Women's manager, as the clubs' first Sporting Director. Cousins said: "I am really looking forward to bringing my knowledge and experience to build a roster, a culture and, most importantly, a place that gives players everything they need to be able to perform at their best."
During her time at Reading, Cousins led the club to an all-time best fourth-place finish in 2017-18 in the WSL. The following season, the team finished fifth and reached the FA Cup semifinals along the way. The club was relegated at the end of the 2022-23 season and she was let go. She also was a player at the club.
Bay FC names GM and Initial Stadium
On June 15, Bay FC, a NWSL expansion franchise in the San Francisco Bay area for 2024, named Lucy Rushton as the club's first General Manager. Rushton was most recently the GM for the MLS team D.C. United, becoming the second woman ever to hold that position at the time. Prior to her stint at D.C. United, Rushton was the head of technical recruitment and analysis for Atlanta United, where she helped the team claim the 2018 MLS Cup. Prior to that, she was at Reading Football Club and as Senior Performance Analyst helped the club secure promotion to the English Premier League in 2012 after a first-place finish in the Championship in the 2011-2012 season. One of the co-founders and former U.S. national team player Aly Wagner said: "We're excited to combine forces with Lucy to bring our football vision to life as we build our roster for 2024. Her background and expertise in utilizing data and analytics will push our club and the women's game to the next level."
The team will play at San Jose's PayPal Park, which is where the MLS Earthquakes play. San Jose has been home to the Earthquakes since they joined the North American Soccer League in 1974 and has always been a focal point for professional soccer activity in the Bay area. The stadium opened in 2015 and seats 18,000. The U.S. women's national team played its 2023 World Cup send-off match against Wales in front of a sellout crowd at the stadium on July 9. The team said it will invest more than $3 million in a "world-class, 3,600-square-foot stand-alone facility adjacent to the stadium" that will include the team's locker room, office areas, lounges, training rooms, hydrotherapy facilities and more. It will also be Bay FC's "central home for game-day operations." They also plan to build a training venue in the area and wants to hold exhibition matches and some full-team workouts "around the Bay Area and Northern California."
Denver Colorado is exploring both the NWSL and USL Super League
Denver FC is exploring the prospects of joining either the NWSL or the USL Super League which starts in the fall of 2024 (see: The Week in Women's Football: Exclusive chats with Spokane owner Harnetiaux, USL Commissioner Vandervort - Tribal Football
This will be quite interesting to follow and could set a long-term benchmark for future expansion city bids in examining the two leagues, with the USL having a much lower expansion fee and lower expected overhead expenses.
Denver FC is being spearheaded by Jordan Angeli, a former professional player and Colorado native; Ben Hubbard, the founder and CEO of Denver-based insurance company Parsyl and a former President Barack Obama administration official; and Tom Dunmore, an experienced sports executive with an extensive background across professional soccer, motorsports and cricket. The group is supported by a diverse group of individuals, businesses and investors passionate about bringing professional women's soccer to Colorado
Once the team joins a league, community input will help guide the team's eventual name and identity for all soccer fans in the Mile High City. Denver FC intends to submit a bid to join a Division One professional league by the end of 2023 and bring world class women's soccer to Colorado.
In addition to engaging the community, Denver FC is undertaking market development and feasibility activities to secure stadium and training facility sites and is seeking to attract additional investors.
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