09 Sep Where all the Women’s World Cup stars play at the club level: From Aitana Bonmati to Sophia Smith
It’s been over three weeks since Spain claimed their maiden Women’s World Cup crown, and around the world, World Cup stars have already returned to their domestic duties. But from Linda Caicedo (Real Madrid) to Mary Earps (Manchester United), where can you find those who lit up the pitches across New Zealand and Australia?
With club action resuming (or in some cases, kicking off) around the globe, here’s your ultimate guide.
*Denotes a player who moved this summer. Also, this list is subject to change with the transfer window still open. All teams and players were correct as of Sept. 8.
Although most of the Australia national team has left the home league for pastures greener, all of those players have passed through the “Dub’s” doors at one time or another. Somewhat reduced to the tag of development league by the growth of others elsewhere in Europe and the Americas, the A-League is still growing, having added Wellington Phoenix — its only Kiwi representative — in 2021, Western United last season and is welcoming Central Coast Mariners back for the forthcoming season.
While most teams in the league have had their turn in the sun, it’s Sydney FC who rule the roost right now, finishing as Premiers (highest-place finishers after the regular season) in each of the past three campaigns. However, don’t count out either Melbourne City or Melbourne Victory, who have been crowned Grand Final (postseason) champions and shared the past 10 titles.
The season will start on Oct. 13, and run through the hotter months, culminating in the Grand Final in May.
– FW Cortnee Vine (Australia)
England: Women’s Super League
One of the fastest growing women’s leagues in the world, attracting stars from all over the world, the English WSL is one that is frequently broken down into mini-leagues, from those at the bottom who fight the season trying to play their best football, to those in the middle of the pack who are rarely in relegation danger but fail to trouble those above them, to the small group looking for title glory.
As it has been in England for some time, the title is likely to be contested between Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and — in the past two years — Manchester United, with Aston Villa the newest team trying to make a run for European qualification. Although the focus invariably drifts to those at the top, there is talent found throughout the WSL, with plenty of upward movement for the highest performers at the straggling clubs.
The new season kicks off on Sunday, Oct. 1, and will run until May 18.
– GK Mackenzie Arnold (Australia)
France: Division 1 Feminine
The league that has produced the most successful team in Champions League history (Lyon and their eight European crowns) is also one of the most derided for a perceived lack of competition, with Lyon and regular runners-up Paris Saint-Germain having claimed each piece of domestic silverware since the 2006-07 season (save for three Coupe de France titles.) Lyon have been the consistent, dominant force in France, leaving all others for dust as they asserted themselves across the continent, too, setting the standard for women’s football for so very long.
Although PSG have carved out a niche as France’s second team — with others like Paris FC, FC Fleury and Montpellier the few looking to push into the Champions League qualification positions (top three as it stands) — Lyon are the first, second and third words in French women’s football. Not just attracting the best players from around the world, Lyon have a strong history of making all other teams in France weaker by signing their best players, with a clear stream of talent from PSG to their first team something that helps keep the status quo in France.
Expected to claim their 17th league title this coming season, you can catch Lyon and all the D1F teams when the league kicks off on Sept. 15
– *FW Kadidiatou Diani (France)
– *MF/FW Melchie Dumornay (Haiti)
– FW Ada Hegerberg (Norway)
– MF/FW Lindsey Horan (USA)
– FW Eugénie Le Sommer (France)
– DF Wendie Renard (France)
– MF Daniëlle van de Donk (Netherlands)
Despite Germany’s historically bad showing at the World Cup this year, both the national team and German league have a rich history in women’s football, with the Frauen Bundesliga serving as a regular home to some of the best talent on the continent. Like D1F, Germany has long provided successful Champions League teams with four different UWCL winners over the years, but it also suffers from a title duopoly, held by Bayern Munich and VfL Wolfsburg. Although other teams have had their time at the top, and TSG Hoffenheim and Eintracht Frankfurt have pushed for top honours over the past few years, they invariably see their best players leave without having won any silverware.
Heading into the new season, which commences Sept. 15, it’s expected to be Bayern and Wolfsburg battling for the title yet again, with Bayern coming into the season as reigning champions.
Italy: Serie A
One of the oldest leagues in Europe, the growth in Serie A has been far more recent, with multiple established men’s teams acquiring licences for teams in the women’s league. Success at Juventus has been the blueprint for others to follow, yet having supplanted Fiorentina at the top of the tree in their debut season back in 2017-18, they’ve since been overtaken by Roma.
Although the likes of AC Milan, Inter, Fiorentina and Juventus should be in the mix, Roma are gearing up for a second successive title and should be seen as favourites going into the season. The first phase of the season kicks off Sept. 16, with the league split between a regular season and a championship/relegation phase, where it parts and those in the top five play each other once more, as do the five at the bottom to confirm both the title and the team who will be relegated.
– DF Saki Kumagai (Japan)
– GK Solène Durand (France)
Japan: WE League
Heading into its third season — with the kickoff date yet to be announced, though it’s expected to be either at the end of October or start of November — the Japanese Women Empowerment League is still finding its footing. Offering professional football from top to bottom in Japan, the league should be carving out a niche as the premier destination in Asia for players in the region as well as further afield, but it has yet to cement itself, instead suffering an exodus of players — Hinata Miyazawa, who just joined Manchester United, is the most recent departee.
Still a vital part of player development for future Nadeshiko stars, as well as a faithful home for those who’ve either retired or been retired from national team duty, the league offers a good ground of competitive football, although two seasons in, it’s Urawa Reds, INAC Kobe and Tokyo Verdy who usually race to the league’s summit. Although the season is yet to kick off, the WE league cup is well underway and producing some surprising results so far.
– MF/FW Aoba Fujino (Japan)
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Mexico: Liga MX
One of the younger competitions, in just its seventh season, the Mexican league is split into two separate seasons: the Torneo Apertura which runs from July to December, and the Torneo Clausura running from January to May, with each torneo divided between regular season and Liguilla (playoffs). Despite being one of the bigger leagues with 18 teams, the silverware is usually split between Tigres (UANL), Monterrey (Rayadas), América and Guadalajara (Chivas), with Pachuca having made three Liguilla finals without a win so far.
Initially restricted by a number of rules limiting foreign and overage players, Liga MX has come into a world of its own since the restrictions were lifted. It’s not only a fertile ground for Mexico internationals but is growing a reputation as a destination league, too.
Halfway through the regular Torneo Apertura, Tigres and América are again leading the way, but with eight teams heading into Liguilla, nothing has been decided yet.
South Korea: WK League
Home to the majority of the South Korea national team, the WK League season is drawing to a close with Incheon (Hyundai Steel Red Angels) having once again finished top of the regular-season table. With their 11th consecutive finish in first place — a race that went down to the last regular-season matchday with their two rivals playing out a draw — the Red Angels are given an automatic bye into the two-legged championship final. They will face either young up-and-coming Hwacheon KSPO or FC Suwon, a team who have won the championship only once (in 2010) despite eight appearances in the playoffs.
With a league that runs from March to September (before a substantial break ahead of the playoffs), the WK League is one of the few that has all their league games available on YouTube. Despite Incheon’s ironclad grip on the title, the league has opened up this season, and there is (as always) a chance for an upset.
Spain: Liga F
The Spanish league, known by many iterations over the years but currently as Liga F, was due to kick off this week (and run through to mid-June) but has already been postponed due to strike action from the players.
Away from the issues off the pitch and numerous stumbling blocks on the way to becoming a fully professional league, Spain can boast of hosting many of the world’s best players, with Barcelona recently establishing themselves as the dominant force in club football in Europe. But beyond Barca and their both homegrown and international stars, Liga F is home to 21 of the 23 players who won the World Cup last month and has talented players at every turn.
Unlike other leagues, in which one team sits at the top of the pile with clear daylight between them and the rest of the league, there is high competition in Spain, and the cliché that there are no easy games can happily be applied to the 16-team Liga. However, it’s always hard to see anyone other than Barca scooping each piece of domestic silverware on offer, though they will be tested by the likes of Real Madrid, Levante, Real Sociedad and Atletico Madrid.
– *DF Ona Batlle (Spain)
– MF Aitana Bonmatí (Spain)
– DF Lucy Bronze (England)
– *FW Esmee Brugts (Netherlands)
– DF/MF/FW Ana Maria Crnogorčević (Switzerland)
– FW Caroline Graham Hansen (Norway)
– FW Salma Paralluelo (Spain)
– MF Alexia Putellas (Spain)
– DF/MF Fridolina Rolfö (Sweden)
– GK Gaëlle Thalmann (Switzerland)
Once one of the key leagues in Europe that helped set the pace before the women’s game went professional, Sweden’s Damallsvenskan has fallen down the pecking order in recent years, becoming more of a steppingstone along the way for players rather than a destination. Yet, the football played in Sweden remains at a high level as the steady production line of Scandinavian players cut their teeth there, as do a number of players from all corners of the globe.
With a season that runs from March to November, the campaign in Sweden is almost done, with BK Häcken top of the table, although closely challenged by Linköping, Hammarby and Piteå IF, with only three of the four able to qualify for Europe. Expect a frantic finish with all four teams going hammer and tong.
– MF Kyra Cooney-Cross (Australia)
– MF Katrina Gorry (Australia)
United States: National Women’s Soccer League
Home to almost all of the United States squad, the NWSL has long been one of the destination leagues in women’s football and like others on this list, the season is split between a regular season and playoffs. Greater importance is also placed on winning the post-season Championship rather than finishing top of the table and claiming the Shield.
Lauded for its competitive nature, there is — like in Liga MX — a familiar feel to the teams who claim the big prize at the end of the season, though thanks in part to recent league expansions and the introduction of multiple new teams, the traditional balance of power is beginning to shift. Heading into the last four rounds of the season, there are just 11 points separating first-place San Diego Wave and last-place Kansas City Current, with six of the 12 teams qualifying for the playoffs.
Throughout the season teams have fallen in and out of form, but as usual the Portland Thorns look good value for silverware this term; riding high in just their second season, the Wave will be looking to maintain a top-two finish and earn a precious bye into the playoff semifinals. With the last round of regular season fixtures slated for Oct. 15, there’s still everything to play for, before the playoffs kick off the following weekend.
– DF/FW Michelle Alozie (Nigeria)
– FW Sinead Farrelly (Republic of Ireland)
– FW Sophia Smith (USA)
San Diego Wave
– DF Naomi Girma (USA)