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Former England forward Eni Aluko retires

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Former England striker Eni Aluko retired from professional soccer on Wednesday, ending a career in which she became a prolific scorer for multiple teams and accused one of her international coaches of racism.

The 32-year-old Aluko announced her retirement in a post on The Players’ Tribune website, saying she was proud to have been part of a generation of female players who used their “voices and their feet to break barriers all over the world” and moved into a “more empowered position.”

Aluko, who left Juventus in December after 18 months at the Italian club, scored 33 goals in 102 appearances for England but didn’t play for her country after 2016.

The following year, she said she was subjected to “bullying and discrimination” by then-England coach Mark Sampson, which led to the Football Association making a public apology to Eluko after an investigation found Sampson had used racially discriminating remarks toward her in 2014.

As part of the case, it was revealed that an 80,000 pound ($105,000) financial settlement was secretly struck by the FA with Aluko to halt her grievance complaint against Sampson ahead of the European Championship in 2017.

In her post, Aluko said “there have been other moments when I have thought about leaving” soccer.

“I’m talking about the racism, the abuse on social media, all that,” she said. “Women do not earn much in football, we play because we love the game. Sometimes I have thought, `Is it worth it? Do I love you enough?’ And every time the answer has been yes.”

Aluko played for Birmingham, Charlton and Chelsea in England, and also for teams in St. Louis and Atlanta in the United States. She joined Juventus in 2018.

Aluko has also worked in recent years as a newspaper columnist and a TV commentator.

“Some people say that you are just a sport, but you have taught me so much about life,” she wrote in her “thank you” letter to soccer. “You have shown me how to work with others, how to set targets and achieve them, how to embrace challenges. You have given me highs that I never thought were possible, and lows that challenged me to my core – but that also made me strong and resilient.”

NWSL’s Reign FC acquired by owners of French powerhouse Lyon

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TACOMA, Wash. — Reign FC of the National Women’s Soccer League has been acquired by the OL Groupe, the parent company of French powerhouse Olympique Lyonnais.

The French group will hold an 89.5 percent operating stake in the club when the sale closes, which is expected in January. Current Reign FC majority owners Teresa and Bill Predmore will own 7.5 percent and former NBA star Tony Parker will have a 3 percent share of the club.

Jean-Michel Aulas will serve as chairman of the club’s board of directors, with Parker holding a seat. Bill Predmore will remain the club’s CEO. A COO will be named later by OL Groupe and Teresa Predmore will remain as president of the Reign Academy youth programs.

Olympique Lyonnais, more commonly known as Lyon, plays in France’s Ligue 1 on the men’s side and Division 1 Feminine on the women’s side. Lyon has won six women’s Champions League titles.

Reign FC will continue to play its home games at Cheney Stadium, the venue it shares with the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers.

NWSL’s Reign to be sold to Olympique Lyonnais owners

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The parent company of French soccer club Olympique Lyonnais is in exclusive talks to purchase Reign FC of the National Women’s Soccer League.

The OL Groupe and the Reign announced the deal Monday and the transaction is expected to be completed on Jan. 31.

Olympique Lyonnais, more commonly known as Lyon, plays in Ligue 1 on the men’s side and Division 1 Feminine on the women’s side. Lyon has won six women’s Champions League titles.

Current Reign owners Bill and Teresa Predmore will retain a minority stake in Reign FC. Bill Predmore will serve as CEO of the team.

“Our ambition has always been to operate the best women’s football club in the world,” Bill Predmore said in a statement. “This is a distinction long held by OL, making them the perfect organization to help us achieve our long-term objectives for the club.”

Reign FC made the NWSL playoffs for the second straight season this year and coach Vlatko Andonovski was named the league’s Coach of the Year. Andonovski stepped down at the end of the season to become head coach of the U.S. women’s national team.

Lyon will also assume control of Reign Academy as part of the deal.

The Hanauer Family and Tacoma Soccer Ventures, investors in the Reign when the team moved to Tacoma last season, will no longer have an ownership stake. But the Reign will continue to play at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma.

Sky Blue FC move to Red Bull Arena

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Sky Blue FC will now call Red Bull Arena home.

The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) franchise played two home games at the home of the New York Red Bulls during the 2019 season and strong crowds have led to a permanent relocation from their home at Yurack Field at Rutgers University.

In a statement released on their website, the NWSL side confirmed the agreement is for all of their home games to be played at Red Bull Arena in 2020.

Red Bulls General Manager Marc de Grandpre was delighted to set up the partnership with Sky Blue FC, who are moving to Harrison, NJ.

“We are pleased to welcome Sky Blue FC back to Red Bull Arena after two successful events in 2019,” de Grandpre said. “Having NWSL matches here in Harrison is great for soccer fans in the New York metro area, and we look forward to providing Sky Blue fans, players, and staff a world-class experience every time they enter Red Bull Arena.”

Sky Blue GM Alyse LaHue added that this move will take the club to the “next level” as this switch dramatically improves their home field.

“After our players and fans experienced Red Bull Arena in 2019, we knew it was the perfect venue to host Sky Blue and showcase this incredible league,” LaHue said. “We’re extremely grateful to the Red Bulls organization for all their efforts in reaching this agreement, and will always remain thankful to Rutgers for their commitment to Sky Blue throughout the years. The move to Red Bull Arena builds upon the positive momentum we gained last season and will help propel our club and the league to the next level.”

Sky Blue have been somewhat left behind in the new NWSL era as teams in Portland, Seattle, Orlando, Washington and Utah have been getting big crowds and building off the success of the USWNT, particularly over the past few months.

It remains to be seen whether or not the Red Bulls organization will become more involved in the day-to-day operations or even the ownership of Sky Blue FC.

This is a massive step in the right direction for a franchise which has been lacking in terms of facilities and investment off the pitch.

NWSL announces changes to salary cap, wage structure

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The NWSL, whose 2019 season just concluded on Sunday, announced sweeping changes to its salary cap and wage structure, including implementation of workarounds similar to those in Major League Soccer.

First and foremost, the league boasts a 19% increase in the salary cap for the 2020 season, set now at $650,000,  plus increases to the league minimum and maximum salaries, upped to $20,000 and $50,000 respectively.

In addition, the league announced the institution of an allocation system that would allow teams to buy down salaries, helping them get under the cap and allowing them to sign players for above the league maximum.

There are restrictions to the allocation rules that are intended to help increase the distribution of salary increases rather than see teams pouring the extra wiggle room into one or two big-name players. Teams are not allowed to use allocation money on USWNT or Canadian National Team designated players, but can only use it on players who qualify through various determining factors such as national team caps, NWSL awards, or NWSL tenure. Some on social media speculated that this system seems tailored to keeping Australian international goalkeeper Sam Kerr in the league, since it is restricted from use on U.S. internationals.

The league also announced that teams will be permitted to acquire players via transfer fees, a new addition to the league signaling a stronger financial viability. Still, there are restrictions. Teams must use allocation money to purchase players, and cannot sell players that have U.S. National Team designation.

There are also changes to the housing and auto assistance programs as well as new details to the discovery system. You can see the complete NWSL release with all the new rules and regulations here.