Reign general manager: NWSL’s “Seattle can be something much bigger”

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The announcement stood in stark contrast to the rest of the league’s appointments, to the extent there were any. With many of the new National Women’s Soccer League’s teams having participated at some level of last year’s U.S. Soccer “pyramid,” most coaching staffs were in place when teams signed up for this latest attempt at top-flight women’s soccer. Of the vacant spots, FC Kansas City hired from their partner’s Major Indoor League team while the Portland Timbers’ women’s instance (Thorns FC) created a few ripples by hiring former national team star Cindy Parlow Cone.

The neophyte Seattle Reign took a noticeably different approach, one which saw the team look beyond the confines of the U.S. domestic landscape for somebody who would qualify as a bombshell, if such things exist in the world of women’s club coaching hires.

“Initially reaching out, you never know until you try,” is how Reign FC general manager Amy Carnell described the club’s coaching search, one that ended with the unlikely Dec. 21 hire of Laura Harvey.

Lured to the Pacific Northwest from Arsenal LFC, Harvey is one of the most compelling names you could conjure as a possible NWSL hire. The 32-year-old (now former) Arsenal Ladies coach saw defeat only twice in 48 games during in her two Women’s Super League seasons, capturing both of the nascent league’s titles. In UEFA Champions League, Harvey had recently steered her side past German giants Turbine Potsdam in the competition’s knockout stages, a notable victory considering the recent successes of Frauen-Bundesliga clubs (and England’s lack of results). As difficult as it was to raise the stakes for a team with Arsenal’s success, Harvey was doing it, creating a continental power from a team that was losing ground to the Lyons, Frankfurts, and Turbines of the region.

Because of the lack of exposure for the European club game has in the United States, Harvey’s accomplishments are unlikely to be appreciated. For most Puget Sound residents that will see Seattle’s first NWSL games, Harvey is a non-factor. That doesn’t make her résumé any less remarkable.

“What she’s done at Arsenal is unprecedented,” Carnell explained. “The thing that’s most impressive about Laura is how well she works under pressure. She knew [there would be pressure] going into the Arsenal job, and to have the success over the past few years that she’s had is incredible.”

“One of the most appealing things about Laura was her ability to manage big players – to manage egos.” With Arsenal stocking the likes of Kelly Smith, Alex Scott, Steph Houghton, Katie Chapman and Rachel Yankey (all England internationals), ‘loaded’ would be an understated way to describe the Lady Gunners’ advantages.

“That was one of our priorities in bringing in a coach,” Carnell explained. “Depending on what players we get, we want a coach that those players are going to respect and a coach that’s going to be able to manage a big star all the way down to a star college player in their first year as a pro.”

In England

Arsenal LFC has won both WSL titles, scoring the most goals while allowing the fewest over the short history of England’s eight-team league. As the two-year goal differences illustrate, the WSL has played as a very top-heavy and stratified league.

Pos. Club GP W L D Pts GD
1 Arsenal 28 20 2 6 64 +41
2 Birmingham City 28 15 3 10 55 +29
3 Everton 28 14 6 8 50 +10
4 Lincoln Ladies 28 11 9 6 39 +0

Not that there aren’t risks that come with importing Harvey. Only 32, Harvey may be younger than some of her Reign players, depending on the results of allocation and recruitment. That wouldn’t be a completely foreign position for her, having managed a star-studded team at Arsenal, though the talent at Harvey’s disposal brings up another concern. Arsenal was far and away the most talented team in the WSL, their dominance of their domestic league more obligatory than surprising. In the United States, there’s no guarantee Harvey will have such luxuries.

“I believe in people’s abilities to do their job,” Carnell said when asked why she feels Harvey can adjust to a more competitive environment. “It’s passion and work-ethic. If you have those two things, I think you can be successful, and she obviously [has them].”

But criticisms about inexperience and talent advantages may miss the point. At least, in the big picture — looking beyond the immediate win-loss-benefit of the move — competitive factors aren’t the only considerations. Ambition matters, and for a team yet to play a game, so does reputation – prestige.

For the Reign, Harvey’s signing is a symptom of a club looking beyond the early, relatively modest origins of the NWSL. The team’s looking toward a success that transcends the league’s modest goals.

“The vision is Seattle can be something much bigger,” Carnell says.

“[It’s about] building out a vision of this brand and not just being a leader within our own league. The long term goal is to be one of the best clubs in the world and be a recognizable brand.”

Seattle has a long way to go to be considered in the same breath as European champions Lyon Feminine or even WSL titans Arsenal. But with the hire of Harvey, it’s difficult to imagine the team making a more compelling first step.

“Part of my talk with Laura was just selling her on what we’re looking to do here,” Carnell explained. “She’s very much on the same page with where she wants to go in her career, as well.”

That attitude’s a reflection of the drive Seattle group’s shown since first appearing on the women’s soccer map last summer. Then, owner Bill Predmore emerged as somebody surprisingly willing to fight for a second team in Seattle. At the time, the Sounders Women (a team using Sounder branding without being a direct offshoot of their Major League Soccer namesake) had just completed a W-League season featuring the likes of Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, and Sydney Leroux. Many assumed that whatever women’s team surfaced from the area, it would have the Sounder label attached. That the Seattle-based POP media agency owner was willing to challenge that brand while embracing some financial risk (implying he’d lose money to grow the game) made Predmore an early, refreshing face on what would evolve into the NWSL landscape.

source:  “Bill Predmore, the owner, and I want to think out of the box,” Carnell (right) explained, trying to find words to describe the approach that led to Harvey’s hiring.

“The biggest thing is that we want to deliver to our fans a top-tier coach and world class players. We believe our fans here in Seattle deserve that … we’re trying to do it the right way and build a world class brand here in Seattle. That’s the direction that we’re going, and if we want our fans to know anything, it’s that.”

They’re sentiments that would be dismissed as perfunctory in most leagues, but for the NWSL, it’s a refreshing show of ambition – an attitude that’s been tacitly verboten since the league was announced. In different ways, ambition by the Women’s United Soccer Association (2001-2003) and Women’s Professional Soccer (2009-2011) undid previous attempts to make a league work. With that in mind, it’s understandable the U.S. Soccer’s venture has maintained a more limited perspective.

But the Reign are in a very competitive market. They will be competing with another women’s team (the Sounders Women still intent to field a team in the lower-level W-League) without the benefits of the Sounders’ extremely powerful branding. Making as many splashes as possible will not only keep the Reign in Seattle’s soccer conscience, it will also help the club stay in step with what’s sure to be another wave-making team 200 miles to the south (Portland).

In that regard, Seattle may have already gotten an early (though potentially insignificant) leg up. Though Portland hired a former U.S. national team legend, Reign FC made a hire that could transcend any impact made on the field. Because even if Harvey fails to adjust to whatever challenges NWSL soccer presents, the coup announces Seattle as a club willing to transcend expectations. They’re willing to be great, or at least try.

That’s what these types of moves are about.

How to qualify for soccer’s EURO 2020

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GENEVA (AP) With the inaugural Nations League program ending Tuesday, the 2020 European Championship is up next for the continent’s national teams.

All 24 places at Euro 2020 are up for grabs when qualifying starts in March, although the Nations League helped shape the draw that will be held on Dec. 2 in Dublin.

Germany, for instance, won’t be among the top-seeded teams because of its poor results since September.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

For 16 teams, there already is a backup plan to reach Euro 2020. Those Nations League group winners are sure of a place in a playoff round held in March 2020 regardless of their finish in the traditional qualifying groups.

Another quirk of Euro 2020 is there are 12 host countries – from Ireland in the west to Azerbaijan in the east – and none gets an automatic entry.

Here is the Euro 2020 outlook:

EURO 2020 QUALIFYING DRAW

All 55 teams in the Dec. 2 draw are seeded according to Nations League results.

They will be drawn into five groups of five teams and five six-team groups, with games played from March to November next year.

The Nations League top-tier group winners – Switzerland, Portugal, Netherlands, England – must be in the smaller, five-team groups. They will play the Final Four tournament hosted by Portugal in June when others are playing Euro 2020 qualifiers.

The top two finishers in each group qualify automatically for Euro 2020.

Pot 1: Switzerland, Portugal, Netherlands, England, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Poland.

Pot 2: Germany, Iceland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ukraine, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Austria, Wales, Czech Republic.

Pot 3: Slovakia, Turkey, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Norway, Serbia, Finland, Bulgaria, Israel.

Pot 4: Hungary, Romania, Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Cyprus, Estonia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Georgia.

Pot 5: Macedonia, Kosovo, Belarus, Luxembourg, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Gibraltar, Faeroe Islands.

Pot 6: Latvia, Liechtenstein, Andorra, Malta, San Marino.

EURO 2020 PLAYOFFS

The last four places at the tournament will be decided through a 16-team playoff, the format of which is completely new.

Four teams from each of four Nations League tiers will play in a mini-tournament featuring semifinals and a final next March 26-31. The four winners advance to complete the 24-team Euro 2020 lineup.

If one of the Nations League group winners have already secured a spot, the next-best team in that tier will make the playoffs.

It is a golden opportunity for fourth-tier League D teams which are unlikely to qualify automatically.

So, one of Georgia, Macedonia, Kosovo or Belarus will make its tournament debut at Euro 2020. For Kosovo, it’s a first entry in qualifying after gaining membership of UEFA and FIFA only in 2016.

Other potential playoff lineups:

League C: Scotland, Norway, Serbia, Finland.

League B: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ukraine, Denmark, Sweden.

League A: Switzerland, Portugal, Netherlands, England.

12 HOST COUNTRIES

Euro 2020 will be hosted in 12 cities in 12 different countries, kicking off in Rome on June 12.

It was supposed to be 13 cities – each hosting three group-stage games plus a knockout game from the round of 16 or a quarterfinal – but Brussels dropped out when a new stadium project failed.

The semifinals and final were awarded to Wembley Stadium in London, which also stepped in to get the four Brussels games.

Host nation teams who qualify will have at least two home games in the group stage.

The host city pairings are:

Group A: Rome, Italy; Baku, Azerbaijan.

Group B: St. Petersburg, Russia; Copenhagen, Denmark.

Group C: Amsterdam, Netherlands; Bucharest, Romania.

Group D: London, England; Glasgow, Scotland.

Group E: Bilbao, Spain; Dublin, Ireland.

Group F: Munich, Germany; Budapest, Hungary.

Round of 16 games (June 27-30) will be in: London, Amsterdam, Bilbao, Budapest, Copenhagen, Bucharest, Glasgow, Dublin.

Quarterfinals (July 3-4) will be in St. Petersburg, Munich, Baku, Rome.

The semifinals will be July 7-8 in London, and the final on July 12.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

U.S. Soccer announces Player of the Year nominees

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The USMNT’s 2018 Player of the Year is going to be one of the new breed, while the USWNT’s list of nominees is a bit unusual as well.

Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Matt Miazga, Zack Steffen and Wil Trapp are the men vying to become the fifth different name to win the Male Player of the Year in as many seasons.

[ USMNT: Player ratings | 3 things ]

There are three players on the Female list to have won the award in previous years with Julie Ertz, Tobin Heath, and Alex Morgan having laid claim to the honor. Megan Rapinoe and Lindsey Horan are the other two nominees.

The two teams could hardly have had more different years, as the USWNT was undefeated behind a prolific season from Morgan.

The men stalled as U.S. Soccer failed to enlist a full-time coach, leaving interim coach Dave Sarachan to meld new players into a “part-time” system.

Steffen is probably the favorite to win the men’s award, though Miazga and McKennie had some high-profile moments in red, white, and blue. Trapp is beloved by the staff and could grab the award as well, while Adams seems a true long shot.

Pulisic talks Dortmund future, pride at USMNT captaincy

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GENK, Belgium — Christian Pulisic became the youngest captain of the U.S. men’s national team in the modern era on Tuesday, as the Borussia Dortmund star led the side out against Italy in Genk, Belgium.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ] 

Remember: Pulisic is just 20 years and 63 days old.

The USMNT lost 1-0 to Italy, as they conceded a 94th minute goal after soaking up plenty of pressure and having goalkeeper Ethan Horvath to thank for several fine stops.

[ MORE: Sarachan out as USMNT head coach ]

Asked about the moment he became the youngest USMNT captain since 1990, breaking Landon Donovan’s record by over two years, Pulisic was full of pride.

“It is a huge honor to captain this team. I’ve been with these guys for a while and for them to think that I can lead the team, it means a lot to me. It was special but in the end we wanted a better result with the game,” Pulisic said. “For the coaches, staff, team to trust me to be captain of the team, it means everything. I was never a captain in my life. Now, to be captain for the United States national team it is an incredible honor. It doesn’t matter what age you are. I will never forgot this moment.”

Pulisic was one of the few U.S. players (Horvath and Tyler Adams the others) who tried to hold Italy back in a one-sided game where the U.S. had just 26.5 percent of possession.

The Dortmund winger was critical of the U.S. after their defeat to England last week, and he didn’t hold back following the loss against Italy.

“They came out a lot more confident than us and they dominated the game,” Pulisic said. “In the end, we can keep learning things but again it wasn’t good enough. All we can do is look back at our mistakes and learn from them, and now look forward to this new year and we have to become a lot better.”

Asked if adding veteran players into the squad in the coming months was the way forward, Pulisic said it will be up the new head coach to decide.

If he was the coach, he’d definitely give more minutes to experienced players.

“That would be up to the coach, it is impossible for me to see. I don’t think it would be a bad idea,” Pulisic said. “Some guys need the direction and see where this team is going to go. Veteran guys can always help that.”

And what about his own future?

Chelsea have been heavily linked with Pulisic in the past few days, while the Pennsylvania native has also been a long-term target of Premier League powerhouses Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur as his current contract with Dortmund runs until the summer of 2020.

Dortmund’s sporting director released a statement on Monday saying that Pulisic would not be for sale this January, and Pulisic was asked by Pro Soccer Talk if there has been any change in his current situation given the increased speculation.

“I’m still focused on Dortmund. We are doing great this season. Once the break comes [in January], that is always when I will have to discuss with Dortmund and see about my future,” Pulisic said.

The door appears to remain open for a move in the coming months.

PSG’s Neymar, Mbappe injured on international duty

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Not a banner day for Paris Saint-Germain.

Both Kylian Mbappe and Neymar were injured on international duty Tuesday, the effects of which remain to be seen for the Ligue 1 club (Perhaps it could be an opening for American attacker Tim Weah, or a huge opening for Liverpool as the Reds prepare to face PSG in the Champions League).

[ USMNT: Player ratings | 3 things ]

A 1v1 challenge with Uruguay goalkeeper Martin Campana felled the 19-year-old Mbappe, and France coach Didier Deschamps did not have a decent prognosis.

From the BBC:

“He has a sore shoulder, he’s fallen badly. He will have to see with the medical staff. I hope it’s not bad.”

As for Neymar, he suffered “an adductor injury while taking a shot in the sixth minute, and left Brazil’s friendly against Cameroon in England.

Let’s throw it to the most quoted national team doctor in ProSoccerTalk history, Dr. Rodrigo Lasmar:

“He felt discomfort. He will need a bit more time to evaluate it and take a scan, but in principle it is not a serious injury.”