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NWSL: Houston becomes second MLS franchise to place team in women’s professional league

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Consider that the National Women’s Soccer League’s predecessor, Women’s Professional Soccer (2009-2011), saw its marque franchise fold after the circuit’s first year. That’s the context needed to realize how big a day this is for the NWSL, with North America’s latest attempt at a professional women’s league announcing on Thursday that Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo will enter a team in the league starting with the 2014 season.

The move takes the league from eight to nine teams for its second season, the Houston Dash set to join the Portland Thorns (operated by the Portland Timbers) as the second NWSL entry to be operated by a Major League Soccer team. Leading the league in attendance in season one (drawing 13,320 per game, nine thousand more than the league average), the Thorns won the league’s first championship, defeating Western New York 2-0 in August’s title game.

Now Houston will try to emulate their MLS partner’s success, with the Dash set to begin play in April.

“We are thrilled to have our very own NWSL franchise here in Houston,” Houston Dynamo president Chris Canetti said in a statement announcing the move. “It is an important addition to our sports landscape and will bring added value to our community.”

Canetti initially floated the idea of a women’s team to potential customers three weeks ago, asking for refundable season ticket deposits as a way of gauging interest. Though initial feedback from Canetti indicated early returns were soft, Houston ultimately decided to become the NWSL’s first expansion team, with drafts to stock their roster expected this winter.

“We’re proud and excited to welcome the Houston Dash to the NWSL,” league executive director Cheryl Bailey said. “We are thrilled at being able to add an organization as strong as the Houston Dynamo as we work toward continuing to build a sustainable league.”

That the NWSL was able to add a partner like the Dynamo speaks to the model the league has set up. With U.S. Soccer, the Canadian Soccer Association, and the Mexican federation subsidizing up to a combined seven players per team, much of the teams’ biggest costs are being offset. For a franchise like the Dash — who have an existing organizational infrastructure, and control and operate their own venue (BBVA Compass Stadium) — the NWSL presents a relatively safe investment.

After its first year, the NWSL has a proof of concept, one that was strong enough to convince a new partner to come on board. Had the model proved flimsy, hinting the league was destined to go the way of WPS and the Women’s United Soccer Association (2001-2003), it would have been near-impossible to convince this type of partner that a team was worth the risk. Instead, Houston’s ready to start from the ground up.

“We share the vision for this league and look forward to playing our part in making it a great success,” Canetti said. “Part of our responsibility is to grow the game of soccer, and this new team will play a significant role in that effort.”

By adding a ninth team to the league, Houston’s already playing a significant part. Whereas Women’s Professional Soccer was losing partners at this point in its run, the NWSL has added a major one.

That won’t guarantee success, but the addition does push the league forward. Though they’re an expansion team, Houston immediately becomes one of the NWSL’s most viable franchises, one that could help it survive women’s soccer’s dreaded three-year curse.

Men in Blazers podcast: Celebrating Leicester’s title with Arlo White

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In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog and Davo celebrate Leicester City’s improbable Premier League title with Leicester’s own Arlo White.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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European police say Russian mafia infiltrating soccer clubs

LISBON, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 04:  Sporting Lisbon fans celebrate after their team score a goal during the Portuguese Liga match between Sporting Lisbon and Uniao Leiria at the Alvalade XXI Stadium on November 4, 2005 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Portuguese and European police say they have broken up a cell of an important Russian mafia group that allegedly laundered money through European football clubs.

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a statement Wednesday the group identified EU football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash.

[ MORE: Man City bounced from UCL ]

Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros (dollars) through player transfers, TV rights deals and betting.

Portuguese and European police on Tuesday raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria and arrested three key members of the Russian gang. Three other Portuguese clubs’ premises were searched.

Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, though it gave no details.

Emre Can back in the Liverpool side ahead of Europa clash vs. Villarreal

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14:  Emre Can of Liverpool battles for the ball with Idrissa Gana of Aston Villa during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Liverpool at Villa Park on February 14, 2016 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Emre Can has recovered from an ankle injury and will be in Liverpool’s squad for their Europa League semifinal against Villarreal on Thursday night.

The German international has not played since April 14 when he was forced off in the Reds’ wild 4-3 win over Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Liverpool prepping for Villarreal ]

Giving his team update on Wednesday, manager Jurgen Klopp said Can is back in the team, although captain Jordan Henderson is still out. The Reds enter the second leg trailing 1-0 on aggregate.

Another positive note out of Melwood was the return of Danny Ings to first-team training. The 23-year-old striker signed with Liverpool last summer, but managed just eight appearances before having his season end to a torn ACL in October. Ings is still far away from his full return, but it was a good sight to see him back on the pitch and making progress in his recovery.

Disappointed Pellegrini rues lack of offense in Man City’s loss to Real

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 04:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City reacts during the UEFA Champions League semi final, second leg match between Real Madrid and Manchester City FC at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on May 4, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images )
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Manchester City put in an uninspired performance against Real Madrid on Wednesday, losing the match 1-0 and falling out of the UEFA Champions League.

[ RECAP: Real Madrid 1-0 Man City ]

The match was decided by just one goal, but the scoreline was flattering to City as they failed to create any kind of real chances at the Bernabeu. Over the two legs, City managed just two shots on target.

While City were wildly disappointing in the second leg, manager Manuel Pellegrini did not think the match was that one-sided, saying both teams struggled on the attack.

I am disappointed because I think that was a very close game with two teams who did not create many chances. The two teams were working with no-one making a difference.

It is not the best thing changing a defender very early but I don’t think we had any problems in defence, we had problems creating, same as Real Madrid. They did not create many chances.

Real Madrid was not in top form, but they still could have scored three or four goals on Wednesday. Joe Hart had to come up with some big saves to keep things close, as the England goalkeeper was by far City’s most valuable player throughout the tie.

[ MORE: Liverpool preparing for Europa League match vs. Villarreal ]

The absence of David Silva through injury certainly hurt City’s attack, but there was very little service moving forward from the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Yaya Toure. The poor play in the midfield left Sergio Aguero stranded alone up top, nearly invisible in the second leg.

Without service, Aguero was forced to track back to try and find the ball himself, leaving City no options to hit on the counter. For a tie between two of the most expensive teams in the world, neither side was truly impressive, but City surely disappointing.