The Week in Women's Football: Canadian pro league update … – Tribal Football

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After last week’s look at the NWSL offseason thus far (see: The Week in Women’s Football: NWSL squad changes; Parsons chat; Yanez makes big move – Tribal Football), we continue our focus this week on CONCACAF. We look at recent news from the summer amateur leagues: the WPSL, UWS and USL W-League. We also have an important update on the new Canadian professional soccer league, which is targeting a launch in 2025.

A look at the three U.S. summer amateur leagues—the WPSL, UWS and USL W-League
WPSL
In the 2022 season, the California Storm defeated the Colorado Rapids Women 3-1 to win the championship title, their first national crown since 2004 and fourth overall (including 1999 and 2022). Alex Klos (Santa Clara University), Brenda Uribe and Mitsy Ramirez (both at Cal State-Monterrey Bay) scored goals, while Janae Ramirez (who plays at the University of Pennsylvania) was named as the WPSL championship’s Most Outstanding Player, and added assists on all three goals in the final, which was played at Oklahoma State’s Neal Patterson Stadium.
New franchises are coming into the WPSL for its 25th season in 2023, including Reading United and Erie FC in Pennsylvania. Founded in 1995 as Reading Rage, it is the second longest-running minor league team and the only premier soccer team in Reading. The club had a brand refresh in 2020, ahead of the club’s 25th season, and the Reading United A.C. (RUAC) identity was born. RUAC currently operates a men’s side in the United Soccer League (USL) League 2 (summer amateur men’s side and seen as division four in the U.S. Soccer pyramid) and has qualified for the U.S. Open Cup for 13 years, reached USL Playoffs 17 times, and won its conference and division a combined 11 times.

The club’s decision to bring a women’s team to the organization supports its goal of providing female athletes in Berks County with soccer development opportunities within a locally owned entity. This addition to RUAC is consistent with its mission to foster a love for the game of soccer for all ages, abilities, and genders by enabling access to local soccer heroes, providing professional coaching, camps, and clinics, and developing environments and partnerships to further the passion for the game.
Erie FC will also join the league for the 2023 season, with the WPSL now hosting 10 franchises in the state. Erie FC was formed in 2022 by the merger of veteran Erie clubs MSA and Erie Admirals. The two entities will continue to operate individually at the club level but will join efforts to field the WPSL side under the Erie FC branding. MSA and the Admirals have a combined 25-year experience in player development at the youth level that has produced hundreds of collegiate athletes over the last two decades.

The club has named Dale White as its first technical director, who will lead the search for the team’s inaugural head coach. White, originally from Scotland, brings nearly two decades of collegiate coaching experience, on both the men’s and women’s sides, to Erie FC. He has coached collegiately at Gannon College (men’s) and Mercyhurst University (men’s and women’s teams) in the area.

Another expansion franchise for 2023 is a nationally-known youth club in California, the San Diego Surf. Established in 1977, San Diego Surf is the oldest competitive youth soccer club in San Diego and remains committed to its original competitive vision and organizational focus four decades later. The club fields girls and boys ECNL (Elite Clubs National League) programs that have collected 12 National Championships and produced 29 Regional Champions with over 74 State Champions. Additionally, hundreds of Surf players have earned collegiate scholarships, been named to national team rosters, and even advanced to the professional level. Most recently, Surf defenders Ella Emri and Jordyn Bugg were named to the U.S. U-17 Women’s National Team roster for the 2022 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in India in October.

UWS

In the UWS, the Chicago Mustangs won their first title in 2022 by defeating Calgary Foothills of Canada, 2-1, in the United Women’s Soccer final at Lusitano Stadium in Ludlow, Massachusetts. Substitute Ainsley Ahmadian (Harvard University) scored the deciding goal in the 50th minute.
Julia Simon (Saint Louis University via the University of Louisville) scored the first goal for the Mustangs on an assist from Nina Nicosia (University of Louisville). Simon and Nicosia finished the season as joint UWS leading scorers with 12 goals apiece for the Mustangs, who were playing just their second UWS season. Calgary finished second in the UWS in 2019, a year after its men’s team won the PDL (USL League Two) championship. Simon and Nicosia played for the Mustangs when they won the 2021 Premier Arena Soccer League championship.
Note: The Premier Arena Soccer League was restarted on the women’s side for the 2018-19 season after a break of a few years. Since the 2018-19 season, the Cincinnati Sirens have won three of the four titles, interrupted only by the Mustangs win in 2020-21.
The women’s teams last season were:

  • Houston Aspire
  • Dallas NTX Image
  • Cincinnati Sirens
  • Chihuahua Savage (Chihuahua City, Mexico)
  • Chicago Mustangs
  • Columbus Eagles
  • San Antonio Slayers
  • Dallas Select
  • Sirens Academy (Cincinnati)
  • ATX Spirit Image (Austin, Texas)

The Mustangs finished second in the 2021-22 PASL season behind the Cincinnati Sirens.

United Women's Soccer UWS national pro-am league 2022 UWS Awards Defensive Player of the Year Rachel Kutella Chicago Mustangs 2022 All-UWS First Team Alyssa Thompson Santa Clarita Blue Heat USWNT

2022 All-UWS First Team
GK – Sarah Dilling (Foothills WFC—ex-University of Texas-El Paso and the current goalkeeper’s coach at the University of Calgary Dinos in 2022—she is a native of Calgary).
D – Rachel Kutella (Chicago Mustangs—University of Missouri after two years at Arkansas State University).
D – Eve Clarkson (San Antonio Athenians—University of Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas and a native of England).
D – Maddy Perez (Santa Clarita Blue Heat—Long Beach State University and has played with U.S. youth national teams, including at the U-20 level).
D – Marcela Robinson (Coppermine United—a Puerto Rican international who played collegiately at LaSalle University in Philadelphia).

M – Mya Jones (Foothills WFC—University of Memphis and a Canadian youth international. She was a joint Most Valuable Player in the League, with Carissima Cutrona of FC Buffalo in 2022).
M – Lara Kazandjian (Foothills WFC—Creighton University and formerly at the University of Memphis and has also played for Canada’s fourth place side at the WWC U-17 WWC in Uruguay in 2018).
M – Carissima Cutrona (FC Buffalo—University of Buffalo. A joint MVP winner for 2022, she helped Buffalo FC to an East Conference title with nine goals and seven assists in 13 games in 2022 and four goals and nine assists in the 2021 season. After the 2022 season, Cutrona (26) signed professionally with Norwegian First Division club (second tier) Medkila IL (see below), who finished the season in last place and were relegated to the third level of Norwegian women’s football. She is the third FCB player to sign a professional contract in just over a year. Kelsey Araujo is in her second season at Le Havre in France’s Ligue 1 Feminin, while Marcy Barberic linked up with KR Reykjavik in Iceland.

Carissima Cutrona

M – Nina Nicosia (Chicago Mustangs—University of Louisville)
M – Hannah Bebar (Chicago Mustangs—Harvard University)
F – Alyssa Thompson (Santa Clarita Blue Heat—the 18-year-old has been capped twice at the full level by the U.S. WNT and played at the U-20 level and was the Gatorade Girl’s National Player of the Year in 2021; she is committed to play at Stanford University).
The UWS has added a franchise in Maine for 2023. Based in Portland, Maine Footy is dedicated to building a championship-caliber women’s soccer team led by elite players, proven coaches, and a community of supporters who care as much about winning on the pitch as they do in leading, mentoring, and giving-back off the pitch. Maine Footy is striving to use the pro-am women’s soccer team as a platform to address positive growth in the community and sustainable change for southern Maine.


W-League
In the first year of the USL’s W League, South Georgia Tormenta FC won the title over the Minnesota Aurora (1-2 after extra time) The Tormenta organization completed a USL double in 2022 as the men’s side won the USL League 1 (third division title and fully professional). The women’s match drew a record crowd of 6,489 fans to the Aurora’s home stadium of TCO Performance Center in the suburban Twin Cities suburb of Eagan, where fans snapped up the all tickets in less than 24 hours. Aurora FC’s first two playoff games [a 2-1 quarterfinal win over Indy Eleven and a 2-0 semifinal victory over McLean (Virginia) Soccer] both drew sellout crowds of 6,200 at home.
Tormenta FC’s assist leader Jaida Nyby, one of four players from the University of the Pacific, scored both goals in the game, the first on a free kick in the 7th minute and the second in 115th minute to break a 1-1 tie. Aurora FC had a chance to go ahead in the 110th minute, but Tormenta keeper Sydney Martinez—who starts at the University of South Florida—not only saved Morgan Turner’s penalty kick but blocked the rebound and then a second rebound. Aurora FC finished its first season with a 13-1-1. It had won 13 straight matches opening its first season with a tie and had applied to join the NWSL for the 2024 season, but recently announced that they were withdrawing their application and would not join the new USL Super League [viewed as a second professional league level for women behind the NWSL] in the immediate future, as a 2024 timeline was too short for the organization to raise the necessary investments for such a venture.
The W League, which had 44 clubs last season—their inaugural season in their new iteration after folding in 2015—is adding franchises in Lexington, Kentucky—the Lexington Sporting Club—along with a side in Northern Alabama and the Cleveland Force FC in Ohio. The North Alabama Soccer Coalition in Huntsville is the newest team to join both the USL W League and USL League Two. Founded in 2008, North Alabama SC currently has over 850 players across its programming. North Alabama SC participates in multiple community activations, including hosting free community soccer camps and clinics throughout the year, as well as providing scholarships for local youth to ensure all players have the opportunity to participate in soccer. Establishing a presence in both the W League and League Two gives players in North Alabama the opportunity to showcase and develop their skills on the way to collegiate and professional careers.
Cleveland Force SC was formed in 2018 after a merger of three of Cleveland’s most prestigious Youth Soccer Clubs: CSA Impact, Cleveland United, and Internationals SC. More than a dozen youth and senior national team players, more than 40 professional players, and more than 500 collegiate players have come through the Force organization. The Force name harkens long-time followers of the game back to the extremely popular and competitive Cleveland Force of the former men’s Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) from 1978-1988, and made the playoffs in seven of their ten seasons.
The W League is also adding a Northwest Division, with four new clubs in the stages of Washington and Oregon: Capital FC Atletica, OVF [Oregon Valley Football] Alliance, Lane United FC and Oly Town FC.

Capital FC Atletica was launched in 2017, where the club competed in local leagues and tournaments. Capital FC is a part of the organization that finished top of the Northwest Division in the 2022 USL League Two (formerly known as the PDL and a summer amateur league for men) season and are ready to give that same scale of competition to its W League team.
Lane United FC was founded in 2013 and will hold its home matches in Eugene, Oregon. The club has competed in USL League Two since its founding and has a history of turning out top level professionals.
Oly Town Artesians, based in Olympia, Washington, were a League Two expansion club in the 2022 season. The club was established in 2014 to give local adults an opportunity to play in a competitive environment, which turned into both men’s and women’s outdoor programs. Now, they are making the jump to the W League to give women in their area that opportunity for top competition.
OVF Alliance was formed in 2020 to unite the long-standing club soccer communities of Albany and Corvallis in Oregon, where people have competed in the sport for nearly 40 years, and was one of the original 27 area bids across the country to host the 1994 World Cup games at Oregon State University. More than 30 women that ascended through OVF’s youth system went on to play collegiate soccer in the last five years. Jess Caze, OVF Director of Operations and an assistant coach for the OSU women’s side, said, “We are blessed to have this fabulous opportunity for the young women in our area, who have worked hard and excelled in their soccer development, to continue their careers. It is also so exciting for our younger players, who dream of playing beyond high school and college, to now have a pathway being established for them.”
The W League is also creating a NorCal division for 2023 in Northern California, with six new franchises recently announced: Academica SC, California Storm, Marin FC, The Olympic Club, Pleasanton RAGE and SF [San Francisco] Glens, who are joining clubs that joined earlier this year for 2023: Oakland Soul and Stockton Cargo.

Academica SC, based in Turlock, California was founded by a group of Portuguese immigrants from the Azores Islands in 1972. The club’s mission is to have players who find pride in representing their communities while competing at the highest level. Academica also announced that the club will field a men’s side in USL League Two.
The California Storm was founded in 1995 by Jerry Zanelli and won its fourth league title in 2022 (see above). It is odd that they are joining the USL again, after playing in the W League in 1995 through 1997. Zanelli started the WPSL to create a less-expensive path for women’s teams to play in the summer, as the USL always had considerable league entry fees, not just for their men’s leagues but for the women’s teams as well. They were always seen as an anchor franchise for the WPSL, but will continue in that leading role, as Tribal Football.com has confirmed with a Storm official that the team will field teams in both leagues next summer, which has been done on a few occasions in the three summer leagues. This move will be interesting to follow as the Storm navigate a new league as well as defend their WPSL national title, building from their always strong base of players, both local and those from across the country.
Marin FC was founded in 2004 and was created specifically to support the development of elite competitive soccer teams and players in Marin County. Marin FC’s W League team, the Siren, completes the club’s parallel player development pathway as the club also has a men’s squad, the Legends, that compete in League Two.
The Olympic Club, founded in 1860, is one of America’s oldest athletic clubs. The Olympic Club has been a home for elite amateur athletes since its inception, with over 90 Olympic Games medalists in its history. The Winged ‘O’ has fielded locally competitive women’s soccer teams since 2002.
Pleasanton RAGE was started in 1983 and is committed to holistic player development with a particular focus on leadership and community service. Erin Sharpe, Director of Coaching at Pleasanton RAGE [who played at Santa Clara University and won a national championship with the Broncos in 2001 and then played in Switzerland and has coached at Colorado Mesa University/Mesa State College] explained, “Pleasanton RAGE is thrilled to be joining the USL W League. The investment that the W League is making to improve and grow the women’s game at the pre-professional level in Northern California is an important one and we are proud to be a part of it. The core tenets of the USL W League align with our own and we look forward to providing an exceptional experience for our players and fans as a member of this great organization.”
The San Francisco Glens were founded in 1961 by Dr. Michael McFadden as an adult soccer team in the local amateur league, with players primarily from the Irish-American community. Today, the Glens have grown into the largest soccer club in The City, with over 1,100 players at various levels. The Glens’ mission is to give local players of all backgrounds the opportunity to compete at the highest level [that] their dreams and determination will allow. The club also recently broke ground on a new waterfront stadium on Treasure Island.

News from Canada’s Professional Women’s League Development
From Canada, we have news that a new professional Canadian women’s league is looking to begin play in 2025. The league is yet unnamed but plans are that each team will have at least one women’s national team player, via a “designated player salary’ to sign a much higher paid player, as is currently done in the NWSL and Major League Soccer (known as the David Beckham rule for when he joined the L.A. Galaxy in 2007). The NWSL also signed national league players when it started, allocating the, at the time, current USWNT team players along with a dozen or so from Canada and Mexico across their eight teams, in which their salaries were paid for by their respective federations.
Former Canadian women’s national team and Washington Spirit and Utah Royals midfielder Diana Matheson is spearheading the effort along with business partner Thomas Gilbert, who will launch the league under their venture Project 8 Sports Inc. In early December, Matheson announced that the league had founding partners in Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) and Air Canada. In addition, Dome Productions, the Canadian Players Association (CPA), the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University (where Matheson recently was working on her Executive MBA) and the Canadian Women & Sport organization have all been named as inaugural supporting partners. The league hopes to finalize a partnership with a broadcaster/distributor by the second half of 2023. Nathalie Cook, a former vice-president at TSN [The Sports Network in Canada] and RDS [Reseau des sports in Canada], is serving as a Project 8 strategic adviser.
Matheson also revealed two founding franchises: Vancouver Whitecaps FC and the Calgary Foothills. The league wants to have eight teams for its launch. The franchise fee has been set at $1 million and each team’s operating cost is estimated to be in the $8-10 million range over the first five seasons. Salaries are expected to be competitive with other professional leagues, including the NWSL. This is significant as many originally thought—including Canadian WNT head coach Bev Priestman in a phone discussion with this author just after their Olympic Games Gold Medal win in the summer of 2021, that the league would be Division II, with the NWSL being Division I and perhaps adding one or two Canadian franchises in the future. Now, that model could go sideways and the new league would be in direct competition with the NWSL for Canadian players as well as for players from abroad and even Americans. The goal, according to Matheson, is to bring home roughly half of the more than 100 Canadians playing abroad.
Stephanie Labbé, former Canada WNT goalkeeping star and current Whitecaps FC general manager of women’s soccer, discussed the club joining the new league with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), “Whitecaps FC are thrilled to be one of the first teams to sign on to a professional women’s soccer league in Canada. The creation of this league is something we have been advocating for over many years, and to be part of seeing it come to fruition is truly exciting.” The Whitecaps for years were strong and supportive members of the former USL W League, utilizing a strong base of Canadian WNT players, winning two league titles (in 2004 and 2006) and were runners up in 2001 and 2010.
Ottawa, the nation’s capital, is also expected to join the league, which wants to have at least one team in Ontario. Other likely cities would be Toronto/Hamilton, Montreal, Winnipeg and Edmonton, along with Halifax, as their men’s team in the CPL—starting its fifth season—has been successful on and off the field and led by former Canadian and Trinidad and Tobago men’s national team head coach Stephen Hart.
Matheson said, “Women’s professional sport is a new industry. It’s growing faster than men’s sport and it will keep growing over the next two decades. We know that. So, it’s both the best sport and it’s growing.”
She said that Canada Soccer [Federation] has offered its support for the project, with federation sanctioning of the league targeted for May 2024.
This update is extremely good news for the growth of the game in Canada and this column will certainly continue to follow the league’s development plans ahead of their anticipated 2025 launch, which will nicely leverage the expected increased interest in the sport as Canada will be a joint host with the U.S. and Mexico for the men’s World Cup in 2026.
The Canadian men’s team is currently coached by former Canadian and New Zealand WNT coach John Herdman—who led the team to their second ever World Cup Finals this year in Qatar, after their initial appearance in 1986 in Mexico. In 2026, Canada will be allocated a Finals place as a host nation, with games to be played in Vancouver and Toronto.

Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham is on the global game of women’s football. Get your copy today.
Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey

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