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International Roundup: Averbuch discusses how Sweden has helped her progress

Yael Averbuch won a 2011 WPS title with Western New York, but has played in Sweden for the last two years. (Photo © Patricia Giobetti | http://www.printroom.com/pro/psgiobetti)

This week, the international review looks at the second leg games of UEFA’s Champions League Round of 32, held on October 16th and 17th, again focused on Americans and those who have played in North America who were on the rosters. We also talk to Yael Averbuch, who is completing her second season in the Swedish Damallsvenskan, about her thoughts on this season and plans for 2014. We also have an update on the mobcast Cup International Women’s Club Championship in terms of the organizers’ contacts with NWSL.

UEFA’s Champions League Round of 32 Second Leg

Tyreso FF of Sweden advanced against Paris Saint-Germain of France after a 0-0 tie in Paris, on the strength of their 2-1 home leg victory. Tyreso loaded their starting lineup with WPS veterans, including all five of their American internationals plus three former international imports from WPS days. For the U.S. quintet, forward Christen Press, goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, defenders Meghan Klingenberg, Ali Krieger and Whitney Engen all were in the starting line-up as were Marta (Brazil), Caroline Seger (Sweden) and Veronica Boquete (Spain). Tyreso, the Swedish champions in 2012, were dethroned last week by Malmo, who piped them for the 2013 title. For PSG, their two Americans both played: Tobin Heath started but was subbed out in the 72nd minute and Lindsey Horan came in for the last nine minutes of regulation time. French international defender Laura Georges—who played at Boston College—started as did Shirley Cruz of Costa Rica and Swedish international Kosovare Asllani, a WPS veteran with the Chicago Red Stars. After six games in the Feminine Division 1, Paris Saint-Germaine is tied for second with Juvisy on 15 points, three points behind Lyon.

Olympique Lyon defeated FC Twente of the Netherlands 6-0 at home (10-0 on aggregate), with U.S. international midfielder Megan Rapinoe scoring for the French side in the 84th substitute, having come on as a substitute 15 minutes earlier.

Turbine Potsdam of Germany finished with a similar second leg scoreline as did Lyon, defeating MTK Hungaria of Hungary 6-0 at home (11-0 on aggregate). All six Potsdam goals came from imports, with two goals each from Macedonian international midfielder Natasa Andovova, Japanese international forward Asano Nagasato and Swedish international midfielder Antonia Goransson. American Ingrid Wells (formerly of Georgetown University) subbed into the game for the second half but Alex Singer (ex-University of Virginia) did not play.

Newly crowned Swedish champion Malmo of Sweden defeated LSK Kvinner FK of Norway 5-0 at home (8-1 on aggregate), with one goal by former WPS Swiss international Ramona Bachmann (Atlanta Beat in 2010) while German international forward Anja Mittag and Dutch international forward Manon Melis both recorded braces. Icelandic international and former Duke goalkeeper Thora Helgadottir recorded the shutout for Malmo. Stanford graduate Ali Riley did not play.

FK Zorkiy Krasnogorsk of Russia defeated Thor/KA of Iceland 4-1 at home for a 6-2 aggregate win. All four Americans started for Zorky: Alyssa Mautz (Chicago Red Stars) scored in the 22nd minute and Ashley Nick (Sky Blue FC) scored in the 34th minute. Amy Barczuk (Western New York Flash) and Chante Sandiford (formerly of UCLA) also contributed to the victory. Spain’s Maria Ruiz, who played collegiately in the U.S. and in the W-League, started and played 75 minutes for the Russian side.

For Thor, former University of Miami goalkeeper Victoria Alonzo and midfielder Thanai Annis (University of Florida) started and played 90 minutes.

Russia’s FC Rossiyanka tied ZKK Spartak Subotica of Serbia 1-1 at home to take the tie 5-3 on aggregate. Former Rutgers midfielder Kristen Edmonds again played the entire game.

Birmingham City LFC of England defeated PK-35 Vantaa of Finland 1-0 at home (4-0 on aggregate) on a goal from English youth international defender Chelsea Weston. Former Chicago Red Star forward (WPS) Karen Carney played all 90 minutes for the northern English side. PK-35 Vantaa’s American duo of Lydia Hastings and Furtuna Velaj did not play for former Sky Blue FC coach Pauliina Miettinen.

Glasgow City FC defeated Standard Liege of Belgium 3-1 at home to take the tie 5-3 on aggregate. Midfielder Jessica Fishlock—on loan from the Seattle Reign—played 77 minutes for the Scottish champions.

Reigning UEFA Champions League title holder VfL Wolfsburg of Germany defeated Parnu JK of Estonia 13-0 (27-0 on aggregate). Conny Pohlers who was an influential addition to the Washington Spirit this season, again scored a hat trick for Wolfsburg–as she did in the first leg–this time as a starter. Lyn Meyer also scored three times for the German Frauen-Bundesliga Champions

Arsenal won 11-1 at home versus WFC SSHVSM Kairat of Kazakhstan to take the tie 18-2 on aggregate (7-1), with former Boston Breakers defender and English international Alex Scott playing the entire game. English youth international Danielle Carter scored four times in 65 minutes. Scottish international Kim Little scored a hat trick.

SV Neulengbach of Austria tied Apollon Limassol LFC of Cyprus 1-1 at home to advance 3-2 on aggregate. All six of Apollon’s American imports started: Michelle Betos, Joanna Lohman, Tina Di Martino, Nikki Krzysik, Jasmyn Spencer and forward Sinead Farrelly (FC Kansas City), who scored in the 84th minute. English forward Lianne Sanderson (Boston Breakers) also started. Slovakian youth international midfielder Alexandra Biroova scored in the 58th minute to give the Austrian champion all the scoring that it needed to advance.

The aggregate defeat was a disappointment for Apollon, with designs to be a mega club in European women’s soccer, through importing most of the team’s starters. The classic ‘big fish in a small pond’, Apollon has romped through the eight-team Cypriot First Division for years. Apollon are tied with ADK Kokkinochorion with the most titles in the Cypriot League (5) since the first championship was contested in 1998-99. This season after 14 games, they again are undefeated with 42 points and have a 14-point advantage over second place Lefkothea of Latsia (9-1-4 W-D-T). While a consistent Champions League round of 32 qualifier the last four years—the Apollon women’s side was founded only in 2007—they have not made that step up yet to the round of 16. This speaks to the gap between the top 10-12 national in Europe and the rest of the 54 UEFA member nations.  Of the 10 qualifiers from the round of 64 this season, only three advanced: Glasgow City LFC, FC Zurich and Konak Belediyespor of Turkey (who defeated another qualifier—RTP Unia Raciborz of Poland).

Coming undone against another lower ranked nation in Austria’s champions (though to be fair to their opponents, SV Neulengbach has made the round of 16 for the fourth year running) brings up an issue that has two opposing arguments. Some see Apollon’s over-reliance on foreign imports as a determent to the development of the local league and Cyprus’ national team—currently sitting 134th in FIFA’s rankings, behind Grenada and Afghanistan. Apollon used two Cypriots in the first leg—with only one starting–and supplemented the U.S. based-imports with Bulgarians, Romanians and Greek nationals. In the second leg they started two Cypriots and had five others on the bench who did not play. Some feel that in this situation local players are not getting the playing time that they need to develop, but there is more to it than that. The constant loan agreements and flying players in on short-term contracts can have a tendency to turn the imports into mercenaries  who have no connection to the club or the community (Farrelly and Betos did go back to Cyprus for a second season).

The Greek national team used diaspora for about half of their Olympic Games roster in 2004, most from U.S. colleges. After training for months and shuttling across the Atlantic, Greece essentially stopped investing in the women’s program, putting the national team into mothballs for over a year. The local Greek players went back to playing in a low level league. American goalkeeper Maria Yatrakis, who played at the University of Connecticut and for the Long Island Lady Rough Riders in the W-League as well as in Sweden, even offered to pay her own way back to play but the Federation said no. The Federation treated the Olympic Games as a one-off event, rather than building on it for sustainable growth in the women’s game. A few years ago, four players from a WPSL side, including an Australian international, helped a Ukranian side advance to the round of 32, even though she found the coaching was far below what they had experienced in the U.S. and Australia. It was so extreme that, when the head coach drew on the chalkboard before games, she never had any idea what he was trying to get across tactically, because he had little knowledge of advanced game tactics or planning. The quartet never returned after their short loan period ended.

American Yael Averbuch has a different view, having played for a few seasons in Europe, including a brief time for Rossiyanka during a Champions League campaign (Russian clubs have become notorious for importing talent from all over the world for UEFA campaigns, only to discard them once they lose). Averbuch sees Apollon’s strategy as a positive, saying: “I actually think this is a good step in the women’s game. Many clubs throughout Europe are now expanding their budgets in order to have more success. It’s adding greatly to the competitiveness and depth of good teams in the women’s game. Obviously it’s best if teams don’t just bring players on very short-term contracts. But the idea of spending ambitiously in order to build a successful team and club is a definite plus. Also, this creates more playing and job opportunities for female players.”

This loss may cause Apollon to rethink their strategy, or continue ahead in the hope of advancing further in the Champions League in 2014-15, as surely they will again win their local league. One hopes that Apollon’s ambition is not confined to the club but helps to the growth of the entire women’s game in Cyprus, including grassroots play and the national teams.

Other first leg scores included:
Fortuna Hjørring (DEN) (2) versus UPC Tavagnacco (ITA) (0) (4-3 on aggregate)

RTP Unia Racibórz (POL) 0 versus Konak Belediyesi 0 (TUR) (1-2 on aggregate)

AC Sparta Praha (CZE) (1) versus FC Zürich Frauen (SUI) (1) (2-3 on aggregate)

ASD Torres Calcio (ITA) (3) versus FSK St.Pölten-Spratzern (AUT) (1) (5-3 on aggregate)

Brøndby IF (DEN) (2) versus FC Barcelona (2) (ESP) (2-2 on aggregate—Barcelona advances on away goals)

For more on the group standings and results see:

http://www.uefa.com/womenschampionsleague/season=2014/standings/index.html

Last 16 Pairings

The premier ties of the next round will be reigning UEFA Champions League team Wolfsburg versus Malmö and the 2010-11 and 2011-12 UEFA club champion Lyon versus German power Potsdam. Barcelona versus Zurich could be a close run affair and the winner—with a favorable draw–could make the final four. Arsenal should defeat Glasgow City but Birmingham will have a tough trip to Russia against American loaded Zorkiy. The eight match-ups, to be held on November 9/10 and 13/14 are as follows:
Barcelona v Zürich
Konak v Neulengbach
Fortuna v Tyresö
Rossiyanka v Torres
Potsdam v Lyon
Zorkiy v Birmingham
Malmö v Wolfsburg
Arsenal v Glasgow

Interview with American forward Yael Averbuch in Sweden

The Equalizer talked to U.S. international Yael Averbuch as her second season in Sweden has just finished this weekend.

Kopparbergs/Gothenburg FC—Yael Averbuch’s home for two years–finished the season fourth in the 12 team loop with a 9-6-7 record for 33 points, well off the pace of champions Malmo (55 points), second place Tyreso—the 2012 champion (48 points) and third place Linkopings FC (46 points). Averbuch explained that the season started well and Gothenburg entered the summer break (for the UEFA Championships in Sweden and traditional summer holidays in the Nordic region) well placed to challenge for the league crown. After 14 games they were in 3rd place on a 7-5-2 record for 26 points, just seven points behind leaders Malmo and 5 behind second place Tyreso. They then proceeded to win only two games and tie one of their final 8—including a season ending home victory over relegated Sunnana SK on October 20 (Sunnana finished the season with no wins and only five ties for 5 points).

Averbuch explained that the second half of the season was a struggle: “The loss of our top goal-scorer, Jodie Taylor, was a huge blow for us (for more on Taylor’s departure, see last week’s international roundup). In addition, we had a small roster to start with and did not have much depth to deal with the injuries and illness that naturally become issues throughout a long season. I think that gaining this depth will be huge for next season and in years to come. Overall, the team plays a very nice style and has a great group of core players. I think it will just be adding some quality additions to that core and fine tuning the organization of the team that will be important areas to improve.”

Averbuch said that her top highlight for the team was defeating Tyreso in the Super Cup in April (between the league champions in 2012 and Cup winners) which Gothenburg won 4-2 on penalties after a 2-2 tie. Former WPS scoring star and English international Anita Asante scored once for Gothenburg while Christen Press tallied for Tyresö, after playing with Averbuch for Kopparbergs/Gothenburg in 2012: “It was a great team win for us and demonstrated the quality we have and our ability to use teamwork to overcome an extremely talented opponent.”

When evaluating the league in general, Averbuch felt that Malmö was a top quality team and that their win was important for the balance of the league, so that star-dominated Tyresö does not run away with the league every year, as typically happened in the pre-WPS days when Marta played with Umea: “I think that Malmö was superb this year, and the fact that they won the league was great for the Damallsvenskan in general. On paper, Tyresö should have [won], but the fact that they did not, and also some of the results throughout the season in general, showed the depth of the league and the quality throughout.”

Averbuch felt that hosting the European championships this summer has benefited the Swedish domestic game: “There was so much hype surrounding the Euros and that support surely trickled in to the league. Many individual players gained recognition and established a following, and women’s soccer became very prevalent in the media. I’m always very impressed by how mainstream women’s soccer is in Sweden. Many games are televised, and information about results is always in the newspaper and on the radio.”

Though the UEFA Finals attendance was the best the tournament has ever seen, the Damallsvenskan did not see much of a rise in attendance in the second half of the year, with the attendance increasing from 738 per game before to 745 per game after the break. Final attendance for 132 games was 97,902 for 742 per game, down from 836 per game in 2012 and 924 per game in 2011. Sweden definitely has fallen to second in the league attendance table to Germany; in the 2012-13 season Germany finished with 899 per game, down from 1,121 during the World Cup season of 2011-12, which they hosted.

Averbuch said that playing in Sweden the past two years has definitely helped her game.

“Almost immediately after coming to Sweden, I felt very ‘at home’ on the field,” she said. “It was a comfortable transition for me and I got to play many games, which was what I really needed in my career these past couple years. My team gave me the freedom to try things and make mistakes, and also learn a lot about the women’s game in Europe. The experience was more valuable for me than I can say–both tactically and also mentally and confidence-wise.”

However, this is an important off-season for the former University of North Carolina star; her goal is to make the U.S. national team for the 2015 World Cup in Canada and she needs to decide where she can best do that, whether in NWSL or still abroad. “I have loved my time in Europe, but my team is currently going through a lot of change. It is unclear which players will stay with the club for next year, and a new head coach has just been hired. My No. 1 goal is to make the World Cup team for 2015, so I will have to really evaluate where is the best place for me to develop and also for me to be seen by the national team.”

Averbuch has played professionally in the US winning two WPS titles with Western New York in 2011 and Sky Blue FC in 2009. Playing in NWSL would provide U.S. national team head coach Tom Sermanni easier access to watch her games and evaluate her. Canadian national team head coach John Herdman—long a proponent of his players joining top tier leagues in Europe—has said that he wants to keep their national team players on North American soil in the lead-up to the 2015 Women’s World Cup, which Canada will stage. If Averbuch does return to the U.S. for 2014, one long-term aspect to watch will be to see if she returns to Europe after 2015, either for an entire season or for an off-season loan period.

mobcast Cup Clarification

Last week, we discussed the upcoming 2013 mobcast Cup International Women’s Club Championship in Japan and touched on the possibility of the NWSL champion participating, particularly if FIFA begins a Women’s Club Championship in the future. One possibility would be for FIFA to subsume the mobcast tournament, which currently is a project developed and hosted by the Japanese Football Federation and the Japanese Women’s Football League (The Nadeshiko League). An NWSL spokesperson told The Equalizer last week that the mobcast tournament organizers did not directly reach out to the NWSL but had made contact indirectly with a league coach (which according to other sources was not NWSL Champion Portland Thorns head coach Cindy Parlow-Cone). The NWSL spokesperson did say that the NWSL is open to exploring the possibility of participating in the future. Interestingly, the Seattle Reign played one of the mobcast Cup teams in preseason—2012 Japanese league champion INAC Kobe Leonessa (who have an unassailable lead in their championship this season), with the Reign coming out on the short end of a 2-0 game, but without their complete pre-season roster. Sky Blue also lost to INAC Kobe 2-0 on a tour of Japan in 2012, while as an independent team following WPS’ collapse.

Tim Grainey is a contributor to Equalizer Soccer.  His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham was released earlier this month.  Get your copy today.

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