NWSL Prepares for 2014

Portland Thorns FC teammates Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair celebrate championship victory.

Portland Thorns FC teammates Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair celebrate championship victory.

The National Women’s Soccer League is preparing for their 2nd season and there have been many changes since the Portland Thorns FC won the inaugural championship last year.  The Grainey Report takes a look at the trades, the 2014 national team allocations by the U.S., Canada and Mexico, Houston Dash’s expansion draft selections and the 2014 college draft.

By Tim Grainey

Some of the NWSL franchises have made substantial roster changes this off-season. We look at how each team stands to date, beginning with the expansion side Houston Dash, though for some teams we can expect more changes as teams begin tryout camps and spring training ahead of the new season launch in spring (the schedule has yet to be released by league officials).

Houston Dash has brought a lot of attention to the NWSL, in part due to its addition to the league only last month, its ownership by MLS’ Houston Dynamo team and naming University of Notre Dame coach Randy Waldrum as their inaugural head coach. Waldrun won national championships at Notre Dame in 2004 and 2010 and has been pursuing virtually any open national team job in North America or Europe for the past few years. Waldrum, a native Texan, should do well in Houston as he knows the American women’s game well. He is the first high profile coach to leave the stability of a college coaching job; we haven’t seen this before in NWSL, much less in WPS or WUSA. Hopefully, that will send a message to other college coaches that the NWSL—run by U.S. Soccer—is a less risky career choice than the other professional leagues were.

Given his former collegian Melissa Tancredi as a Canadian National Team allocation, Waldrum quickly flipped her for fellow Canadian Erin McLeod, the Chicago Red Stars starting goalkeeper last season. Waldrum only picked one U.S. Soccer allocation in the expansion draft—defender Meghan Klingenberg, who returns from Sweden. Waldrum passed on U.S. National Team players who were left unprotected, such as defenders Amy LePeilbet (Chicago), Rachel Buehler (Portland), Stephanie Cox (Seattle) and Kelly O’Hara (Sky Blue FC). Along with U.S. Soccer allocation selection Whitney Engen–who has been playing in Sweden and England–the Dash has a strong core in defense.

Beyond Bend It Like Beckham

Beyond Bend It Like Beckham

Waldrum also captured his former Notre Dame midfielder Brittany Bock from Sky Blue FC in the expansion draft, along with forward Tiffany McCarty (Washington Spirit), experienced WPS scorer Ella Masar (Chicago) and midfielder Becky Edwards (Portland Thorns). Lauren Sesselmann, another Canadian, was selected in the expansion draft from FC Kansas City but there is some discussion as to whether she will play in England or NWSL next season. In the college draft, Houston nabbed speedy North Carolina forward Keali Ohai, who was a scoring star with the 2012 FIFA U-20 World Champions. (For the full list of protected and unprotected players by team for the expansion draft and Houston’s selections, see the links below.)

Boston Breakers finished tied for fifth last season for 30 points (8-8-6 W-L-T) and remain relatively unchanged, though they will lose Australian international forward Kyah Simon for the season with an ACL injury. Kristie Mewis in midfield—a member of the U.S. National Team pool—is an important addition from a trade with Seattle. Lianne Sanderson—once again selected for England’s National Team after being ignored for many years by former national team coach Hope Powell–is always a source of goals, but look for Boston to add one more forward.

Chicago Red Stars were tied with the Breakers for fifth last year and should be more of a factor in 2014 if they can get off to a fast start. They replaced Erin McLeod with fellow Canadian backstop Karina LaBlanc, who was a key in Portland’s title run last season. The allocation of U.S. international forward Christen Press—when she is done with Tyreso’s European Champions’ League campaign–will be huge and will help a strong returning core in Lori Chalupny (midfielder) and Rachel Quon (defense). First round draft pick Julie Johnston (third overall) from Santa Clara University was capped for the first time by the full U.S. national team in 2013 after playing with the 2012 U-20 World Cup winners, and is a solid addition in midfield.

FC Kansas City lost their two Canadian allocations from last season, with defensive midfield lynchpin Desiree Scott signing to play with Notts County in England’s FA WSL, while defender Lauren Sesselmann was nabbed by Houston in the expansion draft. Nikki Kryzsik is a strong addition in defense—she won a WPSL title in San Diego last season, played in WPS and is playing internationally for Poland. The Blues should be solid again, revolving around U.S. internationals midfielder Lauren Holiday, forward Erika Tymrak and goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart; the latter seems always underrated as she is second to Hope Solo with the national team, but was WPSL Goalkeeper of the year in 2013, won a WPS final in 2010 with FC Gold Pride and made the final again the next year with Philadelphia Independence.

Portland Thorns are the reigning champion but lost their head coach–Cindy Parlow-Cone—after the season, who resigned for family reasons. Portland hired well-respected Paul Riley, the ex-Long Island Fury (WPSL) and Philadelphia Independence (WPS) coach. He quickly shook things up by signing FIFA World Player of the Year Nadine Angerer and shuffling Goalkeeper of the year Karina LeBlanc off to Chicago. Angerer won a European Championship crown backstopping Germany last summer and was on two Women’s World Cup champion squads (2003 and 2007). She is currently playing in Brisbane, Australia with the Roar.

Riley explained the signing: “To be able to sign one of the best goalkeepers in women’s soccer illustrates how serious we are about being one of the top clubs in the world. Nadine is exceptional in just about every category; shot saving, footwork, crosses, organization, knowledge and experience. We are honored to have Nadine on our roster and she will be a critical addition in our goal to host and win the NWSL Championship.”

Angerer said: “It is with great pride that I look forward to joining the current U.S. champion club in Portland and I hope I can contribute to another successful season for Thorns FC. I am excited to play for a team with many of the top women’s players in the world.”

Angerer’s signing is a huge addition for the league—addressing year one critics who felt that NWSL could do more to attract some of the best international players, who were playing in other leagues. Arguably the best goalkeeper in 2013, Angerer will shore up a defense that, though strong, at times flattered to deceive. The offensive core of forwards Alex Morgan, Christine Sinclair and Tobin Heath return and Portland could be even better than they were last year, when they finished the regular season tied for first on 38 points (11-6-5) but was seeded third in the playoffs based on goal difference. They impressively captured the league crown with two road victories in the playoffs.

Seattle Reign surprisingly retained head coach Laura Harvey in the offseason, despite being quite a dysfunctional mess on the field for much of the year. Seattle has seemed to have had a fire sale of late but Scottish international forward Kim Little, who Harvey coached at Arsenal, could be an inspired addition. Jess Fishlock, a key player for Wales in their quest to qualify for Canada’s World Cup next year, needs to be supported more in midfield this season. Beverly Goebel’s return from Japan on loan will help as will the acquisition of forward Danielle Foxhoven, who had four goals last year in Portland in largely a reserve role. Pending more additions, the Reign still seem a long shot for a playoff berth in 2014 but look for the team to improve on their seventh place showing in 2013, when they recorded 5 wins and 3 ties from 22 games.

Sky Blue FC led the table for long stretches last season but finished fourth, two points from the top, on a 10-6-6 mark for 36 points. Jim Gabarra—a head coach in all three women’s professional leagues–is an experienced, canny leader but his offense will be hurt if Australian international forward Lisa DeVanna (5 goals and 2 assists including the goal of the year) does not return, as expected. Gabarra’s solid team has been stable in the off-season, with a key central core of international allocations Sophie Schmidt in midfield (Canada) and Monica Ocampo at forward (Mexico). The new acquisition of Canadian forward Jonelle Filigno could help up front. She will be playing—at least in 2014—on Rutger’s Yurcak Field after her collegiate career at the New Jersey State University. Penn State forward Maya Hayes—the sixth overall selection in the college draft–should see time up front as well for Sky Blue.

Washington Spirit, the last place finishers in 2013, should be much improved in 2014. They won only 3 games along with 3 ties last year for 14 points but never seemed as bad as their record. Anemic goal scoring was their big problem, scoring just 16 times in 22 games. Head Coach Mark Parsons has been active bringing in new talent, including English forward Jodie Taylor (who has played for clubs in England, Sweden, Australia, the U.S. and Canada and went to Oregon State), and WPS veterans in forward Danesha Adams and midfielder Yael Averbuch—returning from Gothenburg in Sweden’s Damallsvenska. All three should significantly boost the goal scoring tally. Look to Ashlyn Harris to have an improved year in goal as she strives for more consideration at the national team level ahead of the 2015 World Cup. She will have North Carolina Tar Heel defender Crystal Dunn—the number one draft choice last week and a rising star with the U.S. National Team—most likely in the starting lineup to support her.

Western New York Flash, won the regular season title (10-4-8 for 28 points) but lost the final to Portland 2-0 in their home stadium in Rochester. There’s not a lot of change needed with U.S. internationals Abby Wambach at forward, Carli Lloyd in midfield and excellent goalkeeper Adrianna Franch back for her sophomore year as a professional. Head Coach Aaron Lines is a winner—having appeared in the last four championship games in four different leagues (W-League, WPS, WPSL Elite and NWSL) winning three of those. Look for another international addition, particularly if Spanish international forward Adrianna Martin (3 goals last season) has a slow start. Forward Courtney Verloo—the ninth overall pick in the draft out of Stanford—is a subtle player who can perform in a variety of positions, having been a forward and defender in college.

There were five new allocated U.S. national team allocated players for NWSL this season, four of whom were returnees from Europe: Christen Press (Chicago), Yael Averbuch (Washington), Meghan Klingenberg (Boston) and Whitney Engen (Houston). Long-time defender Stephanie Cox was allocated to Seattle. U.S. Soccer is subsiding 26 salaries, up from 23 a year ago. Press, Klingenberg and Engen will remain with Swedish club Tyreso until they are eliminated from this season’s European Champions’ League, which could leave their arrival in NWSL to as late as June if Tyreso makes the final.

Canada had four new additions to their allocations, with again 16 in total, including: Chicago Red Stars defender Rachel Quon (as the Stanford graduate is using dual citizenship to play for Canada), Jonelle Filigno (Sky Blue FC), former Nebraska Husker midfielder Selenia Iacchelli (Western New York), Melissa Tancredi (Chicago via Houston)–a revelation at the 2012 Olympics who took time off professionally for chiropractic school–and Chelsea Stewart (Boston), a defender who won a College Cup this year at UCLA and a bronze medal at the Olympics in 2012.

Mexico has reduced their allocations form 16 to 8 in 2014. Their two new additions are American born, utilizing FIFA’s heritage rules on parents/grandparents’ birth nations to qualify for Mexico: Jackie Acevedo (Portland) and Arianna Romero (Seattle but who was selected by Houston in the expansion draft). Acevedo is well-known to followers of the WPSL as she played last season for the Houston Aces, losing the WPSL final to San Diego SeaLions, and before that for Oklahoma FC in 2012. Acevedo was regularly among the league scoring leaders and played collegiately at Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma, where she was a three-time NAIA All-American, scoring 28 goals as a senior. Acevedo has represented Mexico at full and U-20 levels and before that was a U.S. U-16 and U-17 national team member. She is a native of Austin Texas. Romero is an Arizona native who played defender at the University of Nebraska and represented Mexico at the U-20 and full national team level.

Over 180 players signed up for the college draft in which 36 players were selected (See a link to the full lists below.)

Available Players for NWSL Expansion Draft

Full Expansion Draft Results

List of 180 eligible players for 2014 NWSL College Draft

2014 NWSL College Draft

Tim Grainey is a regular contributor to Soccer365.  His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham is out now.  Get your copy today.

  1. Surprised by the weak assessment of Seattle. No mention of the addition of Sydney Leroux, one of the league’ stop scorers? Didn’t include news of a full season of Megan Rapinoe, Hope Solo and Steph Cox? I think they’ll challenge for the title in ’14.

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