For a while now, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in the USA has been the place to be if you’re one of the top female soccer players in the world. The league structure has taken some tweaking over the years, but it houses the majority of the USA’s 2015 World Cup winning squad, as well as an array of foreign superstars, something the FA WSL in England has so far failed to do on a regular basis.
Since 2012, a team tucked away in the North West corner of the US has been the club to follow – Portland Thorns. Portland, as a city, was allocated one of the spots as a host for one of the eight founding members of the NWSL, with the Thorns allocated players such as Christine Sinclair, Tobin Heath, Karina LeBlanc, and Alex Morgan.
They haven’t messed about since; Germany no.1 Nadine Angerer keeps things safe in goal, whilst England strikers Jodie Taylor and Lianne Sanderson link up at the other end of the pitch. They’ve gained plenty of attention in the US media and certain ‘soccer’ magazines, but the Thorns may now not be the ‘hipster’ choice for those watching on as a casual follower.
Western New York Flash are just four years older than the Thorns and took the first NWSL Shield title in 2013, although it would be the Thorns who ended up eventual champions through the play-offs. Flash were originally founded as Buffalo Flash, and they still play in Rochester, on the very edge of the state of New York.
The club is family owned; Joe Sahlen is the man at the head of things, whilst his daughter, Alex, is the president of the club, and, more intriguingly, a defender in the playing squad! Meanwhile, Alex’s husband is the coach of the team – family indeed! Alex is New York born and bred, originally playing for Rochester Ravens after graduating from university, and joining the Flash when they were originally formed in 2008.
90% of the players are American, including World Cup winners Whitney Engen and Sydney Leroux, but their signings post-World Cup have been exciting, forthright, and have caught the attention of many NWSL supporters. 27-year-old Michelle Heyman impressed enough with Australia out in Canada this summer to earn herself a move to New York, scoring on her debut for the club.
Perhaps the most eye-catching addition was that of Colombian international Lady Andrade, who came to the attention of many this side of the pond due to her performances in England’s group, and against England themselves. The aptly named female star is just 23, but did represent her country under fewer spotlights back in 2011, playing just the one match.
What casual admirers of the game won’t remember is the she only featured once due to a two-match ban picked up for punching global superstar Abby Wambach when the USA faced Colombia on German soil four years ago. But in 2015, Andrade let her feet do the talking; at the time, she was playing her club football in Finland, but her close control and skills on the ball were like nothing seen before at a Women’s World Cup. Even the legendary Marta would have been impressed.
When Colombia met USA again in this year’s World Cup, Andrade and Wambach managed to stay out of each other’s way, but the attacker did enough to ensure Liverpool striker Natasha Dowie, watching on in the BBC studio, tried to convince her club to sign up the 23-year-old for the upcoming WSL season, albeit to no avail.
Almost immediately after the completion of the tournament, Andrade was snapped up by the Sahlen family and moved immediately to start a new life alongside Heyman, Leroux and co in New York. She has already impressed during her first few appearances for the club, scoring and once again showing off her silky dribbling skills, and it would be fantastic to one day see her on a similar stage in the UK.
Sadly, 2015 hasn’t gone the way the Sahlen family would have wanted; Flash sit second bottom of the NWSL and won’t make the play-offs, but it appears to be a franchise with much ambition and an array of attacking talent to take them right to the top. If it’s any consolation, Portland Thorns also failed to make the cut, and sit just three points above their New York rivals. But if you wish to start showing some interest in the NWSL, Flash are certainly a team to admire and enjoy if you’re looking for something a bit different!
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