Opening weekend for leagues around the globe

This weekend marks the start of several top-flight leagues from Women’s Professional (WPS) to the national women’s football league in Vietnam. Sweden’s Damallsvenskan and Finland’s Naisten Liiga are also amongst the group of leagues that begin play this weekend.

The Atlanta Beat host the first game of the WPS season, taking on the Boston Breakers, who finished the season in second place in the 2010 WPS table with a 10-8-6 record. The Beat, meanwhile, finished in last place with a 5-13-6 record. Both teams underwent transformations this offseason with the Beat making the most moves of them all. They traded Eniola Aluko, Tobin Heath, and Angie Kerr, and lost keeper Hope Solo and a number of other players to free agency (Tina Ellertson, Leigh Ann Robinson, McCall Zerboni, Kia McNeill, and Carolyn Blank to name a few). Swiss international Ramona Bachmann returned to Damallsvenskan to play for Umeå IK. On the other hand, the Beat did secure quality players in USWNT midfielder Carli Lloyd, as well as defenders Cat Whitehill and Heather Mitts. The team did retain midfielder Lori Chalupny and forward Lauren Sesselmann. The Boston Breakers, meanwhile, lost their captain and soccer legend Kristine Lilly to retirement as well as Lindsay Tarpley to free agency. The team did sign former FC Gold Pride and current USWNT players Rachel Buehler and Kelley O’Hara, and returns the team’s leading scorer for the past two seasons, English international Kelly Smith. The Breakers and the Beat face off Saturday night in Kennesaw, Georgia.

Sunday night marks the 2011 debuts for the Philadelphia Independence and Sky Blue FC, who will play each other Sunday night in a match televised live on Fox Soccer Channel. Both teams made several key offseason moves. Sky Blue landed Tobin Heath, Eniola Aluko, Allie Long, Carrie Dew, Angie Kerr, Casey Nogueira, and Swedish international Therese Sjögran. Philadelphia, despite losing Swedish captain Caroline Seger and U.S. defender Heather Mitts, added U.S. keeper Nicole Barnhart and midfielder Megan Rapinoe, as well as Tasha Kai, Kia McNeill, Leigh Ann Robinson, and Spanish international Veronica Boquete.

A number of new faces are set to take the field in Damallsvenskan in Sweden, including former Boston Breakers forward Jennifer Nobis and Irish international Fiona O’Sullivan, both at Piteå IF, Japanese international Mami Yamaguchi (Hammarby), Swiss international Ramona Bachmann (Umeå IK), and former Perth Glory and Washington Freedom defender Alex Singer (Dalsjöfors). On Saturday, Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC plays Tyresö FF, and Dalsjöfors takes on Kristianstads DFF. On Sunday, Djurgården plays Jitex BK, Hammarby IF DFF faces Umeå IK, and Örebro DFF goes up against 2010 Swedish champions LdB FC Malmö. Linköpings FC and Piteå IF open their seasons on Wednesday, April 13.

In Finland this weekend, Naisten Liiga debuts its 2011 season with defending champions PK-35 Vantaa taking on Kokkola F10. The other matches include: HJK vs. Åland United, FC United vs.  TPS, FC Honka vs. NiceFutis, and Ilves vs. KMF. Åland United features Americans Liz Ruberry and Janelle Cordia as well as Felicia Schroeder, a member of the U.S. Deaf National Team, who is starting her first-ever professional season.

Vietnam, still seeking a sponsor for its league, will open this weekend with six teams: defending champions Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi Trang An 1, Hanoi Trang An 2, Thai Nguyen Steel, Vietnam Minerals and Coal, and Phong Phu Ha Nam. The format for the Vietnamese league is as follows: the six teams compete in a round-robin, two-way format. The champions win VND150, the equivalent of $7,100 (Source: VietNamNet).