The Aussie off-season exodus
With the Westfield W-League in its interminably long off-season, the exodus of Australian players has begun, as the women seek competitive football overseas to keep them match fit ahead of a new Westfield Matildas campaign.
While many will continue to play domestically, those who have the opportunity will move their football focus off-shore.
A large contingent head to Europe where, particularly the Scandinavian leagues, are now well-used to seeing Australians in their club sides, but four of the Matildas stars have elected to take their chances with the brand new National Women’s Soccer League in the US.
Caitlin Foord and Lisa De Vanna have signed for New Jersey side, Sky Blue FC; Sam Kerr is headed to Western New York Flash; while Kyah Simon is set to re-join Boston Breakers, who move into the new league from the WPSL Elite League.
The new product, named the US National Women’s Soccer League is the third incarnation of top tier women’s football in the States this century.
The Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) folded in 2003, with reported losses of $100 million, while its successor, Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), bowed out in May last year, after failing to gain a foothold in the national sporting psyche and suffering a myriad of administrative problems. Neither league lasted more than three seasons.
While that may suggest that the wisdom of choosing to play women’s club football in America is debatable, the fresh approach to this new league could provide the four Australian stars with a valuable opportunity to play alongside, and against, some of the best players in the world.
The decision has been taken to spread the talents of 24 players from the World No.1 ranked US National squad between the eight clubs, with US Soccer to subsidise their salaries.
The Canadian Soccer Association (ranked no.7) has chipped in, funding 16 of their internationals to join the league, as has the Federation of Mexican Football for the same number of national team players.
The league will feature four WPSL Elite league teams as well as four expansion franchises and it is hoped that this new economic model, which has been used with success in Europe, will prove more sustainable than its predecessors.
Tom Sermanni – the new, and thus far, highly successful US national women’s team coach – will traverse the country watching the new league unfold and says that it has great potential for his former charges.
“It will be a hugely beneficial experience for them to play in this league, particularly if the vast majority of the US national team are staying to play in it.
“The standard will be raised, and the players will be exposed to a different style of coaching, different attitudes, and will also see first-hand, the work ethic of the women that make up the US national team. They’ll also likely have different expectations placed on them, compared to what they are used to back home.”
“Off the field,” he noted, “it’s obviously an easier place to settle into culturally, particularly from a language, food and social environment perspective”.
Matildas star Kyah Simon agrees, and returns to Boston Breakers where she enjoyed her first experience playing in an overseas league last year.
“A lot of my success in football relates to my lifestyle, my environment and how happy I am in my surroundings. I found it easy to adapt culturally in the US as there are so many similarities to life here in Australia.
“I originally decided to go there after they made an enthusiastic approach following the World Cup – it was great to have a team so keen to sign me, and while I want to experience other leagues at some point, this suits me well for this stage in my career.”
After living through the breakdown of the WPS on her last visit, Simon is positive about the energy around the new set-up.
“It’s great, there is a lot of interest and attention surrounding the new league, especially having those big names playing – like Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, they are huge – not just in the US, but worldwide.
“As a result the competitive level will rise and it will be a challenge for me, which I’m pleased about. It will take me out of my comfort zone and I can’t wait to get over there and start training in that environment”.
Heather Garriock who returns to football this year after giving birth to her baby daughter just five months ago, has experience playing in the States with both Adirondack Lynx in the WPSL and Chicago Red Stars in the WPS and thinks the US has taken a much wiser approach this time round.
“Not only has it got three different international federations supporting the league, the salaries are slightly lower so it will be more sustainable than past efforts.
“It will be a great experience for the four Australians heading over – any player that goes overseas, gets to experience different philosophies and different cultures. It broadens them as players and that is always a benefit to our national team.”
Foord and de Vanna will line up alongside US captain Christie Rampone in a Sky Blue FC side that includes US goalkeeper Jill Loyden (who had a stint Down Under with Central Coast Mariners in 2009).
Their season kicks off with a match against Western New York Flash, with Matilda Sam Kerr, as well as two-time US Olympic Gold medallist and 2012 FIFA Women’s player of the Year Abby Wambach.
Wambach, who has seen the rise and fall of two American-based leagues, remains cautious regarding the prospects of the new model, but hopes that the popularity of this current US national side, who gained many supporters during the World Cup and Olympic campaigns, can drive this new league to success.
“I think this is a team that has become bigger, the biggest women’s soccer team this country has ever had. These players are known as a team, but also as individuals, so I think this is the best chance they’re going to have.”