Women’s Super League

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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.

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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

Two Yanks help Liverpool to second straight Women’s Super League title

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Liverpool LFC won its second straight Women’s Super League title, with two Americans on the squad helping a title defense that unfolded in unlikely fashion.

Entering the season’s final day with the third-best hopes of winning the championship, Liverpool had everything break their way.

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First, they beat Bristol Academy 3-0. Then, they waited as the unlikelihood happened.

From the Liverpool web site:

Matt Beard’s side kicked off in Widnes as the outsiders in a three-team battle for the championship with Chelsea Ladies and Birmingham City, requiring a win of their own and both rivals to falter against Manchester City and Notts County respectively.

Incredibly, it unfolded just that way. Natasha Dowie, Lucy Bronze and Fara Williams struck the goals to achieve the Ladies’ objective before results filtered in from elsewhere – amid jubilant scenes at the Select Security Stadium – to confirm that Chelsea had lost, Birmingham had drawn and the trophy was staying on Merseyside.

No more goals were required as attention switched to other scorelines and, following a tense few moments once their own game had ended, it was confirmed: the Ladies were top of the table on goal difference and they could celebrate for a second season running.

Bronze is a former UNC player, but that’s hardly the only American connection on a team that boasted USWNT defender Whitney Engen for the first title.

American midfielder Amanda DaCosta played in the WPSL before coming to Merseyside, while starting goalkeeper Libby Stout joined the club after a record-setting career at Western Kentucky. And Gemma Davison played with the Western New York Flash and Sky Blue FC.

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.

Seattle Reign’s gone and made a pretty impressive coaching hire

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Congratulations to Seattle Reign F.C.

One of the new teams in the National Women’s Soccer League (set to begin play in Spring 2013) named their first head coach today, a decidedly creative and outside-the-box choice.

That “box” would have had owner Bill Predmore and general manager Amy Carnell troll connections to the defunct Women’s United Soccer Association and Women’s Professional Soccer, fishing through their contact books and leaning on old friends to find the best options with domestic experience. Or perhaps they could have looked to the NCAA ranks, as Portland Thorns F.C. did, and identify a promising prospect. If they could find a Cindy Parlow Cone, more power to them, but U.S. National Team legends aren’t exactly dotting the coaching landscape right now. (Exception?)

Instead, Seattle looked abroad, looked at teams that have had success in other places, and ID’d 32-year-old Laura Harvey, head coach of English superpower Arsenal for the past two-plus seasons. In that time she won a couple of Women’s Super League titles and, perhaps most impressively, got the team over a bit of a Champions League hump early last month, knocking German power Turbine Potsdam out at the Round of 16.

No doubt, Harvey had incredibly talented teams. Kelley Smith is the women’s game’s answer to Juan Roman Riquelme. Alex Scott is Ashley Cole. Kate Chapman, Steph Houghton, Rachel Yankey are all established England internationals, and impressive youngsters Kim Little, Jordan Nobbs, Jennifer Beattie and Gilly Flaherty meant Harvey had better than a mere complementary cast. The team was freakin’ loaded. There’s little doubt Arsenal should go through Women’s Super League seasons undefeated (as they did in 2012), even if that doesn’t make it any less of an accomplishment.

It could, however, engender doubts about Harvey’s qualifications, but given the NWSL has never played a game, there are doubts about every coach’s ability to adapt to the new league. Just as we see structural issues affect management in MLS, NWSL is set to offer a series of distinct challenges. For example, Harvey probably won’t be able to lure the Smiths and Scotts back to North America. There’s no money for them.

At the same time, those early November Turbine Potsdam results are incredibly impressive. Six goals (four on the road) against a German team in Champions League speaks to some coaching quality, be it tactical, in preparation, or in motivation. And considering Arsenal had been badly eliminated from the previous Champions League by FFC Frankfurt (4-1 in the semifinals), the result showed progress, even if Turbine weren’t as strong as they’d been in past seasons.

Progress is a good thing to see in a coaching candidate. So are results. So is the ability to manage talent, but perhaps most importantly, so is competing at the highest levels. UEFA’s Women’s Champions League is the highest level in the women’s club game, and for the Reign to look to England and that competition to fill their coaching vacancy showed some serious imagination.

Great start, Seattle.