While the Premier League may not have managed to get Lionel Messi to play in England this summer, the Women’s Super League (WSL) seems to have no trouble attracting talent of the highest quality to its shores. The influx of foreign players at English clubs has been staggering in this transfer window, and while a significant number of them — high quality players like Valerie Gauvin, Steph Catley and Caitlin Foord — have gone under the radar, the sudden announcement that Alex Morgan will be gracing English shores hasn’t.
The running joke on social media is that Jose Mourinho, the Tottenham men’s team manager asked for a striker who 'won't be afraid of Harry Kane’ earlier this summer. And so, Totteham went and signed Morgan up for the women’s team. The American’s resume is unquestionable. She has been part of the US team which has featured in three consecutive World Cup finals. She has spent a year in Lyon and won the title, the cup and the Champions League with them. She was, along with Megan Rapinoe, the lynchpin of the US team that won the World Cup in France last year and has scored 107 times in 169 appearances for the US. She has also been in the FIFPro World XI in 2016, 2017 and 2019! Her signing is a coup.
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And Morgan isn’t alone. Five members of that US team have made their way to England, for various teams. Add to that Pernille Harder, widely regarded one of the best players in the world, and it seems clear that there is a gentle power shift happening in the women’s game in England.
When the pandemic hit the world front-on early this year, the fears were that women football would suffer most. In England for example, while the Premier League went on to finish their season, the WSL was abandoned. Fears that club budgets may also suffer have been displaced. For now.
A huge amount of this also has to do with how badly the US has managed the pandemic, forcing their season to be disrupted and therefore their players to look for game time elsewhere. Their loss though has been English football’s gain. And if the poster at Tottenham’s underground station is any proof, the gains are being utilised to market the women’s game in a wholly different way now.
Arsenal’s Flying Dutchwoman Strikes Again
On the face of it, this was another routine afternoon for Arsenal in the WSL. One that started off a bit prickly, but ended up being flatteringly one sided. It was also a brutal indictment of how brutal the gap is between teams in the league, and how difficult it is to bridge them.
But then, there needs to be context. Arsenal beat West Ham 9-1, but it is important to remember that for over half an hour of the game the two sides were level. Vivianne Miedema’s 34th minute strike was when the tide truly turned — not because of the goal, but because of the second yellow West Ham captain Gill Flaherty picked up after it was scored. From there, reduced to 10 men, West Ham were absolutely decimated. Teams like Arsenal find gaps when there are a full contingent of players available. Go down one, and the gaps become gaping holes.
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The highlight though was not Miedema herself. Her goals were as many as her misses and it is safe to say she hasn’t hit full stride yet this season. The clinical display was supplied by her Dutch teammate, Jill Roord, who scored her second hattrick of the season, and has already tripled her tally from last season, with just two games played.
Roord isn’t unfamiliar to scoring goals. After all, four years ago, when she was playing for FC Twente, it was a goal that propelled her into social media stardom. That goal, scored in the Champions League against Bayern was a different sort to the ones she has scored this season. That was a winding run, a slew of defenders left in her wake, a cut in and an unstoppable shot. This season, she has been more ruthless, less prone to individualism than teamwork. She has channeled the Dutch heroes of the past, reliant on off the ball movement, high game IQ and the ability to see a gap where none previously existed.
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Roord joined Arsenal last season — from Bayern would you believe it? The Bavarians signed her almost immediately after she scored against them for FC Twente — and was used as a deputy in midfield for most of last season. This season, starting where Joe Montemurro would usually pick Danielle van De Donk, she has excelled — so far.
Six goals in two games, against teams which are unfancied to make a title charge is too little evidence to base growth on, but Roord’s movement and eye for goal have been undoubtedly enhanced this season. Montemurro himself was full of praise for her, but also cautioned that it was a lack of consistency that had hurt her in the past, and seen her drop to the bench. For a thin Arsenal squad that perennially suffers from injuries at crucial times of the season, the evolution of a new, young player is crucial to title aspirations. Roord may not keep scoring at this tick, but at the very least she has ensured she won’t be overlooked.
Manchester United Sealed A 5-2 Victory Over Birmingham City
Manchester United, coming off a strong showing in their season opener against Chelsea, recorded their first win of the season, Birmingham City at Damson Park.
The victory though wasn’t without its own strife, with United pegged back by Birmingham after scoring in the fifth minute via Jane Ross. The hosts hit back with two before halftime (Claudia Walker in the 14th and an Abbie McManus own goal in the 27th), and had United scrambling for much of the half, Katie Zelem’s 36th minute strike, much needed for the visitors.
The second half was a different story as United came out more organised and much more coordinated up front. Ella Toone put them in the lead two minutes after the restart, and Kirtsy Hanson’s brace (60’, 79’) embellished a win that gave them their first three points of the season. Birmingham City, lost 2-0 to Brighton last week, have yet to register open their account this season.
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