NWSL Roundup: Paul Riley inks new contract; Groom, Kawasumi get traded

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ORLANDO, FL - MAY 23: NC Courage Head Coach Paul Riley during the soccer match between the Orlando Pride and the North Carolina Courage on May 23, 2018 at Orlando City Stadium in Orlando FL. (Photo by Joe Petro/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Cary, North Carolina — Paul Riley is normally OK with one-year deals.

The head coach for the North Carolina Courage has always had stability though. Before the North Carolina Courage moved down south, they were formally known as the Western New York Flash. Riley has coached between the two teams for three seasons.

However, his successes have earned him a multi-year contract. The Equalizer reported that the contract is worth two years.

Riley’s successes with the Courage in two years have propelled him to two consecutive NWSL Coach of the Year titles. In the club’s inaugural season, the team finished first in the NWSL, earning the NWSL Shield. However, the Courage fell to the Portland Thorns in the NWSL Championship.

The loss did not deter the Courage, but only drove players to return for another shot. However, the Courage did more than just return to the NWSL Championship game — and end up winning it — in 2018. The Courage completed a history 17-6-1 season, including an undefeated streak of 12 matches before falling to the Utah Royals on June 16.

However, after the loss, North Carolina compiled another unbeaten streak, this time of 11 matches. In the post-season, North Carolina defeated the Chicago Red Stars and then met up with the Thorns for the second-straight NWSL Championship appearance between the two sides. This time, North Carolina claimed victory, 3-0.

In addition, North Carolina won the International Champions Cup, defeating Paris-Saint Germain Women and then Lyon Women in the championship. It was the first-ever tournament and due to being the NWSL Shield winners in 2017, North Carolina qualified.

“Tremendous honor to be back at this club”

Riley has coached a large core of the same group of players for three seasons now. Entering his fourth with the players and third with the Courage, Riley is looking to make a third consecutive championship game.

“Steve Malik is a visionary who completely understands the fantastic growth in the women’s game,” Riley said, via the Courage. “Courage country is a special place. We have an amazing group of talented players who are willing to walk the wire in the clouds. They have given me the Courage to follow them. It’s an exhilarating time at the club and our fanbase is second to none.”

“I’m looking forward to the challenge of a World Cup year and we have a motivated staff who will strain every sinew they have to service the team and make the club successful,” Riley continued.

Meanwhile, North Carolina FC President and General Manager, Curt Johnson, said that the organization is “thrilled” to have Riley back.

“Paul is a consummate professional who has built a strong, winning culture within the Courage,” Johnson said. “We look forward to having him lead the team with continued success for years to come.”

Shea Groom, Nahomi Kawasumi swap teams in trade

Nahomi Kawasumi is bidding farewell to Seattle.

After four seasons with the Seattle Reign FC, Kawasumi will join Sky Blue FC this season. The acquisition was made due to a trade, with Sky Blue sending forward Shea Groom to Seattle.

Kawasumi made 68 appearances for the Reign, totaling 18 goals. The Japanese international has won a FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2011 and placed second in 2015. In the 2011 World Cup final, Kawasumi scored two goals against the United States. Also, Kawasumi won a silver medal in the 2012 Summer Olympics with Japan.

Kawasumi spent the first eight years of her career with INAC Kobe Leonessa in Japan. She made 144 appearances with the club, scoring 58 goals. Internationally, for Japan, she has made 90 appearances and scored 20 goals.

“I am going to play for Sky Blue FC this season,” Kawasumi told Reign fans, via The Bold. “I tried to do my first challenge to play outside Japan in the USA. Seattle Reign FC gave me such a feeling that playing in NWSL is so fun! My teammates, coaches, staff, fans and the city city of Seattle has been the best for me. Although I’m very sad to leave my favorite club, please say hello again because we are friends forever. I hope Seattle will achieve a good outcome. I appreciate all of you, Seattle.” 

Meanwhile, Kawasumi did declare that she will indeed remain with Sky Blue FC, despite rough conditions and ownership issues sending rookies and other players to other teams and Europe.

“I will play for Sky Blue FC this season,” Kawasumi said, via Sky Blue FC. “I am looking forward to playing with my new teammates and I will do my best for Sky Blue and will cooperate with the team for the championship.”

Meanwhile, Denise Reddy exclaimed her excitement in bringing Kawasumi to New Jersey.

“Nahomi has had over a decade of experience with the Japanese national team and her international experience alone is a huge asset for us,” Reddy said. “In addition, she has had proven success in this league, success that we believe will transfer here to Sky Blue.” 

Shea Groom reunites with Vlatko Andonovski

Meanwhile, Shea Groom is back with a former head coach.

Groom began her career with FC Kansas City after being drafted in the 2015 NWSL College Draft with the No. 12 overall pick. It was Vlatko Andonovski that chose Groom, as he coached the team from 2013 until it’s collapse in 2017.

After the collapse, Andonovski joined the Seattle Reign FC as head coach. Meanwhile, former Reign head coach Laura Harvey headed a little south of Seattle to the Utah Royals FC.

Andonovski coached Groom from 2015-17, for three seasons. He expressed his excitement to work with Groom again, calling her a “very talented player.”

“I’m thrilled to be working with Shea again,” Andonovski said. “She was an impactful player for me in Kansas City and I know she’ll fit in well in Seattle.”

During her time in Kansas City, Groom made 54 appearances, scoring 17 goals. She found playing time at Sky Blue FC, starting 17 of her 21 appearances, but only scored twice.

“I’m both humbled and honored to join the Reign family,” Groom said. “It’s an incredible organization that breeds success in this league and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Christina Gibbons announces retirement

Despite only being 24-years-old, Christina Gibbons is calling it a career.

The defender announced her retirement from the National Women’s Soccer League and competitive action on Sunday night. On an Instagram post, Gibbons wrote that the league forever changed her. She also added how teammates, staff, coaches and fans became like family to her.

Gibbons began her career with FC Kansas City in 2017. She was selected with the No. 5 overall pick in the NWSL College Draft that year. Gibbons made 24 appearances for FC Kansas City, scoring one goal. After the team collapsed, she joined Sky Blue FC, making 10 appearances.

Gibbons also spent the 2017-18 offseason in Australia, featuring for the Melbourne Victory. She made 10 appearances in Australia, scoring one goal.

Internationally, she has represented the United States U-20 and U-23 Women’s National Teams. She did receive a senior national team call up for January camp in 2017, but she did not make an official appearance.

Adriana Leon signs with West Ham Women

Adriana Leon suddenly and surprisingly announced she was leaving the National Women’s Soccer League last month. She spent the 2018 season with the Seattle Reign, where she made only six appearances.

However, Leon has found a new home.

The Canadian international, who willingly admitted to wanting more playing time in a World Cup year, signed with West Ham United Women. She made her debut this past weekend against Manchester City, featuring for 72 minutes. The Hammers lost, 3-1, but Leon spoke to the club about her first start.

“I loved putting on the jersey,” Leon said. “It was a good feeling. And I love being around my teammates. It was great. It was tough to get the legs going a little bit. Being jet-lagged, arriving a few days ago, but hopefully I will grow from here.”

Leon began her career back in 2010 with Toronto Lady Lynx. She joined the Boston Breakers in 2013, beginning her NWSL career. Leon featured in the NWSL for Boston, the Western New York Flash, Chicago Red Stars and Sky Blue FC, in addition to Seattle. She also spent some time in Germany.

For Canada, Leon has made 54 appearances, scoring 14 goals, since 2012.

Leon does have some familiarity at West Ham, though. Matt Beard, former Boston Breakers head coach from 2016-17, coached Leon in 2017. She made 24 appearances under Beard, scoring six goals.

Beard expressed his excitement about bringing Leon to West Ham.

“I am delighted to welcome Adriana to our side,” Beard said. “I had a great working relationship with her at Boston, and she brings a winning mentality with her to West Ham. Dri will bring goals and assists to our side. With us still being a relatively new group, she will add some more experience to our squad and even more quality to the final third. On top of that, she is a fantastic professional and a brilliant person, and I’m certain the West Ham fans will see the best of Dri in our shirt.”

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