To kick-off his new column, this week Tim Grainey talks to Notts County new signing Fiona O'Sullivan and examines the North American W-League 2014 champions Los Angeles Blues.
Notts County New Signing Fiona O'Sullivan Returns to the U.S. Only to Run her Youth Camp; Her Career is Firmly Established in Europe.
Fiona O'Sullivan, a Republic of Ireland international forward, has joined Notts County during the summer break and scored in her first league game, a 1-1 tie versus Arsenal on July 27. American-born and raised, she qualified to play for Ireland through her father, who was born in Bantry. Like many American players who returned home from clubs abroad to play in NWSL this season - including U.S. national team pool members Christen Press, Yael Averbuch, Whitney Engen - O'Sullivan also returned to the U.S. but only to run her summer soccer camps. Since finishing college, her club and international playing career have been entirely centered in Europe.
Fiona O'Sullivan grew up in Northern California and played four years at the University of San Francisco. A forward, she was drafted by the Chicago Red Stars of Women's Professional Soccer in 2010 (then coached by current Chelsea head coach Emma Hayes) but went abroad instead:
"I felt I had better opportunities in Europe-for multiple reasons it was a complete fit. I just have seemed to find really good situations so far over in Europe. I really enjoy the culture and in terms of playing for my national team; it's also been a favorable situation - very close. Another thing that has kept me away from the States - one of the main reasons - I have a soccer school that I do in the summer. The U.S. league runs straight through the summer so I'm not really able to do that, but whereas in Sweden, France, Germany, England, they have a break where I can go home."
O'Sullivan - despite her experience with top level European leagues and in UEFA national team competitions - has not played professionally in either WPS or NWSL, returning every summer only to visit family and for her Fiona's Soccer Camp in Marin County, California. She started the camp, now in its 11th year, as a 17-year-old after graduating from high school. She holds three or four different sessions each summer, with about 60 kids a week.
"I really enjoy spending time with kids, coaching them and sharing what I have learned. I feel that I couldn't have gotten where I am today without my community, who helped coached me, so it's an element of making sure I continue that teaching environment in the community."
With her signing with Notts County, the 27-year-old O'Sullivan is now playing in her fourth European league, having played professionally for two years in Sweden (AIK and Pitea), then a year in France (ASJ Soyaux) before spending the last two seasons in Germany with Freiburg. Freiburg finished eighth of twelve teams with 7 wins 4 ties and 11 losses in the recently completed 2013-14 Frauen-Bundesliga season. O'Sullivan scored 6 goals with Freiburg, including a hat trick versus BV Cloppenburg in a 7-2 victory.
She explained her move from Germany, where she was quite comfortable, to the FA WSL: "I feel that I got a really good opportunity at Notts County in the English FA."
She signed until the end of the season: "then we'll discuss after the season is over what I do from there."
At Notts County, she will play with Canadian international midfielder Desiree Scott - whose departure from FC Kansas City in NWSL last spring caused some surprise and consternation to team and league management - as she was such a force in defensive midfield last season.
Australian international defender Danielle Brogan (Sydney FC), also a mid-season acquisition by Notts County, has joined four others with experience in Australia's W-League or New Zealand's domestic league: Matildas forward Caitlin Friend (Melbourne Victory), New Zealand defender Katie Hoyle (Melbourne Victory and SC 07 Bad Neuenahr in Germany), Kiwi defender Anna Green (born in Stockport England and who played last year with Sydney FC and Lokomotive Leipzig in Germany) and Kiwi midfielder Hayley Bowden (Lynn-Avon in New Zealand and who played collegiately in the U.S. at Southwestern Baptist and Virginia Commonwealth and is now in her third FA WSL season).
Notts County goalkeeper Carly Telford recently was brought into the English national team for an upcoming friendly with Sweden, with a chance to add to her 3 caps.
After her first league game for Notts County, O'Sullivan felt that it was too early to fully assess play in the FA WSL, but did feel that both teams - "seemed to play more direct football than what I have been use to in my last two years in Germany." O'Sullivan said that her transition to Notts County has been very easy.
"My teammates and manager Rick Pastmoor have made me feel very welcome here. I feel lucky that everyone has helped me to learn things so quickly."
Staying in Europe for club ball also helps O'Sullivan's international career. O'Sullivan uniquely first trialed for the Republic of Ireland National Team in the United States, while they held a two month training camp in the summer of 2009 in Indiana, ahead of the 2011 Women's World Cup qualifying. The Irish approach towards their diaspora has been to find a few top quality players rather than to recruit the balance of the team around them (as Greece and Turkey have done in the past): the latter approach would not only break budgets but would take away the focus on developing the youth at home, many of whom play Gaelic football.
O'Sullivan since has won over 30 caps, scoring 12 goals. She has started six of seven 2015 UEFA Women's World Cup qualifiers to date, with two goals scored. The Irish are 5 points behind second place Russia and 13 behind leaders Germany, and have still never qualified for a World Cup or UEFA qualifier.
It will be interesting to see if O'Sullivan and Notts County continue together for 2015. With the chances of a 2015 World Cup spot for the Republic of Ireland quite remote at this point, she should have no shortages of clubs interested in an experienced international who won't be cup tied next summer.
O'Sullivan has clearly benefitted from her decision to head to Europe rather than to play professionally in the States and should be an interesting addition to Notts County.
L.A. Blues Win Second W-League Title in a Row and Fourth Title Since 2008
Los Angeles Blues won their fourth W-League championship last weekend, defeating Washington Spirit Reserves 6-1 in the final on July 27 in Bradenton, Florida.
The W-League is a developmental league - which has just completed its 20th season - that is open to collegiate and professional players, and is one of a series of leagues - both men's and women's - below Major League Soccer run by the United Soccer Leagues. The W-League had 25 teams in 2014, all across the United States with six in Eastern Canada. The L.A. (Pali) Blues have won titles in 2008, 2009, 2013 and now 2014, and lost another final on penalty kicks to Ottawa Fury in 2012.
The Blues, coached by Charlie Naimo, who also directed the New Jersey Wildcats to a W-League title in 2005 and was general manager for the L.A. Sol in WPS's first season in 2009 that lost in the WPS final to Sky Blue FC, has called this team his best.
Los Angeles romped through the regular season and three post season games, with a 12-0-0 regular season record, scoring 50 goals against 4 allowed. Experienced forward Mele French (who played in SC Freiburg in Germany in the past) was league MVP. Naimo, who originally brought Brazilian international Marta to WPS, also had England's Rachel Daly (pictured above) on the side. Daly, who played on England's U-17 Women's World Cup team in 2008, was called into the National Team pool in March this year for a tournament in Spain. Daly played all 12 regular season games for the Blues and scored 2 goals and plays collegiately at St. John's University in New York.
The Blues-arguably the best women's side in the United States below the NWSL level-has certainly been a good career stepping platform for the players.
Naimo used his extensive international contacts to help forward Shawna Gordon secure a contract with Umea of Sweden for this fall. Gordon scored 5 goals and 5 assists this season with Los Angeles and turned down an opportunity mid-season to sign for the NWSL's FC Kansas City, which was a testament to Charlie Naimo, his coaching staff and the high quality organization that the Blues have developed. Gordon played at Long Beach State and with Western Sydney Wanderers in Australia's W-League.
U.S. U-23 national team member Katie Stengel, who scored 50 goals in 75 games over four seasons and won the U-20 World Cup in 2012, did not participate in the NWSL's 2014 draft and has signed for Germany's Bayern Munich for this upcoming Frauen-Bundesliga season. Stengel had 8 goals and 1 assist for the Blues. Stengel's Wake Forest University, U-23 national team and Blue's teammate, goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe, has signed for IK Grand Bodø in Norway.
There is also a British flavor on Los Angeles' bench, as technical director/assistant coach Tracey Kevins, formerly a coach at Barnet and with England's National Team program before heading Stateside in 2013. Their goalkeeper coach is Lorna Brownlie, who is also the head coach at the University of Auburn-Montgomery in Alabama. Brownlie played goalkeeper in college at the University of Mobile in Alabama and was a youth national team player for her native Scotland.
Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book 'Beyond Bend it Like Beckham' is on the global game of women's football. Get your copy today.
Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey