The FA Womens Super League (FA WSL) gets underway again this weekend with the Arsenal Ladies trying to retain the title they won last year. There will be eight teams in this summer’s league: Arsenal, Birmingham City, Bristol Academy, Chelsea, Doncaster Rovers Belles, Everton, Lincoln Ladies, and Liverpool. Hopes are high that the league will attract more interest this summer, but the women are going to be facing some stiff competition in the likes of Euro 2012 and the Summer Olympics.
The league will try to raise its profile across the nation by having some of the top players wear their Twitter names and addresses on their shirt sleeves. This could work since many of today’s top male players have significant followings on the popular social network.
Arsenal will again be the team everybody else is gunning for this season due to their position as the top women’s team in Britain. The lady Gunners have been crowned English champions for the last eight years in a row and there’s a good chance they can stretch that record to nine this year. They’re also the only English side to lift the UEFA Womens Champions League, which they did back in 2007 by beating Umeå IK of Sweden in the two-legged final.
The Arsenal Ladies will be playing their home games at Meadow Park, which is the home of Boreham Wood FC. The women won the treble last season, which were the FA WSL Continental Cup, the FA Cup and the Womens Super League. They’ve also strengthened the squad by re-signing Kelly Smith to her third term with the club as well as Alex Scott, and Gemma Davison.
They’ve all returned to the play in England after the American professional league went belly up this year. However, Smith was injured in the recent Cyprus Cup tournament and will miss the start of the season due to a stress fracture.
Two teams that could give Arsenal a run for their money are Everton and Birmingham City. Birmingham ended the season strongly last year by finishing just three points behind Arsenal. The second-place team has also strengthened its squad by signing Rachel Unitt formerly of Everton as well as Eniola Aluko, who has also headed back to Britain from the U.S.
Birmingham City actually led the league for most of last season before the Arsenal Ladies eventually caught up with them and then passed them for top spot. Everton placed third in the table, but they’ll be feeling the loss of Unitt this season. The Merseyside squad is hoping that academy players Nikita Parris and Alex Greenwood can fill her boots.
Lincoln City finished fourth last season and are counting on England defenders Sophie Bradley and Casey Stoney to lead by example. Lincoln manager David Parker said Arsenal’s the side to beat since they won all three cups last year and look to be even stronger this summer with Davison, Scott, and Smith all returning to the club.
Last year’s fifth-place finishers Bristol Academy Ladies will be pinning their hopes on Spanish international striker Laura Del Rio who managed to score 40 goals in 39 games for Spain before falling out with the team’s manager and being dropped from the squad.
Chelsea ended up in sixth position in the FA WSL last season and is hoping their luck might turn by changing home grounds. They’ll be playing at Wheatsheaf Lane this summer, which is also used by Staines Town of the Blue Square Bet South league. Chelsea’s women will also be utilizing the world-class training facilities that are used by the men’s club at Cobham. They’ve already made it to the semi-final of the FA Cup and will be taking on the Arsenal Ladies for a berth in the Final.
The Doncaster Rovers Belles have definitely slipped over the years and they finished last season in seventh place. This is a team that has won the women’s FA Cup half a dozen times and were national champions twice during the early 1990s. However, they’re no longer anywhere near the dominant side they used to be. They’ve signed England winger Sue Smith this season and had hoped she would give the squad some spark. She scored in an FA Cup game against Barnet in her debut, but unfortunately tore ligaments in her ankle and has been ruled out for the whole season.
Liverpool ended up in the cellar last season and will try to dig themselves out of it with the help of new signees Hannah Keryakoplis of Wales, Dani Lea of the England Under-19 team, and goalkeeper Aroon Clansey of New Zealand, who came over from Canberra United of Australia.
Predicting Arsenal to do well this summer isn’t really too hard to do, but it’s hard to guess how well the league itself will perform. Attendance figures are nowhere near the men’s game, but ESPN will be televising games again and that will hopefully help publicize the FA WSL. Last year’s Women’s World Cup may have attracted some new fans to the women’s game and the Olympics should also make supporters aware of the sport since there’s also a women’s competition in the 2012 Games in London.