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How it happened and why things are different this time – Equalizer Soccer



Meg Van Dyk (Real Salt Lake)

Eight hundred twenty-four days passed between the National Women’s Soccer League’s announcement that Utah Royals FC would fold, and Saturday’s official announcement that the franchise has been revived as a 2024 expansion team.

The Royals will rejoin the NWSL next season alongside another expansion team (expected to be the California’s Bay Area) to bring the league to 14 teams. Utah’s name remains the same, although the Royals’ branding has been refreshed and, most importantly, ownership is completely different from the previous regime that left amid controversy. Sources say the expansion fee paid was roughly $2 million, as first reported on ESPN in June, marking a significant bargain to the $50 million fees expected to be fetched by the next two teams joining the league.

Saturday’s Royals announcement was confirmation of what has been an open secret for the past year. It was also a culmination of efforts that literally began with the Dec. 7, 2020, announcement of the Royals’ demise.

“From the moment that happened, I feel like every day I’ve woken up trying to get them back,” new Utah Royals president Michelle Hyncik told The Equalizer this week.

Hyncik, who joined Real Salt Lake — the MLS team that shares ownership with the Royals — in 2020, personally negotiated a buy-back clause into the termination of the Royals franchise for future prospective owners to trigger.

The Royals ranked second in NWSL attendance in the two full seasons the team operated, and the franchise set several business standards that pushed the league forward. Utah hosted the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup, an endeavor that former leaders said cost nearly $1 million and made the NWSL the first U.S. team sport to return to play at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unlike past failures in the sport, the team’s dissolution — and replacement with what is now the Kansas City Current franchise — was not about failed business metrics; allegations of racism, sexism and a toxic work environment ended Dell Loy Hansen’s brief reign as an influential NWSL owner. The Salt Lake City area team joined the NWSL in the wake of two franchises folding after the 2017 season, and the Royals averaged over 10,000 fans per game over the course of two season.

“From our perspective, any time we are talking about bringing in teams to a new market, you always want as much data and confidence that the team is going to be successful,” NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman told The Equalizer. “In this circumstance, we have really undeniable evidence that this team is wanted by this community, both from the perspective of the raw data on attendance, but also, we know anecdotally that when RSL [was purchased], the most-asked question from the community was, ‘When are the Royals coming back?’”

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Julie Ertz back with USWNT, World Cup berth possible – Equalizer Soccer




There was a familiar but surprising name included on the latest United States roster announced Tuesday morning:  Julie Ertz.

Ertz has not been seen on a soccer field since she fought her way back from a knee injury to represent the United States at the Olympics in the summer of 2021. She was injured playing for the Chicago Red Stars on May 16 of that year and did not return to the team after the Olympics. The Red Stars traded Ertz and Sarah Gorden to Angel City FC, but Ertz never reported and announced in April that she was pregnant. She gave birth to her son, Madden, last year on August 11.

Friendlies against Ireland next month in Austin and St Louis will mark the final matches for the United States before head coach Vlatko Andonovski announces the roster for this summer’s World Cup. Other returning players on the 26-player roster are defenders Kelley O’Hara, Tierna Davidson and Casey Krueger, and forward Sophia Smith. Krueger had to leave her club match over the weekend after a head-to-head collision. From the 26, head coach Vlatko Andonovski will name 23 to dress for each match.

“It’s exciting to get the group back together and we’re getting closer to how we want to look this summer,” Andonovski said. “The team is gelling and getting these players back in camp, all who know the environment very well, is just going to make it more competitive and turn the intensity up a notch. I know there is a lot of pressure on the players as the competition for World Cup spots increases, but that’s not something we shy away from. We talk about it, and we embrace it, as we all know these players make each other better.”

Ertz, who will turn 31 ahead of the matches, is guaranteed a chance to be called in and earn a spot on the team in the long term, having been under contract and having a baby. This appears to be more than a token call-up though, with Ertz believed to have at least an outside shot at snagging a seat on the plane to New Zealand this summer.

The national team has not called in unaffiliated players since precedent was set in 2018 when Jill Ellis refused to call in Christen Press who was holding out following a trade to the Houston Dash. Ertz’s NWSL rights remain with Angel City.

Ertz was the No. 3 overall pick (as Julie Johnston) by the Red Stars in 2014 and was named Rookie of the Year. Through 2021 she made 95 regular season appearances for the Red Stars and six more in the playoffs plus eight Challenge Cup matches. Ertz started for the Red Stars in the 2019 NWSL Championship and 2020 Challenge Cup final.

She burst onto the scene with the national team ahead of the 2015 World Cup when an injury to Christie Rampone thrust her into the starting lineup where she remained, helping the U.S. post five consecutive shutouts on the way to the title. By 2019, Ertz was in the midfield and again helped the U.S. lift the trophy. She has been capped 116 times by the United States and has scored 20 goals.

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Alyssa Thompson, VAR make their NWSL debuts – Equalizer Soccer




DiDi Haračić

Photo credit: Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

Arianna Cascone and Jason Anderson (Pro Soccer Wire) take a close look at Alyssa Thompson’s NWSL debut, the debut of VAR, Trinity Rodman’s game-winning goal, an opening win for the Courage, and more key moments from Week 1 in the NWSL.

Listen to this pod on:  Apple  |  Spotify  |  Google Podcasts  |  Stitcher  |  Anchor  |  PodBean  |  Pocket Casts  |  Breaker  |  Overcast  |  RadioPublic

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The NWSL’s VAR era makes its Hollywood debut – Equalizer Soccer




LOS ANGELES — The roof was ready to blow off BMO Stadium 15 minutes into Sunday’s Angel City FC opener. In more ways than one, a new era was on display for the National Women’s Soccer League.

Jun Endo just scored what appeared to be another stunning second goal for the home side —following up a golazo from 18-year-old No. 1 draft pick Alyssa Thompson in her NWSL debut — and it appeared that the rout was on for Angel City against quasi-rival NJ/NY Gotham FC, who finished a miserable 2022 season in last place.

Then, over a minute later, after most of the sellout crowd of 22,000 fans waved their pink team flags as Endo, easily identifiable by her pink hair, celebrated her 40-yard chip of an out-of-position goalkeeper, referee Elijio Arreguin jogged over to the video booth to review a potential foul. Arreguin emerged from the screen over a minute later and called off the goal for a what was determined to be a foul prior to the shot.

Six minutes after halftime, video review went against Angel City again, awarding Gotham a soft penalty kick that Margaret “Midge” Purce converted. Prize offseason acquisition Lynn Williams scored 14 minutes later to boost Gotham to a 2-1 victory on opening weekend.

It took until the final of six NWSL opening-weekend games for VAR (video assistant referee) to play a major role in a game result, and when it did, it came down in arguably the most high-profile match of the weekend. It was chaotic and entertaining, an unscripted drama playing out in front of a sellout crowd that continues to raise the standard for the league as it begins its second season.

“It was a crazy movie, that game,” Purce said.

Sunday’s match began with new Gotham captain Ali Krieger exiting the match injured after 10 minutes from a non-contact injury. Jenna Nighswonger, the No. 4 overall pick in this year’s draft, replaced Krieger — who recently announced that this would be her final season of a pro career spanning three decades — in a position that Nighswonger had never played.

Then came a stunning debut goal for the No. 1 draft pick, the VAR decisions, Williams’ game-winner, and the referees getting booed off the field by the home crowd. It was everything the NWSL should hope for in a tentpole game: drama, goals, storylines.

“I think that the NWSL is its own magical beast. It’s like Wild, Wild West out here,” Williams said, acknowledging that she was nervous for her first league game back from injury a year later despite having already returned to action with the United States national team.

The NWSL is back indeed, and VAR adds a new wrinkle to a league already known for chaos. Part of the formation of that identity has been a historical underinvestment in officiating that has led to game-changing calls and endless controversies.

VAR won’t eliminate those debates; Sunday’s game served as evidence that it will only encourage more of them. After the second time video review struck against Angel City, for Gotham’s second-half penalty, three Angel City players received yellow cards for their individual dissent of Arreguin.

“We need to look at our experience of VAR tonight and learn from it,” Angel City head coach Freya Coombe said. “For many players on the team, it was their first exposure to VAR and I think that’s just a learning moment for all of us.”

Neither team played all that well in a game defined by mistakes and refereeing (arguably one in the same still). Angel City was certainly the better team in first half as Gotham absorbed pressure, but the home side never really recovered from the letdown of Endo’s goal being called back. What followed were defensive errors, including captain Ali Riley’s errant backpass that put Angel City in the position to give up the penalty kick.

“I think as far as breakdowns in the second hall, we just didn’t take care of the ball,” said Angel City defender Sarah Gorden, playing her first official game for the team after missing all of 2022 with a torn ACL. “We didn’t have the urgency to go forward and score and honestly, it’s good for that to happen the first game, because now we know exactly where we need to build, where we need to get better. It’s good to be disappointed the first game because we can work on exactly where our breakdowns were.”

Whether either of these two teams will be good over the long-haul of the season remains to be seen. Gotham lost 12 straight games last year en route to a last-place finish, and while there is a new coach in charge and some new additions (Williams the most notable), plenty of work remains.

Angel City is a team with much greater expectations. “Ambition” was the buzzword around the team during preseason. They want to play with ambition in individual moments. They have ambitions of winning trophies in year two.

There is talent there, especially whenever forwards Christen Press and Sydney Leroux return from torn ACLs (Leroux’s timeline is ahead of Press’, Coombe told The Equalizer last week, but neither has returned to team training yet). Questions remain as to whether it will all come together over the course of the full season in a league that is both unpredictable and unforgiving.

Sunday was a reminder of that. Last season, Gotham would have likely dropped that result given the early-game adversity. VAR helped, but the visitors also managed to regroup and turn around a 1-0 halftime deficit to pick up three points in one of the toughest places to play in the league.

“At the end of the day, it’s football,” Purce said. “Football, you know, the prettiest team doesn’t always win the game and that is what it is. We did a really good job and earned that win, so I’m proud of that.”

The column explained

Call this the editor’s and writer’s note: Each week, I’ll be writing about pressing topics in the NWSL. This column is a mix of reporting and commentary, a deep dive into something important and news nuggets in other sections. It will be exclusively for subscribers of The Equalizer. This is one of dozens of monthly stories that are subscriber-only. Need more details? Here are all of last year’s columns.

I’ll be adding and substituting sections throughout the weeks. Please send me your feedback with some subsections you would like to see, or topics you want covered, at

Starting with two contrasting ones that we will aim to make regular as a way of looking at who is on the rise and who isn’t, without falling into the tired trap of doing power rankings:

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Eye-catchers: Trinity Rodman does it herself

Trinity Rodman had a number of great individual efforts in the Washington Spirit’s 1-0 win over OL Reign on Sunday, and her game-winning goal was the culmination of those efforts. She backed it up with a fun celebration, too. Rodman remains as one of the most talented forwards in the league.

Eyebrow-raisers: Pride get rocked in Portland … again

The Orlando Pride opened the season with a 4-0 loss away to the Portland Thorns, confirming suspicions that this team has a lot of work to do with an underwhelming and relatively inexperienced roster. Yes, opening away to the defending champions is a tough way to start the season, but at some point, you just have to be competitive. In this fixture last year, the Pride lost 6-0. Circumstances were different, sure, but there is a lot of work to be done in Orlando. The good news is, there is time.

Tactical trends to watch

18-year-old San Diego Wave forward Jaedyn Shaw started in a role that head coach Casey Stoney described as a second No. 10 of a box formation. Shaw had previously played as more of a traditional wide forward. She looked good in the role and, more than anything, it indicates just how important she will be to that team. Saturday brought a 3-2 win over the Chicago Red Stars.

Emily Sonnett started in a defensive midfield role for OL Reign in a 1-0 loss to the Washington Spirit. Sonnett’s versatility is more known for her ability to play center back or fullback, although she has previous experience as a No. 6. Reign coach Laura Harvey has talked about this being a way to get Sonnett on the field. Harvey is also a coach who will look out for her players’ international careers, and at the very least, it will be a helpful coincidence if Sonnett can prove capable in a position of need for the United States as she fights for a World Cup roster spot.

Tara McKeown started at center back for the Washington Spirit alongside Sam Staab. It’s a curious move on paper, moving the forward back there, but Spirit head coach Mark Parsons said recently that McKeown has the right qualities for the position. She was part of a Spirit back line that pitched a shutout to start the season.

Surveying stadiums

The three West Coast teams pulled their weight as expected in what was announced beforehand as an opening weekend that would break an attendance record. San Diego started off the weekend with 30,854 fans, just shy of a sellout at 32,000, which is the NWSL record that the team set last year. Angel City followed by announcing a sellout crowd of 22,000 on Sunday.

The crowd of 15,204 in Portland is undeniably solid, although noticeably short of a sellout in a market that used to set the standard. The fallout continues from extensive scandals in Portland. The team is currently for sale. Perhaps new ownership will rejuvenate the fan base.

Crowds like these are not yet the standard across the league, as the league’s first game of the season, in North Carolina, showed on Saturday, with 4,948 in attendance for the North Carolina Courage‘s 1-0 win over the Kansas City Current.

What VAR we talking about?

This column already dedicated plenty of space to the big moments in LA, but it should be noted from the jump this season: The NWSL as a league — a league which loves to promote its own chaos as entertainment (as it should!) — can’t have it both ways with VAR. That is to say: we cannot pretend that the more controversial things did not happen. Jun Endo’s would-be goal is a highlight that should be shared by the league and analyzed at length. And most objective viewers would have a lot of trouble saying there was a “clear and obvious error” in not calling a foul on Dani Weatherholt before Endo got the ball. Let’s celebrate when the refs correct a wrong call and spare the integrity of a game. Let’s also debate when they might have still got it wrong. This is a league that collectively tries to run and hide from any modicum of perceived negative news, but these moments between the lines are part of the game and the product. They cannot be ignored.

They said that

“I think frustrating sums it up.” – Rose Lavelle making a point she repeated on several occasions while discussing the Reign’s 1-0 loss to the Spirit.

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