Houston Dash Joins NWSL

HoustonDashThe Houston Dash became the first expansion side for the NWSL with the announcement last week and headlines this week’s Grainey Report.  The inaugural NWSL champions, Portland Thorns, named a new coach, 2013 mobcast Cup and more…

By Tim Grainey

Exciting New Additions to NWSL

The Houston Dash was formally admitted to the National Women’s Soccer League on December 12, 2013 as the league’s first expansion team, and will compete in 2014.

The Dash is owned by the MLS Houston Dynamo and will utilize their team resources to support the team, with the first priority of hiring a head coach. Dynamo/Dash president Chris Canetti told reporters in a conference call that a social media driven season ticket deposit drive netted over 1,000 subscribers, even though it was held over only a few weeks.

The Dash estimates that they can average 3,000 fans a game and they will play at BBVA Compass Stadium. For MLS games, the soccer specific BBVA Compass seats 22,000 but will be downsized for Dash matches to approximately 7,000 seats.

Some people have strongly felt that, after previously announcing no expansion in 2014, NWSL reversing field is reckless, particularly just a month before the college draft and a few weeks before national team allocation decisions are made by Canada, Mexico and the United States national team head coaches. Howcver, Houston is a first-rate franchise in MLS, owned in part by AEG (which owned the Los Angeles Sol for one year in WPS).

U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati explained that: “We had originally been set with eight teams for this year and had decided that we weren’t going to expand. But we had frankly what we considered an extraordinary opportunity with Houston and with the ownership group there in the city; a group that we think can do everything that needs to happen in a very short period of time.  We’re very excited about having them join the league.”

Cheryl Bailey, the NWSL executive director, added: “I think it’s pretty simple when you have a team like Houston that has an interest in joining NWSL and all the things that they can bring to this league….We would have been crazy not to have said, ‘Welcome to the league.’’

We couldn’t agree more with the league leadership and the eight team owners—who all supported the Dash’s entry. Houston has a lot of work to do in a few short months, but remember that NWSL was a concept in July 2012 when it was first broached by Gulati at the London Olympic Games. The league announced the eight original franchise in November of 2012, so they didn’t formally have much additional time either and we certainly would call the 2013 season as success—really a benchmark for the women’s professional game.

NWSL now has three franchises owned by men’s teams—MLS’ Portland Thorns and Houston Dash and FC Kansas City, started by the MISL Missouri Comets. Both the Thorns and FC Kansas City were revelations on and off the field last year, ending as playoff clubs and the two leaders in home attendance. NWSL is doing what WUSA didn’t want to do and WPS could never manage—bringing in experienced soccer groups to the league—and in the U.S., that starts with MLS. With Portland and Houston discussing their NWSL participation with other MLS owners, there could be more MLS teams joining the league in the future.

Sunil Gulati also said the league continues to have discussions with 3-4 potential ownership groups in other markets for future expansion.

With the addition of a ninth franchise, each NWSL side will play 24 regular season matches, an increase of two games from 2013. The season will start on the second weekend in April and the championship match will be held on August 30.

Paul Riley Named Thorns Head Coach

Paul Riley was named as head coach of the Portland Thorns on December 10th, replacing Cindy Parlow Cone, who resigned for family reasons earlier this month.

Riley is a well-respected coach in the women’s game who steered Philadelphia Independence to two consecutive WPS Championship games while being named WPS Coach of the Year both seasons. He led the Long Island Fury to two WPSL titles in 2006 and 2009 and the semifinals in WPSL Elite in 2012.

“Paul is an accomplished coach and we have been very impressed with his knowledge of the Thorns FC organization, the NWSL and the women’s game at the highest levels,” Gavin Wilkinson, Portland Thorns FC general manager said when introducing his new head coach. “His experience in managing top-level players was of paramount importance. Paul shares our belief that the Thorns should be perennial championship contenders. We, the staff and players, are delighted to welcome Paul to the organization.”

“It is a fantastic opportunity with a club renowned for its success both on and off the field,” Riley, a proponent of offensive play, said. “It’s a great challenge and I look forward to integrating a style of play that fans in Portland will embrace. Portland is a special place for soccer and I share their passion, a love and appetite for a creative, attacking style of play. It’s a great challenge and I look forward to integrating a style of play that fans in Portland will embrace.”

Riley is inheriting a talented squad but look to him to put his own stamp on the side through acquisitions. Defender Nikki Marshall, who was released by the Thorns after the season, picked up by Washington Spirit and then traded to the Seattle Reign, was reacquired by the Thorns the next day. Marshall, a University of Colorado product, is an offensive minded wing-back and a solid pick-up for Riley in 2014.

With the addition of the Dash and Paul Riley in 2014, NWSL will be even more exciting and intriguing than the 2013 version.

Japanese Power Wins World Club Tournament

Japan’s INAC Kobe Leonessa is the 2013 mobcast Cup International Women’s Club Champion, which is largely viewed as an unofficial world club championship. INAC Kobe, the reigning Japanese league winners for three years running, defeated Chelsea of England 4-2 in the final before 3,521 fans in Tokyo on December 8.

American Beverly Goebel-Yanez, who will play on loan with the NWSL’s Seattle Reign in 2014, scored one of the goals. Goebel, from the University of Miami, played in WPS with the Washington Freedom, magicJack and the Western New York Flash, where she won a league title in 2011. She has played in Japan quite successfully for the past two years.

Chelsea, a late replacement for current UEFA Champions Wolfsburg of Germany who couldn’t commit to the tournament dates, finished seventh of eight teams this past season in England’s semi-professional FA WSL. Chelsea, coached by former Chicago Red Stars coach Emma Hayes, brought in Allie Long on a short term loan from the NWSL Champions Portland Thorns along with Aya Noguchi—a former player and now graduate assistant coach at Franklin Pierce College in New Hampshire. Chelsea acquired Japanese World Cup winner Yuki Ogimi from Potsdam of Germany in July and also had English international and former WPS forward Eniola Aluko on the squad.

Sydney FC—the reigning Australian W-League champions—defeated South American Libertadores Cup Champions Colo-Colo of Chile 4-2 on penalties after a 3-3 tie to finish the tournament in third on December 7. Australian international midfielder Kaitlin Foord of Sky Blue FC was in the squad as was Samantha Kerr, who had six goals and five assists in 19 games to help Western New York Flash make the championship final of the NWSL Jodie Taylor (formerly of Oregon State U and Ottawa Fury) is a strong forward and joined Sydney after she walked out on Gothenburg this past summer. Emma Kete is a well-traveled New Zealand international forward.

With six teams in this tournament compared to four last year, Sydney had to have a play-in game versus the Japanese League runner up NTV Beleza, winning through a Kete goal on the hour mark, 1-0.

On the semifinals on December 4, Chelsea overcame Sydney 3-2, with the Harbor City side attempting to pull back a 3-0 deficit in the last 15 minutes. Aluko scored for Chelsea while Taylor scored for Sydney. In the other semifinal, INAC Kobe easily handed Colo-Colo in a 3-0 victory with Goebel-Yanez scoring the first goal in the 15th minute.

Last year, UEFA champions Olympique Lyon won 2-1 in extra time over INAC. NTV Beleza defeated Canberra United of Australia 4-3 to capture third. The positives of the 2013 tournament—expansion from four to six teams, a strong crowd at the final (by Japanese club standards) and the inclusion of the CONMEBOL Libertadores Champion –were offset by the UEFA champions Wolfsburg’s absence. In 2012, then European champion Lyon’s visit and ultimate win provided the inaugural tournament with substantial credibility. This time, in place of Wolfsburg, the organizers invited Chelsea. The London side equipped themselves well and Emma Hayes has always been a friend to Soccer 365, but seventh place shouldn’t earn a side a UEFA Champions League spot (only first or second place teams qualify), much less an invitation to a world club championship. FIFA is exploring the idea of holding an official world club championship. Even if they designate the mobcast Cup officially rather than launch a new event, that would place more pressure on the UEFA champions to attend. There is precedence for this strategy; for 25 years before the FIFA World Club Championship fully launched (1980-2004), the European and South American club champions played a one-off game in Japan (Tokyo and Yokohama) for the Intercontinental Cup, after years of the two-leg contest turning into actual battles on their field and in the stands rather than soccer contests.

The mobcast Cup organizers do need to do a better job dialoguing with NWSL to include their champion. There were some late discussions with an NWSL side—ironically not the champion Portland Thorns–and a league official said that they are interested in continuing the dialogue to have their champion compete in the future. Sky Blue (before NWSL started) and Seattle Reign (this past preseason) have both done exhibition tours to Japan and played INAC. We would also like to see an African and an Oceania club representative invited to future editions—even for play-in games. FIFA sponsorship could help these regions’ clubs with travel costs.

U.S. U-23 National Team Camp Roster

In addition to U.S. U-20 and full National Team training camps in Florida this month, the U-23 national team is also bringing in a squad. The coach is Steve Swanson, who took Virginia to the College Cup final four this season and coached the U-20 national side to a World Cup title last year in Japan. Four of the 24 players are currently in NWSL: goalkeeper Adriana Franch of the Western New York Flash, midfielder Katy Freels of Sky Blue FC, Christine Nairn of Washington Spirit and Meleana Shim of Portland Thorns. In addition, there are four members of 2013 College Cup champions UCLA attending: defender Abby Dahlkemper and midfielders Sara Killion, Sam Mewis and Jenna Richmond. The U-23 side will scrimmage against the U-20’s during their week in Florida.

U.S.U-23 WNT Roster by Position:
GOALKEEPERS (3): Adrianna Franch (Western NY Flash; Salina, Kans.), Abby Smith (Texas; Dallas, Texas); Kelsey Wys (Florida State; Coral Springs, Fla.)
DEFENDERS (7): Natasha Anasi (Duke; Arlington, Texas), Abby Dahlkemper (UCLA; Menlo Park, Calif.), Arin Gilliland (Kentucky; Wilmore, Ky.), Jaelene Hinkle (Texas Tech; Castle Rock, Colo.), Kassey Kallman (Florida State; Woodbury, Minn.), Emily Menges (Georgetown; Garden City, N.Y.), Emily Sonnett (Virginia; Mariette, Ga.)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Danielle Colaprico (Virginia; Freehold, N.J.), Daphne Corboz (Georgetown, Greenbrook N.J.), Vanessa DiBernardo (Illinois; Champaign, Ill.), Katy Freels (Sky Blue FC; Homewood, Ala.), Sara Killion (UCLA; Fort Wayne, Ind.), Samantha Mewis (UCLA; Hanson, Mass.), Christine Nairn (Washington Spirit; Arnold, Md.), Jenna Richmond (UCLA; Centerville, Va.), Meleana Shim (Portland Thorns; Honolulu, Hawaii)
FORWARDS (5): Maya Hayes (Penn State, West Orange, N.J.), Morgan Marlborough (Santa Clara; Raymore Mo.), Kealia Ohai (North Carolina; Draper, Utah), Chioma Ubogagu (Stanford; Coppell, Texas), Courtney Verloo (Stanford; Tualatin, Ore.)

Tim Grainey is a regular contributor to Soccer365. He is the author of Beyond Bend it Like Beckham. Get your copy today.

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