A Very Busy NWSL Offseason Is Only Just BeginningCoaching changes, expansion and blockbuster Morgan trade just the beginning
by Ray Marcham | Friday, October 23, 2015
It’s already been a very eventful offseason in the NWSL, and we’re just a few weeks past FC Kansas City winning its second straight title.
All we’ve seen so far is one team added, a coaching merry-go-round in full turn, a former national team coach coming into the league and many rumors on where players may end up in 2016. The waiver list was released on Wednesday, and there’s an expansion draft coming up. Oh, and the commissioner is now on Twitter.
That’s just the beginning. Much will happen between now and when Season 4 begins.
The big one, of course, is the league’s 10th club. The Orlando Pride was announced on Tuesday, to the surprise of no one. The team is the third in the NWSL that will be operated by an MLS club, along with Portland and Houston (Kansas City has a partnership with Sporting Kansas City, but are still an independent club). Like their MLS brother Orlando City, they will start 2016 in the Citrus Bowl until Orlando’s new soccer stadium is completed.
With a new team comes building from the ground up, and the Pride has made two big splashes on that front. They have hired former US women’s national team coach Tom Sermanni to be their head coach, and he will be in charge of putting the club together and to have it ready for next season. As Houston learned in 2014, that can be a challenge.
But it has already begun. Orlando snagged USWNT superstar Alex Morgan from Portland in a massive deal that reportedly also includes the Thorns getting Meghan Klingenberg from Houston, the top pick in the NWSL Draft, two international sports and first dibs on Lindsay Horan if she comes to the NWSL from France. Final details would be known later, but it is a big way for Orlando to start.
It also helps announce a new era for the underachieving Thorns. That started soon after the season ended, as the contract for head coach Paul Riley wasn’t renewed. He was replaced by Mark Parsons, who was the general manager and head coach with the Washington Spirit. Parsons was hired just as a coach, though, as Gavin Wilkinson is still the Thorns GM.
That hiring got the NWSL coaching rotation underway. Parsons was replaced in Washington by Jim Gabarra, who was the head coach at Sky Blue FC. Gabarra is well known in the nation’s capital, as he was the head coach of the Washington Freedom in WUSA, the W-League and WPS from 2001-10. He led the Freedom to the 2003 WUSA title and the 2007 W-League crown, highlighting his run with Washington. His wife, Carin (a member of the 1991 USWNT that won the very first Women’s World Cup, when she was Carin Jennings), is also the head women’s soccer coach at the US Naval Academy, so that adds to a very strong connection to the region.
And who has been rumored to replace Gabarra at Sky Blue? Paul Riley, though no announcement from SBFC is imminent. As Riley is based on Long Island, having him in the fold at Sky Blue would be a natural fit and being close to home may be the reenergizing spark Riley needs.
The one club (outside of Orlando) that went outside of the league for their new head coach is Boston. The Breakers went to England to get Matt Beard, who led Liverpool to back-to-back FA Women’s Super League titles in 2013-14 and a spot in the UEFA Women’s Champions League. He also was the head coach at Chelsea and Millwall Lionesses, so Boston will be his first job outside of England.
In a sense, the Breakers are going the route of the Seattle Reign, where former Arsenal manager Laura Harvey has turned the club into the club to beat year after year in the NWSL. Of course, that Boston-based Fenway Sports Group owns Liverpool FC probably meant Beard was known to some in Boston already (FSG, though, isn’t connected with the Breakers).
That’s just the beginning of the NWSL offseason. Wednesday also saw the release of players who were put on the league’s waiver wire. Those included three from Boston, three from Houston and one each from Portland and Western New York.
Obviously, that will be just the start of player movement in the league. The Morgan-to-Orlando trade may be just the beginning of an overhaul in Portland, where at least one more trade is rumored to be done. With allocations from the US, Canadian and Mexican federations to be determined, and teams feeling pressure to try and catch up with Seattle and Kansas City, one can expect quite a bit of movement between clubs. The expansion draft for Orlando will also add to that, as who teams protect and who they leave out for the Pride to get will be a signal on who they expect to start 2016 with.
And, there’s this: Commissioner Jeff Plush is now on Twitter. Maybe not the biggest news, but it’s one more way that Plush and the NWSL can keep promoting the league, and women’s soccer, throughout the year. Hopefully, the trolls and grumps won’t run him off.
The NWSL offseason has already been a busy one, and there’s still months before the 2016 season begins. Numerous coaching changes, one new club, a blockbuster trade and an upcoming expansion draft is just the beginning. That this offseason is happening like this is somewhat historic, as neither WUSA nor WPS made it to a fourth season, and the NWSL will be in its fourth year in 2016.
In the big picture, that’s just as big as anything this offseason holds, and what an offseason it’s been already.