This week, as the NWSL teams start pre-season training for the 2024 season, we begin a multi-part look at some new signings—both domestic and international—on both the playing and coaching side, as well as other interesting news.
We examine Angel City FC, Chicago Red Stars, Houston Dash, Kansas City Current and North Carolina Courage. Over the next few weeks, we will look at other teams in the league, particularly the two expansion teams: the Utah Royals and Bay FC in the San Jose/San Francisco/Oakland, California area, as well as the 2024 draft.
2024 NWSL Team Updates and News
Angel City FC
On January 14, Angel City FC signed U-18 forward and South Korea 2023 Women’s National Team player Casey Phair (16) through the 2026 season, who comes to the club via the NWSL’s U-18 Entry mechanism. She is an inspired signing by the club and the league; she was the youngest player to ever in a WWC Finals. She will also be the youngest player on the Angel City side. She also was the first Korean-American (and first diaspora) to receive a call up to the senior South Korea Women’s National Team. Prior to joining the senior team, Phair competed with the U-17 team, compiling five goals in two games, including a hat trick against Hong Kong in a Women’s Asian Cup Qualifier. Phair was born in Korea Republic but grew up in New Hampshire and New Jersey in the Northeast U.S.
Sixteen-year-old Casey Phair grew up in the States and played for Korea Republic in the 2023 Women’s World Cup Finals.
Phair now has signed to play with the NWSL’s City FC in Los Angeles.
(Photo courtesy Angel City FC).
Phair talked about her professional signing: “It feels like a dream come true. The first time I came to Los Angeles was last September. I trained with Angel City and fell in love with the culture and LA. All of the players were super welcoming and I really enjoyed everything about the city.”
On January 24, the club signed another AFC international player in Japanese goalkeeper Hannah Stambaugh (25) from Omiya Ardija Ventus of the WE League for a $10,000 transfer fee. Stambaugh spent the past three seasons with Omiya Ardija Ventus, appearing in eight matches for the club and earning one clean sheet. Before that, she spent four seasons with INAC Kobe Leonessa in the then top tier (now second division) Nadeshiko League, where she made 28 match appearances. She had played internationally for Japan at the U-20 level.
On January 12, Angel City acquired midfielder Meggie Dougherty Howard (28) from the San Diego Wave FC in exchange for $40,000 in allocation money. Dougherty Howard played 17 games in all competitions with the San Diego Wave in 2023 for the NWSL Shield (regular season) winner, after signing with the club during the 2023 free agency window. Dougherty Howard spent two seasons with the Orlando Pride, appearing in 43 total matches for the Pride. Dougherty Howard, was drafted in the 2017 NWSL Draft out of the University of Florida by the Washington Spirit. Prior to being drafted, she competed on the Spirit Reserves 2015 and 2016 summer teams. With the University of Florida, she scored 14 goals and added 25 assists in 94 appearances.
Midfielder Madison Hammond has re-signed with the club through the 2025 season. Hammond was originally acquired via a trade with OL [now Seattle] Reign ahead of the club’s inaugural 2022 season. Last season, she scored 2 goals and had an 83% success rate on her passes, completing 567. Hammond spent two previous seasons with OL Reign, appearing in 20 games. Hammond, who is Navajo, San Felipe, and African American, is the first and only Native American woman to play in the NWSL and played collegiately at Wake Forest University.
French midfielder Clarisse Le Bihan has also signed a new contract with the club through 2024, with a mutual option for 2025. Le Bihan was acquired via transfer from Montpellier HSC of Division 1 Féminine in June 2022. In the past two seasons with ACFC, Le Bihan scored three goals and four assists in 41 total matches. Le Bihan spent six seasons with Montpellier, appearing in 109 total matches and scoring 29 goals. She has 16 caps with the French Women’s National Team, scoring four times. She also won a European Championship with the U-19 French Women’s National Team in 2013, was a member of the 2016 Olympic French Women’s National Team as a substitute, and played in the 2017 Euro Championships in the Netherlands.
Angel City acquired the rights to Costa Rican international Rachel ‘Rocky’ Rodriguez in exchange for $275,000 in allocation money from the Portland Thorns. Rodriguez appeared in 72 matches, across all competitions during her four seasons with the Thorns with seven goals and three assists. She was part of the 2022 NWSL Championship team, as well as winning the 2021 NWSL Shield, 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup, 2021 Women’s International Champions Cup and 2020 NWSL Community Shield. She also played with Sky Blue FC, where she was selected No. 2 overall in the 2016 NWSL Draft and ended up as the 2016 NWSL Rookie of the Year. She has 45 goals in 85 caps with Costa Rica and was on their 2023 WWC Finals side and played at Penn State University.
On the coaching side, Angel City named Lee Nguyen as assistant coach and promoted Eleri Earnshaw from assistant coach to first assistant to head coach Becki Tweed. Nguyen was an assistant with the Washington Spirit in 2022 but quit the team after six months to resume his professional playing career in Vietnam. He spent last season as an assistant coach with the Kansas City Current under then interim head coach Caroline Sjoblom of Finland, who coached for years in Sweden. He played for years in Major League Soccer with over 250 games, and in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Vietnam. He also was capped by the U.S. Men’s National Team across eight seasons.
Earnshaw has been with the club since its inaugural season in 2022, when she began as a performance analyst before being promoted to assistant coach in 2023. Before joining ACFC, Earnshaw, a native of Wales, coached collegiately at Fordham University, LIU Brooklyn, and Yale University. She led the NJ/NY Gotham FC Reserves team to an undefeated season and WPSL Conference Championship in 2022. Earnshaw is currently pursuing a PhD in performance at Grand Canyon University in Arizona. She played at Iona College where she was a three-year captain under then-head coach and now Chelsea/U.S. WNT head coach Emma Hayes. She played professionally for Arsenal and represented the Welsh Women’s National Team at the senior and youth levels.
Chicago Red Stars
The Chicago Red Stars have signed U.S. international forward Mallory Swanson (25) to a historic long-term contract, as she will earn more than any player ever has in the league—she signed through the 2028 season. Swanson, who was a free agent, will earn about $2 million over the term of the agreement, according to
CBS Sports. Swanson joined the Red Stars in 2021 from Sky Blue FC (now New Jersey/New York Gotham FC) and scored 18 goals with 10 assists in 51 games across all competitions with the Illinois-based club. She played for new head coach Lorne Donaldson as a youth with Real Colorado. For the U.S. WNT, Swanson has been in the senior pool since she was 17-years-old.
A Women’s World Cup Champion with the 2019 USWNT, Swanson has made 88 appearances and scored 32 goals with 27 assists with the nats. Despite suffering an injury in April that sidelined the forward for the rest of the year and kept her out of the 2023 WWC Finals, Swanson was the United States’ top goal scorer with seven goals in six appearances. Swanson is married to Chicago Cubs baseball player Dansby Swanson.
The Chicago Red Stars have acquired defender Maximiliane Rall from FC Bayern München in the German Frauen-Bundesliga for an undisclosed transfer fee. Rall joins the Red Stars on a one-year contract through 2024, with a mutual option for 2025. Over three seasons, she made 40 appearances with Bayern, with 15 goals with four assists. She has been capped four times by Germany.
The Red Stars signed midfielder Chardonnay Curran to a two-year contract running through the 2025 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) season after acquiring her off of waivers. Curran spent two seasons (30 games) with the Kansas City Current after being drafted 17th overall in the 2022 NWSL Draft by from the University of Oregon.
The team boosted their defense by trading for former Washington Spirit defender Sam Staab (26) in exchange for their third overall pick in the 2024 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Draft. Staab was a finalist for the NWSL’s 2023 Defender of Year award. Staab is also a three-time NWSL Ironwoman having played every available regular-season minute for the third time in her career.
The club also signed Shea Groom to a two-year contract. Groom is an experienced midfielder who spent four years with the Houston Dash. She played 61 matches with nine goals with seven assists across all competitions. She won the 2020 Challenge Cup and scored a goal in the championship match to give Houston a 2-0 win over Chicago to win the MVP honors. She won a NWSL title as a rookie in 2015 with Kansas City after playing at Texas A&M University. Over Groom’s nine years in the NWSL, the veteran has played for four teams, in 159 matches with 134 starts and scored 33 goals with 20 assists across all competitions.
The Chicago Red Stars have signed Finland international defender, Natalia Kuikka, to a three-year contract. Kuikka joins the club from Portland Thorns FC, where she played in 78 games in all competitions. She won a 2022 NWSL league title for the Thorns and helped the club win the 2021 Challenge Cup and the 2021 NWSL Shield. She has 84 caps for Finland and played in the EURO 2022 Finals. She is a four-time National Player of the Year for Finland (2017, 2020, 2021 and 2022). She played collegiately at Florida State University and with the Seattle Sounders Women of the WPSL in 2016. She won a Damallsvenskan title in 2020 with Kopparbergs/Goteborg FC (now BK Hacken).
On the coaching side, Chicago Red Stars have added Masaki Hemmi as assistant coach for the 2024 season. Hemmi joins from the United Soccer League club, New Mexico United, where he served as director of player personnel and first assistant coach. Hemmi also served as recruiting coordinator and assistant coach at the University of Denver. In 2021, Hemmi joined Japanese side, INAC Kobe of the WE League, as associate head coach to help players prepare for the Tokyo Olympics.
NWSL veteran Japanese international Yuki Nagasato (36) signed a two year contract through the 2025 season with the Houston Dash. Nagasato has 104 NWSL regular season starts in 118 games, scoring 22 goals and tallying 25 assists. Nagasato joins the Dash after five combined seasons with the Chicago Red Stars from 2017-2020 and 2022-2023. Chicago made the playoffs in four of the five seasons she played for Chicago, reaching the NWSL Championship in 2019. She spent the 2021 NWSL regular season with Racing Louisville.
Nagasato said: “I am super excited to join this ambitious club and being part of the Space City community. As a veteran player I want to bring harmony, calmness and a winning mindset to the team, as well as bringing a trophy to Houston. I can’t wait to get started to work with all the talented players and coaching staff and play in front of the fans at Shell Energy Stadium!”
Nagasato has played around the world including a season with Brisbane Roar FC during the 2018-2019 offseason, scoring 5 goals in 10 matches in Australia. Prior to joining the NWSL in 2017, the striker played for FFC Frankfurt in the Frauen-Bundesliga, from 2015-2017 and scored eight goals in 35 appearances. Nagasato won the DFB-Pokal [German Cup], with Wolfsburg in 2015, where she scored four goals and made her Frauen-Bundesliga debut in 2010 for FFC Turbine Potsdam where she scored 48 goals in 71 appearances from 2010 to 2013 and the UEFA Champions League title in 2010. At Potsdam, the team won the Frauen-Bundesliga title in three consecutive campaigns from 2010-2012. From 2013 to 2014, Nagasato played for Chelsea in the Women’s Premier League in England, scoring 5 goals in 18 games. Nagasato made her professional debut for Nippon TV Beleza in Japan in 2002 and played with the team through the 2009 season, where she won six league championships and was one of the league’s leading scorers for the 2006 season.
She played for Japan from 2004 to 2016 before stepping away from the team following the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. Nagasato made 132 appearances for the Japanese Women’s National Team and scored 58 goals. She won the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany and were runners-up in 2015 in Canada. She made her national team debut leading up to the 2004 Olympics. She also participated in the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the 2008 Olympics.
The Dash acquired forward Cece Kizer plus a 2024 international roster spot in a trade with the Kansas City Current; the Dash sent Canadian international forward Nichelle Prince to the Current (see more below). Kizer previously played for the Dash from 2019-2020 and was a member of the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup winning team. Over a season and a half with the Current, she appeared in 35 matches and scored 13 goals and added three assists.
On the coaching side, the Dash hired well-respected European men’s and women’s coach Fran Alonso as their new head coach. Alonso joins from Celtic FC Women in Scotland, who he guided to two Scottish Cup titles in 2022 and 2023 plus a Scottish Premier League Cup in 2021. Celtic finished second in the league to long-time powerhouse Glasgow City twice during the past three seasons.
During his time at Celtic, Alonso led the team to a 76-9-11 (W-D-L) record in the Scottish Women’s Premier League. He joined Celtic in 2020 as the first head coach of the women as they turned professional. Under Alonso, 12 Celtic players were named to their respective national team for the first time and nine players earned their first senior appearance.
He told the media: “I am very excited for the opportunity to join the Houston Dash and coach in the NWSL, one of the best leagues in the world. Houston is the perfect place for me. It will be a great honor and a huge responsibility for me, and I can’t wait to meet the players, technical staff and management and work with such a talented group of professionals. I am very confident that we will be able to implement a brave, exciting, dynamic and dominant style of play that can help the Dash build an identity on-and-off the field. I also look forward to connecting with the fans, our community in Houston, and creating something very special. We want to build a team that the city of Houston can be proud of.”
Alonso has also coached Lewes FC Women in England for one season and on the men’s side, was an assistant coach with Everton FC under Dutch coach Ronald Koeman in his first year with the club and then English coach Sam Allardyce as the team competed in the men’s English Premier League, while also assisting the Everton Ladies. Alonso was the first team technical coach under Maurico Pochettino with Southampton Football Club in the English Premier League from 2012-2014 and under Ronald Koeman from 2014-2016, while also serving as the technical director for Southampton Women FC.
As we went to press, we learned from the Swedish media that Pablo Pinones-Arce (42) has left Hammarby of Stockholm, Sweden, after leading their women’s side to the league and cup double in 2023 (joining the side in 2020), to join the Houston Dash at their technical director. He was capped by Sweden at the U-21 level and played for many years for Swedish sides, as well as spells in Denmark and India. One media source who follows the league feels that he is very good in working with players and a better role for him might ultimately be on the field. With the Dash’s constant turnover of coaches in recent years, that may be a possibility if Fran Alonso doesn’t work out or leaves for another position at some point.
Kansas City Current
The Kansas City Current have signed Brazilian international Beatriz Zaneratto João, better known as Bia, to a contract through the 2024 season with a club option for 2025. General manager Camille Ashton said: “Bia is an extraordinary talent that will impact our team immediately.” New head coach and former U.S. international head coach Vlatko Andonovski said: “Bia’s goal scoring ability, creativity in and around the box are extraordinary. She is a world-class forward, proven in club and country.”
Bia signed as a professional as a 13-year-old with Ferroviária in Brazil before transferring to Santos in 2010. She moved to Asia, first to Korea Republic powerhouse Incheon Hyundai Steel Red Angels, playing in 103 games and scoring 76 goals; she helped the side to seven consecutive WK League titles from 2013 to 2019. In 2020 she played nine games alongside new Current teammate and Malawian international Temwa Chawinga (25) at Wuhan Jianghan University in the Chinese Women’s Super League and scored seven goals before going back to Brazil, first on loan with Palmeiras and then permanently. Chawinga’s sister Tabitha (27) is still contracted to Wuhan but has spent the last two seasons in Europe, on loan first to Inter Milan and is now with Paris St. Germann.
Bia first started playing for Brazil’s youth international side at the age of 14, and was on the 2008 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup side in New Zealand. In 2011, she was capped at the senior level and currently has 103 appearances for Brazil, scoring 36 goals. She is a veteran of four FIFA World Cups (2011, 2015, 2019, 2023) and two Olympic games (2016, 2020).
The Kansas City Current acquired Canadian Olympic Gold Medal winning forward Nichelle Prince from the Houston Dash in exchange for forward Cece Kizer and an international slot for 2024. Prince was originally drafted by the Dash with the 28th overall pick in the 2017 NWSL College Draft; she played in 88 games and scored 12 times. For Canada she started playing internationally with their U-17 side in 2010. She was first capped at the senior level in 2013 and has 96 caps for her country with 16 goals and 12 assists. She has been part of the two World Cup teams (2019, 2023) and helped her country to a Bronze medal in the 2016 London Olympics and a Gold medal in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Sad news is that U.S. international and Current midfielder Samantha Mewis has retired from the game. She won the 2012 U-20 in Japan and 2019 Senior WWC in France. Mewis explained her decision to the media: “Unfortunately, my knee can no longer tolerate the impact that elite soccer requires. Though this isn’t what I wanted, this is the only path forward for me. I want to thank everyone who has been on my team throughout this journey. Soccer has put so many wonderful things in my life, but the most wonderful thing has been the people. To all my family, friends, teammates, and fans, I truly feel that we did this together and I’m extremely grateful.”
She is joining the media as editor-in-chief of the new women’s vertical, The Women’s Game, on the Men in Blazers Media Network.
She was a huge star at the domestic and international level. In 2021, while playing with Manchester City in the WSL, she was named #1 on ESPN FC’s list of the world’s best women’s soccer players. She won the FA Cup with City in 2020. Mewis won three NWSL titles, one with the Western New York Flash and two with the North Carolina Courage. In 2013, Mewis helped lead the UCLA Bruins to their first NCAA Championship.
In 2021, she had arthroscopic surgery after the Olympics and has had to stop playing as she then underwent major knee surgery in January of 2023. She has not played in the NWSL since two Challenge Cup games early in 2022 after being acquired by the club in a trade with the North Carolina Courage in late 2021, missing two full regular seasons. Sam Mewis would have been a shoe-in for the 2023 WWC Finals in New Zealand and Australia if she were healthy. In total, she made 83 appearances for the USA, scoring 24 goals and her final appearance for the national team was against Uzbekistan in April 2022.
North Carolina Courage end
In arguably the surprise internal move in the league during the off-season, the Courage sent the fifth overall pick in the 2024 NWSL Draft and $250,000 allocation money to the Washington Spirit for Ashley Sanchez. She has 25 full WNT caps for the U.S., with three goals and four assists, and was on the team that made the Round of 16 last summer at the Women’s World Cup.
Sanchez had 17 goals and eight assists across all competitions with the Spirit since joining the club in 2020. She helped the club to the 2021 NWSL Championship and a runner-up finish in the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup.
The Courage made a major international signing with German Women’s National Team defender Felicitas ‘Feli’ Rauch (27) after the club paid a transfer fee to Frauen Bundesliga power Vfl Wolfsburg. She signed a two-year, guaranteed contract through the 2025 NWSL season. She has 36 caps with 4 goals for Germany’s full national team, including playing at the 2022 Women’s EUROS, where Germany finished runners-up to host side England, and 2023 Women’s World Cup Finals.
In Australia, she started in Germany’s opening match, a 6-0 win over Morocco before a training injury sidelined her for the remainder of the tournament as Germany crashed out of the tournament at the group stage. She’s played at the club level for the Frauen-Bundesliga superpower Wolfsburg since 2019, playing in 80 league games and scoring 8 times; this season she had a pair of assists in five matches played thus far. She’s helped the European giant to two Frauen-Bundesliga championships, four straight DFB Pokal Frauen titles, and a pair of runners-up finishes in the UEFA Women’s Champions League in 2019-20 and 2022-23. She started her career in 2010 at FFC Turbine Potsdam’s Academy (who were relegated last season), moved up to the second team in 2012 and then to the first team in 2014, playing in 89 games and scoring 22 times across five seasons.
The North Carolina Courage signed Canadian international and free agent forward Bianca St-Georges to a two-year, guaranteed contract through the 2025 NWSL season. The deal also includes a mutual option for 2026. The former West Virginia Mountaineer has spent her entire professional career in Chicago, drafted by the Red Stars in the third round of the 2019 NWSL Draft; she scored six goals and three assists in 44 games with the Red Stars.
In the 2023 regular season in Chicago, she had four goals and one assist in 21 regular season matches and one goal and one assist in Challenge Cup games. She has nine national team caps at the senior level for Canada and represented Canada at two FIFA youth tournaments.
The North Carolina Courage and free agent midfielder Dani Weatherholt have agreed to terms on a two-year, guaranteed contract through the 2025 NWSL season.. Weatherholt was originally drafted by the Orlando Pride in 2016 and has nearly 10,000 minutes of NWSL regular season experience across seven seasons. Weatherholt spent the last two seasons with her hometown Angel City FC after a selection in the 2022 expansion draft.
Weatherholt was selected in the fourth round of the 2016 draft and made 74 appearances in four seasons with the Pride. Orlando then traded Weatherholt to Seattle Reign FC ahead of the 2021 season. With Angel City, she made 41 appearances across two seasons in Los Angeles. Weatherholt went on loan to Australian club Melbourne Victory during the 2018-19 offseason and made 12 appearances to help the club win the Premiership [regular season] title. She played collegiately at Santa Clara University in Northern California.
Emily Fox (25), who made the 2023 WWC last summer, joined Arsenal of the WSL in the off-season; she played three seasons in the league and has 39 caps since her debut in 2018. She left the Courage after one season, following two years with Racing Louisville and played collegiately at North Carolina State University. Her new club Arsenal is averaging 26,640 fans per match this season after 5 WSL matches and is on course to set world record for average attendance for women’s league sides.
Arsenal is well ahead of either of her past teams’ gates, with Racing averaging 5,999 last season while the Courage drew on average 5,384—both clubs were in the bottom third of NWSL teams on the attendance table. In the WSL, Arsenal‘s gates are almost double second place Manchester United (13,506), with the other 10 teams are averaging under 10,000 a game, with five clubs averaging less than 4,000 a game: Manchester City (3,617), Brighton and Hove Albion (3,408), Leicester City (2,219), Everton (1,415) and West Ham United (1,217).
Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham is on the global game of women’s football. Get your copy today.
Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey