In our one and only other post on women’s European club soccer, we offered Olympique Lyonnais Féminin (Lyon’s women’s team) may be the best team of whom you’ve never heard. Back then, Lyon had just beat Frauen Bundesliga power Turbine Potsdam 5-1 in the first leg of the teams’ UEFA Champions League semifinal. Lyonnais went on to oust Potsdam before defeating defeating another German club, Frankfurt, 2-0. It was Lyon’s second straight Champions League title, won while outscoring their opponents 39-1.
This year’s Champions League is off to a similar start, something we could have predicted after Lyon began their domestic campaign with back-to-back 8-0 victories. Finnish champions PK-35 was able to slow that momentum slightly, limiting OL to a 7-0 victory in Vantaa. Six different players got on the scoresheet for Patrice Lair’s side, former WPS star Camile Abily scoring her sixth goal of the season in the 91st minute. With only 90 minutes gone in the team’s 180-minute tie, PK-35 can expect the scoreline to get worse when they resume the match next week in France.
That game will be one of 16 second legs to take place next week, the competition set to move into its Round of 16. The survivors should include Potsdam, perhaps Lyon’s greatest threat, and Arsenal, aiming for another semifinal run. Unfortunately nobody in the field that looks capable of threatening Lyon, with the two-time defending champions having added even more firepower in the offseason. Veteran attacker Laetitia Tonazzi moved to OL from France runners up Juvisy (five goals in three games), while 23-year-old Japanese international Ami Otaki (three goals in two) looks set for a bigger role.
Lyon dominance creates is both a blessing and a curse for the emerging women’s game. Their success coulpes by a highly attractive style of play gives new followers a focal point. New to the women’s club game? Just watch Lyon. Wow, they’re good.
The only problem: The games are starting to lack drama. You watch to see if Lyon’s opposition can keep up, when they don’t, it’s hard to maintain interest. And this isn’t just a top of the table versus relegation battler match. This is in Champions League.
At the point where the world is starting to take some minimal notice of UEFA’s leagues (with Champions League matches actually being shown on TV here in the States), the region’s marque competition isn’t competitive. You may tune in to watch the best women’s players in the world, but you’re not going to see much of a game. That’s a problem. Lyon, who outscored their competition 119-3 in last year’s Féminin Division 1, has no peer.
The solution is for other teams to step up their games, but it’s not going to happen overnight. But it needs to be a priority for UEFA: How do we create more Lyons? How do we create a balance to Lyon? If the best of the women’s game is ever going to prove compelling to fans, there’s got to be some drama.
Right now, Lyon’s on another level. The skill, speed, movement – their cohesion – is complemented by immense talent. They’re been lucky enough to be able to assemble the heart of a strong France national team and augment them with Lotta Schelin (Sweden), Lara Dickenmann (
Denmark Switzerland), and now Otaki.
Whether that’s a formula another club can emulate, it’s unlikely to happen any time soon.