The Week in Women’s Football: Kristina Maksuti interview; Paul Riley fired; Indoor Pro Soccer;

The Week in Women’s Football: Kristina Maksuti interview; Paul Riley fired; Indoor Pro Soccer;

This week, TribalFootball.com has an exclusive interview with Kristina Maksuti, the American-born forward who plays internationally for Albania and at the club level for Klepp of Norway. We also touch on the breaking news out of the NWSL that North Carolina Courage head coach Paul Riley was fired after The Athletic’s expose with numerous allegations of his long-time abuse and harassment of players, which could even threaten the future of the NWSL.

We feature the recent exhibition match between the Houston Dash and Mexican soccer power Tigres of Monterrey, which the Dash won 5-1 in Houston. We also look at news from the W-League, the new Indoor Professional Soccer loop that begins this winter, and two leagues which plan to start a fully-professional Division II Women’s National League in 2023—the USL’s Super League and the new WISL—with the UWS also expressing interest.

Albanian international forward Kristina Maksuti interview

On September 23, TribalFootball.com talked to Albanian international forward Kristina Maksuti, who grew up in the U.S. and, after playing in five different countries—Australia, Iceland, Germany, Switzerland and the U.S.—is now playing in Norway’s Toppserien with Klepp, where she has scored one goal in the league and one in the domestic cup this season. She had just returned to Norway after Albania’s first two WWC qualifiers—a 1-1 tie at home against Kosovo and a 7-0 loss away to Belgium

The game against Kosovo is a unique derby in Europe, with both nations having such close ties ethnically, linguistically and economically, plus so many native-Kosovo/Albanians play with the Albanian national side (see our review of the UEFA Women’s World Cup Qualifiers in last week’s column:The Week in Women’s Football: World Cup qualifiers; Ireland stun Matildas; USWNT obliterate Paraguay – Tribal Football). Maksuti explained some of the background around the match when she said, “It was emotional but not due to long-term animosity,” as in a Serbian-Croatian match or other Balkan derbies. Maksuti continued, “When people look at that game without that knowledge [of the close ties between the country and the players], they think that it is an automatic three points [for Albania]. There are so many external emotions that go into that match because of the societal and emotional implications of players being from both countries. My dad is from Kosovo. A lot of people don’t understand that when that team [Albania] was created, there was not a Kosovo [national] team. People look at the result [a 1-1 tie at home for Albania] and they don’t understand that in the changing room, there are girls who are emotional and stressed about playing the match. There are conversations are whether to celebrate a goal or not. You are playing against [club] teammates that you played with your whole life. They live in the same cities. We speak the same language and there is no bad blood, but the Balkans have so much tension and so much to the history that our coach was trying to settle everyone’s nerves….I wish FIFA would take that into account, in the same way that Serbia and Kosovo do not play against each other and Serbia and Albania [are separated in UEFA qualification groups] and that they do the same for Albania and Kosovo. I’m proud of the girls and we always wish success to Kosovo as well. There is nothing but love there but it is a difficult match to explain.”

Maksuti indicated that so many natives of Kosovo play for Albania for a variety of reasons, but a major one is that FIFA prevented Kosovo from joining the world body for some years after their independence from Serbia. Maksuti explained, “The infrastructure of our team already was an allure. Albanians can go to Europe with a passport for three months but for Kosovo, you need a visa just to visit Europe. She said that FIFA only gave us one year to switch [national teams] and we weren’t notified with the option to switch. The best thing we can do is to preach to fans is that both ethnicities and both countries are of the same language and flag.” She further explained the schism in feelings when Albania plays Kosovo, “There is no animosity—it’s more where your heart is. For the girls from Kosovo, it’s difficult—[some] lived there, grew up there and love the country and want to represent it but they also love Albania. It’s more culture than boundaries and divisions…It’s a very charged match and competitive in playing against friends.”

Note: Kosovo was granted entry to UEFA and FIFA in May of 2016, though they had declared independence from Serbia over eight years before, but Serbia’s refusal to recognize Kosovo’s independence stalled their entry into the world body of football for political reasons.

Albania attempted to qualify for the 2015 and 2019 WWC and now for the 2023 event in Australia/New Zealand as well as the EUROS for 2017 and 2021, finishing in last or second to last in group play in each of the four tournaments. Kosovo played in the 2019 WWC Qualifiers and now for 2023 as well as in the last Women’s EURO Qualifiers, finishing in fourth place in their six team group with 10 points in 10 games, after two wins against Estonia and a win and a tie against Turkey.

Unlike complaints that we have heard from other developing nations’ players—who are looking for more resources, games, improved training facilities and support—Maksuti said that the Albanian Federation has been quite supportive of the women’s team and the players have felt valued. She felt that the onus was on the players to have, “More consistent results that border a similar scoreline to give us and the Federation confidence….We as a group need to bind together to get consistent results. I do think we are on the cusp of a breakthrough, even barring our result this past trip [to Belgium]. One consistent run of three-four-five games [results] can turn this program into a troublesome program for other countries [to play]. I am confident that we will get there, whether in my playing time or down the line past me. I will do as much as I can to lay the foundation for the future of Albania’s women’s program and make all our games as competitive as possible.”

Kristina Maksuti in action for Albania’s Women’s National Team. Photo Courtesy of Kristina Maksuti

Next up for Albania’s WNT are games in October at home against Armenia and away in Poland, from which the team hopes to get four points from the two games.

On the club side, Maksuti went to Australia after finishing her collegiate career at Fordham University in New York. She trained with Sydney FC for then head coach Dan Barrett and played with local Sydney NPLW side Macarthur Rams. While in Australia, Albania messaged her about playing and, “That kicked it all off and then I played in Iceland for a few months, then Lugano in Switzerland and moved to Duisburg in Germany.” Lugano finished second in the league and qualified for the next season’s UEFA Women’s Champions League for the first time while Maksuti took the Golden Boot trophy in the league on a team with a majority of Americans, playing for a Swiss-American owner. Finishing her contract with Duisburg in 2020, in the midst of COVID, she came back to America—where she hadn’t been home for over a year—and signed with head coach Paul Riley’s North Carolina Courage, who she knew from youth days playing on Long Island. She said that playing in the NWSL, “was a dream of mine to be alongside USWNT players,” but as a European national team player with 15 caps, “there is a huge draw to Europe.”The Albanian federation wanted her to be playing in Europe and Riley released her early from her contract towards the end of the Fall Series for Albania’s Women’s EURO qualifier in Scotland, in order to fit in COVID protocols in Europe. She explained, “Paul and I had a great discussion at end of Fall Series—I needed to go back to Europe… He understood that the U.S. league doesn’t coincide with FIFA windows as well. I need to be playing 90 minutes.I don’t want a 6 hour time change every time I go play for my national team. European Leagues are longer [and] keep you fit longer with a smaller offseason…. If I’m going to be playing for a European national team, I need to be based out of Europe. Paul [Riley—a native of England] was very accepting and really understood.”

Maksuti sees the trend of Americans going to Europe to play continuing—particularly if they qualify to play for a European national team—saying that, “Europe has something that the U.S. struggles with and that is the sheer history and draw of football. So many Americans struggle to get on an NWSL roster because there are so few teams and so few opportunities and the colleges turn out amazing players; not all girls get chances but they can go overseas and be stars of their clubs.” Another advantage is the longer season in Europe, “You can’t be fit for 11 months in the [Australian] W League or in the U.S. [NWSL] and it’s a struggle to maintain fitness when you are not playing multiple league and Cup games; they need longer seasons and more games….You are in the rhythm of playing all the time and not doing a roller coaster of pre-season and off-season.”

Salaries in Europe are another key differentiator as well, as it is easier for a club to, “pay a player what they are worth,” because there is no league salary cap as in the NWSL, with the latter structuring its pay based on tenure and years playing, which is tough for young Americans to gain when they are just starting out. Maksuti said, “European clubs can pay based on a player’s personality and how do I fit into their systems, how do I get on with the coach and those intangibles.”

With the Norwegian season coming to close in a few months, she said that, “She will see what the future holds [for her club career]; Scandinavia and Norway gave me the opportunity to be fit and play for the national team qualifiers….Klepp and Norway are great.” There is an aspect that this writer would like to see more of in the women’s game—two, three and four year player contracts beyond just the top players in the WLS, Italian and Spanish league, in France, etc. The standard one-year or one-year plus—with both sides having the ability to step out of the second year—are prevalent with many clubs in Europe and they impede roster stability, increase annual team turnover and creates undue stress on players and coaches. Maksuti closed by saying, “My goals, looking to the future, would be to play at a club with stability and longevity to give the best foundation for success with my national team.” Kristina Maksuti is an example of what national teams around the world gain by recruiting their diaspora—serious, determined professionals who are dedicated to their ancestral homeland and will strive to leave the game better than they found it.

Kristina Maksuti in action with Norway’s Klepp in their unique game jersey in 2021. Photo Courtesy Alexander Larsen/Norske Fotballkvinner; Kristina Maksuti.

Paul Riley Terminated from the North Carolina Courage after Sexual Harassment Allegations—the NWSL is Reeling in Turmoil

Note: With the mention of Paul Riley above, we must point out that the women’s soccer world was rocked on the morning of September 30 when The Athletic’s Meg Linehan—one of the founding members with a group of us that launched the NWSL Media Association years ago—wrote a phenomenal piece, with interviews from a number of current and league players, about serious allegations of horribly inappropriate behavior by NC Courage head coach Paul Riley on his team for years—including unwanted sexual relations, sexual coercion and verbal abuse. Riley was fired within a few hours and U.S. Soccer rescinded his professional coaching license (See: ‘This guy has a pattern’: Amid institutional failure, former NWSL players accuse prominent coach of sexual coercion – The Athletic). This column will certainly discuss this situation and the implications on the NWSL and the game in general—which has been reeling from harassment and hostile environment allegations at teams since last year—in the coming weeks but this situation (both in its length and Riley’s high profile, as he has been considered for women’s national team coaching positions in the past) is likely to cause important and lasting changes to the NWSL and how the league and their teams respect and protect their players and staff. As the league continues to investigate these and other situations around the league as we go to press, all NWSL games have been postponed for the weekend of October 2-4 at the request of the NWSL Players Association, with more news sure to come in the days ahead. I told a friend who is a professional women’s coach that NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird will probably not survive in her position for long after this latest body blow to the league, with serious charges made against the league concerning a profound lack of concern for player safety and welfare. The league itself should be able to survive—though some reporters have even called that into question—but it will be a radically different organization and must prioritize player input, safety and leadership above all league body and team issues in the future, which is a good thing.

Note: Late in the day on October 1, Lisa Baird lost her job as NWSL Commissioner for a lack of institutional control, along with League Counsel Lisa Levine. Baird reported offered her resignation, which was accepted the League Board of Directors.

Houston Dash defeated Tigres Femenil 5-1 in the first women’s international club friendly at the Dash’s BBVA Stadium

Dash forwards Bri Visalli (ex-Birmingham City and West Ham United who qualifies to play internationally for both England and the U.S.) and Makamae Gomera-Stevens (a native of Hawaii who played collegiately at Washington State University) scored their first goals for the club, with the latter getting a brace. Canadian Olympic Games Gold Medal winner Nichelle Price and American forward Veronica Latsko (ex-University of Virginia who has played in the W-League for Adelaide United and Sydney FC) also scored for the Dash while Katty Abad (23), a full international who played at the 2016 and 2018 U-20 Women’s World Cup Finals—the former in Papua New Guinea and the later in France–scored a late goal for Tigres on an assist from Lizbeth Ovalle (21), a full international who also played for her country in the 2018 U-20 WWC.

Midfielder Christine Nairn played 78 minutes in her final match as a professional soccer player–she plans to go to firefighting school now. Nairn retires after appearing in 171 NWSL and international matches across all competitions over the last eight seasons, including 155 regular-season contests for Seattle Reign FC (now OL Reign), the Washington Spirit, the Orlando Pride and the Houston Dash. She is going to Firefighters school.

The match drew 2,510 to BBVA stadium in a surprising easy win 5-1 over reigning Mexican league champions Tigres Femenil. The Dash played Tigres in an exhibition Monterrey in October of 2019, where Tigres won 2-1 in front of a crowd of 8,551. We would like to see more of these NWSL-Liga MX Femenil exhibitions and even Cup tournaments as MLS and Liga MX are doing on the men’s side. The Dash’s 2020 Challenge Cup championship allowed the team to play in the 2021 International Champions Cup held in August in Portland, with a third place game against Barcelona, falling narrowly 3-2 to the reigning UEFA Women’s Champions League title holders. These international matches help to integrate the NWSL with other leagues around the world and help to further lay a path to a FIFA World Club Cup, with more inter-Association games.

LINEUPS:

Houston Dash: Lindsey Harris (Amanda Dennis 76), Haley Hanson, Katie Naughton, Megan Oyster, Allysha Chapman (Annika Schmidt 73); Sophie Schmidt (Hannah Diaz 90), Makamae Gomera-Stevens (Shea Groom 60), Christine Nairn (Maegan Rosa 78); Bri Visalli (Jasmyne Spencer 60), Nichelle Prince (Jamia Fields 72), Veronica Latsko (Michaela Abam 72)

Unused substitutes: N/A

Total shots: 11; Shots on goal: 8; Fouls: 16; Offside: 6; Corner kicks: 1; Saves: 2

Tigres Femenil: Cecilia Santiago; Bianca Elissa Sierra Garcia, Lydia Mercado Fuentes, Greta Espinoza, Natalia Villarreal Pardo; Liliana Mercado Fuentes, Sandra Stephany Mayor Gutierrez, Stephanie Ferrer (Maria Fernandez Elizondo 73), Belen de Jesus Cruz Arzate (Miriam Garcia Munoz 84), Katty Martinez Abad

Unused substitutes: Ofelia Solis Garza, Azucena Montserrat Martinez, Natalia Miramontes Lira, Yenifer Britany Garcia, Michelle Ruiz

Total shots: 5; Shots on goal: 3; Fouls: 8; Offside: 2; Corner kicks: 5; Saves: 3

Dash head coach James Clarkson said about his side’s resounding victory over Tigres, “It was fantastic. It was quite the history tonight here at the stadium. The environment, having Tigres here to play an international game, I think it is fantastic. I think it is a great advert for the game in the region. We hope to continue to do these type of events because I thought it was a really special night. Players were fantastic and they came out with a real edge, took the game seriously and that’s respect to Tigres, because they’re a fantastic side. They’ve got some outstanding players and we knew if we weren’t on it, it would be a really long night.”

When asked about the future of these international matches, Clarkson said, “I think it’s essential for the growth of the game. There needs to be much more of it…. This is a huge step forward for both leagues, I think this international competition is the future and we need to be at the forefront of it….You look at the atmosphere the Tigres fans brought, it was outstanding and the best atmosphere we have had all season. And our fans were into it as well. It was a really good environment and this is what we expected….Tigres is a fantastic club and I hope we can have more of it. Going down there, and coming up here; we want to continue to grow these relationships. When I said growing the game is vitally important, we want to be at the forefront of it. The ownership group and front office is behind it.”

A New Level of Women’s Professional Soccer in the U.S. Is Planned for 2023 from Multiple Leagues

Earlier this summer, the United Soccer Leagues—which runs men’s Division II, III and summer amateur leagues in North America—announced that they were starting a summer amateur W-League in 2022, reprising a league of the same name which ran for over two decades and folded after the 2015 season (see more below). The USL is boosting their commitment to women’s footballers by recently announcing that they are planning to add another league for 2023—the Super League—which will be a Division II professional league and positioned just below the top tier National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). While the USL aims for 30 clubs next season in the W-League, the higher level professional USL Super League will target a launch with 12 teams in 2023.

In a press release announcing plans for the Super League, the USL said that the Division II professional league will provide, “new opportunities for players, fans, coaches, referees, staff and executives looking to participate in women’s professional soccer. Through the formation of this new league, the USL expects to double the number of professional women’s soccer teams in the United States when its inaugural season begins in 2023, giving fans more opportunities than ever to step up and support the women’s game.” The release also said, “With this new league, the USL presents an unprecedented pathway for players. Girls can now begin their careers at the youth level with the USL’s Super Y League. As they continue to develop and hone in on their skills, players can move up to the USL Academy platform, in hopes of earning a college scholarship. The W League, USL’s elite women’s pre-professional [summer] league, allows players to take on the next step of their playing careers while maintaining college eligibility. At the top of the USL’s women’s pathway, players will now have the opportunity to live out their professional dreams with the USL Super League.” The league plans to also be staffed primarily with women coaches’ technical directors and executives. The Super League had a very creative introductory video which accompanied their announcement (see: USL Super League (uslsoccer.com)

The Women’s Independent Soccer League (WISL) has also announced definitive plans for a Division II professional women’s league—also in 2023—and has four teams signed up so far—one in Northern California, one in Southern California (Los Angeles area), a Dallas, Texas area club and one from New York. The WISL is hoping to launch with eight teams—six is the minimum required for U.S. Soccer’s Division II professional standards. They are looking at market areas with over a half-a-million residents. The WISL—which has ties with the men’s third division National Independent Soccer Association (NISA), which started play in 2019-20—hopes to structure amateur soccer into regional tiers between Levels 4-6.

The Los Angeles Force was the first club to officially join the WISL last spring. The L.A. Force organization will provide female players a complete path to pro starting with the youth F.C. Golden State, through its partnership with Southern California Blues Soccer Club—the premier girls club, with former members playing on professional teams and on the United States National Women’s National Soccer Team—and then its WPSL team.

Another federation requirement is for each team to have an owner with at least a 35% stake with $7.5 million in net worth—excluding personal homes and cars. Ron Patel, the CEO of the WISL, told this reporter that teams should be able to break even on expenses with an average of 2,500 fans a game but that he expects each club to be in the 3,500- 4,000 range. Games would be held from March to November, including league matches and Cup. The season would be split into spring and fall games (14 games in each) plus Cup and Friendlies could add 2-3 games to each team’s schedule.

These attendance estimates seem quite unrealistic and overly enthusiastic, particularly for minor league teams. Before COVID, the NWSL season per game average in 2019 was 7,399, but taking out the Portland Thorns (20,098 a game) and the then Utah Royals (10,774), the majority of teams (6) were between 3,338 for Sky Blue FC and 5,875 for the North Carolina Courage. The other side, the Washington Spirit, averaged 6,222 but in two games held at MLS’s D.C. United’s new stadium of Audi Field after the 2019 WWC, the team totaled 37,888 fans for two exciting matches, which again skewed the attendance figures upward.

Patel felt that a club could bring in up to $6 million in sponsorships tickets and, merchandise (I don’t think that number is on the same planet as we are) and $500,000-$1 million in sponsorships alone, with player salaries in the $250,000 to $400,000 per player, travel expenses in the $250,000 to $330,000 range (which as a national league will be substantial) and $1.75 to $2.5 Million for a total team’s operations budget, including front office staff. (The Federation requires 8 staffers for each Division II level side.) Again these sponsorship revenue figures seem unrealistic for a second division team. The 24-player team salary cap in the NWSL is $682,500 for a 24-player roster in 2021 with a minimum salary of $22,000. Some players in the Division I league need off-season or second jobs as full-time professionals to supplement their NWSL salaries. With a step down in divisions certainly brings an assumption of lower salaries, but the key is how much lower? We estimate than an average salary in the Division II WISL would be in the $12,500-$20,000 average for 20 players per year, which are not livable ranges. These figures are comparable with the USL’s Division II men’s salaries, in which The Athletic‘s Jeff Rueter reported that a total wage budget of $500,000 a year was “competitive” in the USL Championship, and in 2020, the USL Players Association was asking for a $20,000 minimum salary

Another possible problem is that the WISL will be run by the member clubs, with the word ‘independent’ a crucial part of their name and their vision, rather than the USL’s traditional franchise approach. Entry to the WISL does not grant a club territory rights (to their metropolitan area, region or state), which is, “allowing opportunity for everyone.” If a team came into the WISL in a particular market, another team could request entry into the same regional area and, with no state/region restrictions, it would be up to the other clubs to decide if they could join. The idea of two minor league clubs competing in the same market in the same league is ludicrous. It could happen with a USL Super League and WISL team in the same market, dividing fans, sponsorship opportunities, media attention and causing confusion—we hope it doesn’t happen but it could, but that is different than the WISL’s policy, which openly allows and even in a way encourages teams in the same league in a battle in one market.

In addition to the USL and WISL efforts, United Women’s Soccer (UWS), a summer amateur (Division 4), which this author and others see as the fill-in for the old W-League, starting in 2016 and just started a League 2—a development feeder league this year focused on the U-20 toU-23 age group—is also reportedly looking at adding a professional Division 2 or perhaps Division 3 league, again targeting 2023. Canada, which has talked about launching a professional league particularly, after their Olympic Gold Medal win this summer, would probably be at the Division 2 level (like the men’s Canadian Premier League (CPL), which is in its third season) while still trying to have one or two teams in the NWSL, though the WISL has had two Canadian cities express interest in joining the league. We also have the prospect of the new National Indoor Soccer League starting play (for men and women on separate teams for each franchise) later this year; that is yet another new women’s professional soccer league in the mix (see more below).

In the United States or Canada, we have previously not had any Division II professional women’s leagues but we could have two or even three by 2023. When once we had no leagues, do we really need three minor professional women’s soccer leagues, or even up to 5 in North America. This is like when WUSA was starting back in 2001—a previous pro effort, he NSA was scuttled, which had realistic budgets and a solid plan but never was warmly received by the U.S. Soccer Federation, who preferred the WUSA that was fronted by the Founder of the Discovery Channel Cable TV networks, which ran for three seasons and paid strong wages, but spent itself into oblivion after three seasons, with a loss of excess of $100 Million. We hope that doesn’t happen at the Division II level but it is a possibility now, with even a possible wage and spending wars between leagues.

New Franchises joining the USL’s 2 League for the 2022 Season

Four new franchises have joined the USL’s W League summer amateur loop for 2022, taking the league up to 19 franchises, with a target of 30 to play next summer.

Indy Eleven, a member of the USL Championship men’s professional league, will introduce a women’s senior team in the USL W League in 2022. They will have more news on a name, logo, and branding; home venue and training locations; etc. as the season gets closer. Indy Eleven was founded in 2013, with its men’s professional team joining the USL Championship in 2018. Just over a year ago, the club launched the Indy Eleven Youth Soccer Program, a grass roots initiative designed to grow accessibility to the sport and keep families connected to the game longer by supporting 15,000 recreational players at partner clubs across the Hoosier State. By joining the USL W League, the Indianapolis-based club will now also offer a senior team platform on the women’s side, providing more opportunities for women to compete at the pre-professional level.

FA Euro is the second club to join the W League out of New York and will compete in the W League’s inaugural season in 2022. Established in 2013, and based in Brooklyn, New York, the team will provide elite young players with a pathway to play at the professional and/or collegiate levels. The club’s player-centered training model provides the club’s membership with resources and connections to NCAA programs and professional clubs across the globe so that players are equipped with a direct pathway to further their careers.

Beyond player development, the club aims to provide programming that assists players in their educational and emotional development through offering support to players in their academic pursuits and fostering an environment of openness and acceptance within the club. Through individual and team-oriented feedback from coaches, support staff, and technical staff, club players receive the support and guidance they need to excel both on and off of the field. In joining the W League, FA Euro New York will now provide a new pre-professional pathway for women athletes in Brooklyn and the surrounding boroughs in the New York metropolitan area. FA Euro New York will continue to fulfill its mission of providing support to local community members by expanding its player offering, thus creating more opportunities for women to continue to play, work and coach in women’s soccer.

North Carolina Fusion is the third club to join the W League out of North Carolina and will compete in the W League’s inaugural season in 2022. Head Coach John Pardini, who has been an assistant coach at nearby Elon University for 8 years, said, “We are thrilled to be joining the USL W League for the upcoming 2022 season. NC Fusion is proud to continue to shape the landscape of women’s soccer in the Triad area. We are excited to provide this opportunity for our membership to advance their playing careers and compete against the best in the region!” Founded in 2018, North Carolina Fusion strives to unite the Triad region [Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point] of North Carolina through the sport of soccer. The club aims to provide its players with progressive coaching and programs in an effort to help them improve their development while maintaining a holistic approach to physical and emotional well-being.

South Carolina United FC, a member of the USL League Two men’s league, will field a women’s senior team in the USL W League in 2022 and become the second W League team out of South Carolina. As a long-standing member of the USL, South Carolina United FC has proven to be a top class club for player development. Through professionalism in leadership and quality coaching, the club fields teams that compete in all levels of soccer from youth to pre-professional. By joining the USL W League, the South Carolina-based club will continue to offer a senior team platform on the women’s side, building on its history of success in the women’s game.


For information on the previously announced teams in the W League for 2022 see: (The Week in Women’s Football: UCL Round 2; Tess Tamplin interview; New USL franchises – Tribal Football).

Another strong USL Men’s Championship (Division II) side—New Mexico United—has tied its pitch for a new 12,000 purpose-built venue in part to a promise to launch a USL women’s franchise in the Albuquerque market. This is significant as NM United averages over 8,300 fans a game in their Isotopes Park baseball stadium. The club would invest $32.5 million towards the stadium, including $10 million up front in capital investment. A vote on a bond initiative needs to be approved by citizens. The new venue is estimated to bring 780 new jobs to the city, while the club will pay the city $800,000 a year for use of the soccer-specific venue and $100,000 a year minimum for concessions and revenue generated from the facility over the course of a 25-year lease as a rent-paying tenant. The city will also have 15 dates available each year at the facility for events and concerts.

Above is an artist rendition of New Mexico United’s proposed purpose-build stadium in Albuquerque, which would house the men’s USL Championship side and a W League women’s club. Courtesy New Mexico United.

The W League has also announced a contest for entrepreneurs to compete with their soccer or sports business ideas to sports professionals for a cash prize—called “PITCH IT.” Each submission for the “PITCH IT” competition will be reviewed by five industry professionals, including Lizzie Seedhouse, Senior Vice President of Digital, Emerging Technology & Strategy at the USL, Courtney Carroll Levinsohn, founder of WIS, Jessica McDonald, North Carolina Courage player and co-founder of Soccer Resilience, Melissa Ortiz, soccer analyst and former Olympian and professional player, and Christina Unkel, PRO referee and Football Laws Analyst for CBS Sports and The Athletic.

Memphis Americans Indoor League signs two players for 2021-22 Season.

The Memphis Americans, one of three teams in the National Indoor Soccer League along with the Columbus, Georgia Rapids—which joined in mid-August—and Fayetteville, Arkansas Fury—which joined in June, recently signed their first women’s team players: Alexis Catt and Kristen Sparks, who are graduates of Purdue University and Maryville University respectively.

Catt, who was born in Santiago, Chile, but grew up in Indiana, is an eight-year veteran of professional women’s soccer. She also was a member of the Chilean Under-20 Women’s National Team in 2015-2016. Sparks, from St. Louis, Missouri, played forward for Maryville University from 2016-2020, where she was a four-time academic All-American. She also spent time with the Women’s Premier Soccer League’s St. Louis Lions from 2018-2019. Sparks participated in open player tryouts with the Americans.

Note: The Columbus Comets joined the Eastern Indoor Soccer League (EISL) men’s side in 1997, with seven teams from across the Southeastern United States. The Comets struggled to find success in the new league, winning only three matches while scoring 250 goals, the fewest in the league, and allowing 414 goals, the most in the league. Their -164 goal differential was the worst in the league by 70 goals. After the season, they moved to Biloxi, Mississippi and became the Mississippi Beach Kings. The Beach Kings would find more success than the Comets, winning 18 matches in the longer 28 match season in 1998. They even made it to the EISL Final, but could not stop the SwampCats from repeating as champions. Now indoor soccer has returned to Columbus, restarting 23 years after the EISL closed its doors, and 24 years after the Comets left. The Rapids are bringing soccer back to Columbus following the creation of the NISL and the inaugural season will kick off in December.

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

Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey

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