Women’s Professional Soccer

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Women’s soccer in England secures record sponsorship deal

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LONDON (AP) Women’s soccer in England will receive record levels of investment after its top league secured a sponsorship deal reportedly worth more than 10 million pounds ($13.2 million) over the next three seasons.

Barclays will become the first sponsor of the Women’s Super League in what the English Football Association is saying is the biggest ever investment in British women’s sports by a brand.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up v. Ecuador? ]

The deal, which was announced on Wednesday, runs from the start of the 2019-20 season through July 2022. Barclays was the title sponsor of the Premier League in men’s soccer from 2004-16 and still has links with the league.

Kelly Simmons, the FA’s Director of Women’s Professional Game, says the “record, multimillion-pound commitment will impact all levels of the game.”

The Super League, which is Europe’s only fully professional domestic female soccer league, will now have prize money for the first time. A total of 500,000 pounds ($660,000) will be distributed to clubs based on their final league positions.

In another boost for the women’s game, FIFA says French telecommunications giant Orange has become the sixth sponsor of this year’s Women’s World Cup in France.

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

2013 NWSL preview: Washington Spirit

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The Washington Spirit will play home games in the Maryland SoccerPlex, home to what once was the region’s — and the country’s — most storied women’s professional soccer franchise. The history remains, but the Washington Freedom haven’t played a game since the 2010 WPS season (we’ll save the long, dramatic story of what happened to the team in 2011 and let you read that here).

The Freedom won the 2003 WUSA title and after that league folded, they won the amateur W-League in 2007.

But this Washington, D.C., franchise, set to play in the National Women’s Soccer League, carries none of that history. The Spirit aren’t the Freedom, and they don’t want to be. They may, however, want to replicate the success and sustainability of the club that lasted 10 years and three different leagues.

As it stands, this team that fans will be able to watch at the SoccerPlex will likely need all the help it can get. The Spirit lack a proven goal scorer and will rely on untested rookies to find the back of the net. A fairly strong defense (if fully healthy) could combat a lack of goal scoring for the Spirit, but the signs (including a 2-0 loss to the University of Maryland and 6-3 loss to the University of Virginia in preseason, ugly results even if the roster was depleted) are that this team will struggle.

Who you know: Ali Krieger (pictured) and Ashlyn Harris will be the anchors in the back and Harris will have to be lights-out in net to keep this team in games. Krieger, Harris and midfielder Lori Lindsey are all familiar faces in D.C. having all previously played in Washington with the Freedom. Diana Matheson, who scored the game-winning goal for Canada in the 2012 Olympic bronze medal game, will be looked at as a playmaker.

Who you should know: Candace Chapman anchored the back line of two WPS championship teams. If healthy — a big ‘if’ — she’ll be the best free agent signing this team made. Ingrid Wells, 24, could have a future with the U.S. national team and rookie Caroline Miller could be one of Washington’s young players who steps up.

What it means: Washington looks very unlikely to make the playoffs, but if the defense can hold steady and some of the younger players in attack find a groove, the middle of the table and the final couple of playoff spots are wide open amongst a few teams. The issue with the Spirit is that there are just too many ‘ifs’.

The Washington Spirit open the season on the road on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET against the Boston Breakers.

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2013 NWSL team preview: Sky Blue FC

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Over the next two days, ProSoccerTalk will be providing quick capsules of the eight teams participating in the new National Women’s Soccer League. We start with one of the holdovers: Sky Blue FC.

Tucked away in central New Jersey, Sky Blue FC enters the National Women’s Soccer League as one of four teams returning from Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), the last attempt at a league in the United States.

Despite its overall struggles in WPS, Sky Blue FC won the inaugural league title in 2009 after a miraculous run as the fourth and final playoff team, winning three games in a week, all on the road. Center back Christie Rampone, who led that 2009 team as a pregnant player-coach, is the only remaining piece of that squad that will usher the franchise into this new league.

Rampone, the U.S. women’s national team captain, turns 38 in June but will still be among the elite defenders in the league. Sky Blue FC already boasts the most experienced head coach in the league in Jim Gabarra, who on Sunday will cement his claim to being the only person to coach in all three domestic women’s professional leagues. Gabarra and Rampone combined give Sky Blue FC a disproportionate amount of experience for a league yet to play a game.

Who you know: Rampone has been a mainstay with the United States for over a decade, winning the 1999 Women’s World Cup as a reserve and the last three Olympic gold medals. She will anchor Sky Blue FC’s defense. Kelley O’Hara is a rising star for the U.S. at outside back, but she was a star forward in college (26 goals and 65 points in her senior season at Stanford, earning her the MAC Hermann Trophy) and she’s had a stellar preseason as a forward.

Who you should know: Brittany Bock, a central midfielder who puts such a stamp on the game with her tough play that she is nicknamed “Brick Bock.” Her play in the center of the park will be critical for Sky Blue. Australians Lisa De Vanna and Caitlin Foord (18 years old) could also surprise folks.

What it means: Sky Blue is likely to be a middle of the table team, fighting for one of the final four playoff spots. The roster is solid throughout, but doesn’t stack up to the likes of a Portland or Kansas City. Gabarra’s coaching could be the difference between this team finishing fourth and finishing sixth.

Sky Blue begins their season Sunday night against the Western New York Flash.

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Eight-team women’s soccer league set to begin play in Spring 2013

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It doesn’t have a name yet. That detail is still being worked out, as are most of the details of the new eight-team women’s soccer league that will be run by U.S. Soccer. The important thing: The league’s going to happen.

U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati made that clear in Wednesday’s announcement, saying teams in Boston, New Jersey, Western New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, Kansas City, Seattle and Portland — teams selected based on a number of factors (independent assessment of accountants, grass roots considerations, geography) — will begin play in March or April of 2013. The 22-game season will run until September or October. Teams will play each other at least three times.

As of yet, there’s no national television deal. No national sponsors have been announced, but there’s a handshake deal place with one company. Stadiums, team names, salary structures, player allocation – these details will be revealed in the couple of weeks.

But here’s what we do know:

  • U.S. Soccer will fund and run the league office.
  • They will also finance the inclusion of up to 24 U.S. Women’s National Team members. Some players may elect to pass on the league, but U.S. Soccer is committed to supplying up to three players per team.
  • The Canadian and Mexican federations are also subsidizing talent. Canada will pay for up to 16 players (conceivably, two per team) while Mexico will provide a minimum of 12.
  • Player and team preferences will be considered when allocating players.

We also know some of the federations’ key motivations: Sustainability and development.

Costs for the individual teams will be kept low by U.S., Canadian, and Mexican soccer subsidizing the teams’ most expensive talents. Game day facilities will be selected with cost in mind (no more Toyota Park or Home Depot Center). Teams were selected to both create a national footprint and manage travel (coast-to-coast teams, but in clusters). The lower costs will mitigate the amount of private sector investment needed to keep it afloat.

But the federation representatives made no bones about it: Giving their players a place to develop ahead of Canada 2015 was a key motivation. It’s why federations — not a private entity — are backing the latest attempt at a women’s league. The new league will give CONCACAF’s three biggest nations a place to foster talent ahead of the next World Cup.

With so many details yet to be finalized, it’s difficult to make too many assessments about the league. The thing doesn’t even have a name yet. Still, it’s hard to see today’s news as anything but an extremely positive development. Women’s soccer league or no women’s soccer league? It’s a pretty easy choice, one that’s easy to support.

That the league is focused on sustainability at its onset means fan support is more likely to be rewarded. That support was left floundering after three-year windows slammed shut on the Women’s United Soccer Association and Women’s Professional Soccer.

Who knows whether the new league will ever see year four, but at least there is a new league — a league that seems to know what it’s up against.

Young U.S. star Engen signs with Liverpool

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The name Whitney Engen should mean something to you, but it probably doesn’t. Three years ago, she was the first defensive player picked in the Women’s Professional Soccer draft, a stature earned while contributing to four national title teams at the University of North Carolina. A year later, she was voted the league’s best defender as her team (Western New York Flash) won the title. At 24 years old, she’s right on the cusp of regular duty with the U.S. Women’s National Team, her ability to play in the middle or wide giving her multiple means of impressing whomever replaces Pia Sundhage. Among women’s soccer diehards, she’s more than well known. She’s part of the future.

She’s also the type of player who needs to look at options overseas, which may be the biggest reason why Liverpool LFC have made a minor splash, luring the twice-capped U.S. international to northwest England. As the club announced on Tuesday, Engen will join the team in January for the 2013 season.

Her thoughts, from Liverpool’s website:

“I have always been very interested in playing in the WSL so when the opportunity arose, I took it.
“Joining a club with such a legacy and impact in the world of football made the decision easy. I want to thank everyone at Liverpool who worked hard on my behalf to make this happen. I am very excited for next season.”

That it’s Liverpool signing Engen makes this move a surprise. The big names in English women’s football are Arsenal, Birmingham City and Everton. Liverpool, last place finishers in this year’s WSL, are not on the same level, but that may be about to change. That Engen “had various offers from other teams around Europe” (according to her agent) makes this signing is a mind coup. Liverpool’s stepping up.

For Engen, getting to play strong clubs on a regular basis is huge, particularly at this point in her career. She’ll be playing for a big organization, in a good league, in a place where the culture won’t be a significant obstacle. Even before considering the (likely modest) money involved, Liverpool’s a great opportunity for 24-year-old who lacks the same outlets as the national team’s established stars.

But this is also a small warning for U.S. Soccer, who are busy trying to put together a domestic, professional league for the 2013 season (the WSL, like other women’s leagues, is semi-professional). Particularly for players in Engen’s situation – talented, young, still establishing themselves professionally, and looking for some some stability – Europe’s going to be a temptation.

For players willing to leave home, it’s difficult to fault their decision to jump to Europe. The leagues are established, stable, and offer a level of competition the possible U.S. league may not be able to replicate. If a player is lucky enough to land with one of the continent’s bigger clubs, they’re likely to have a professional lifestyle that can’t be matched in this country. For players whose games are still developing, jumping to a high-caliber league might be the best way to improve.

Even after the U.S. league stars, there’ll still be players like Ali Krieger, who’s done her career so much good by playing in Germany’s Frauen Bundesliga. There’ll still be players like Sarah Hagen, who has had success after going from UW-Milwaukee to Bayern Munich last year. And there may be more Lindsey Horans, who was lured by Europe’s money before she’d even made it to college.

And now, there will be the Whitney Engens – a national team hopeful whose career could get a boost from her time in England.