By Rainer Fussgänger – The Swedish league Damallsvenskan will play its first round on Monday. After the decision to suspend Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), dozens of players from the U.S. and Canada contacted clubs in Norway, Finland, and Sweden, hoping to be able to play on a high level. Some of them ended up in Sweden. We give you a short round-up of all the clubs here and pair them in the way they will play each other on Monday and Tuesday.
Solna is a town just outside of Stockholm. Its soccer club AIK on the men’s side has a lot of tradition and history. In women’s soccer, AIK has played eight seasons in Damallsvenskan. This year they come back from the 2nd division. It is a fairly young team, and unfortunately there was only little money to make the necessary steps to make the team stronger for the 1st league. AIK has a couple of Swedish internationals who are with the U19-team, such as defender Jennie Nordin and midfielder Malin Diaz. Their key player to me is the extremely technical Nazanin Vaseghpanah. “Naza,” as people call her, has played twice for the Swedish Women’s National team. Her vulnerable side though is her temper. I think that AIK will have big problems in staying in Damallsvenskan. Most experts see them as 12th (last place) this year. The transfer of American midfielder Kacey White failed, because White changed her mind and became a coach in college soccer in the U.S. Position: 12
Piteå is a small town and hosts the northernmost club in Sweden. Last season was their comeback season as a newcomer, and although they invested a lot, they were not satisfied with being 10th in the end, though nine points clear from relegation. One of the consequences was changing the coach. Now, Stellan Carlsson is supposed to lead Piteå closer to the middle section of the league. And again, Piteå has recruited many players: Australian goalkeeper Lydia Williams; Finnish defender Anna Westerlund came from Umeå; and Swedish striker Hanna Pettersson, who scored many goals during preseason. American Jennifer Nobis will play her third season with Piteå. Economic problems lead to a ticket price rise to $22 USD, which became $17.75 USD after a lot of protests. The key player is Nigerian world class defender Faith Ikidi. If Piteå can deliver what the team should be able to they will be more successful and score more goals than last year. Position: 8
Last season, former champions Umeå were close to winning their eighth title, something nobody had expected. However, after Sofia Jacobsson went to Russia during the season, and after goalgetters Ramona Bachmann and Hanna Pettersson also signed with other clubs, Umeå changed their concept and told the public that Umeå wants to be a top club within a few years by developing local and regional talents. Others would say they ran out of money, again. Sixteen-year-old Lina Hurtig came to Umeå. She is regarded as one of the greatest talents in years. Umeå’s key player is defender and team captain Emma Berglund. If Berglund, who has joined the SWNT recently, can coordinate a good defense with experienced goalie Caroline Jönsson behind her, Umeå will be in the middle this year. Position: 7
Vittsjö won the southern group of the 2nd division by a wide margin. Former Kristianstad player Sofie Andersson scored 34 goals in 22 games, and the little municipality (1,500 inhabitants) close to Malmö, entered the finest of all leagues in Sweden. Last Sunday, the population was asked to come to the arena to paint and clean it all up. In the final weeks before the start of Damallsvenskan, coach Thomas Mårtensson could add a couple of experienced international names to his roster: Dutch WNT goalkeeper Lois Geurts, Americans Kendall Fletcher and Danesha Adams, and Scottish defender Ifeoma Dieke joined. However, it seems questionable if they will be able to form a team in Vittsjö that can do the job to stay in the league. Looking at all the other teams, it seems pretty doubtful. The key player is Andersson again. If she is able to score only half of the goals she scored last year, Vittsjö has a chance. They are underdogs, though. Position: 11
Tyresö is a municipality about 10 miles southeast of Stockholm with a beautiful coastline to the Baltic Sea. Sport director Hans Löfgren lives here. Five years ago, the team played in the 4th Division and Löfgren made up a plan that they wanted to win the Championship in 2012 and the Champions League in 2014. At the traditional press meeting one week ago in Gothenburg, nine out of 12 coaches said that Tyresö will win the gold this year. Three world-class players have been added since last year: Marta (Brazil), Vero Boquete (Spain) and SWNT midfielder Caroline Seger. Add Swedish WNT players Linda Sembrant and Lisa Dahlkvist, the latter had her breakthrough at the World Cup in Germany last year. We will see internationals sitting on the bench, but if coach Stefan Fredriksson only succeeds up to 80 percent to keep this team going, it just HAS to win the title. Position: 1
Finishing fifth in 2010 and 2011, KIF Örebro told us at the press meeting that they want to aim higher. Marie Hammarström, the girl who scored the legendary goal against France in Sinsheim last year that gave Sweden the bronze medal, is their key player. A good defense with Stephanie Labbé between the posts, centre backs Marina Pettersson Engström and Sara Larsson (still injured, but soon back) will make it, as usual, difficult to play Örebro, but they don’t have a midfield that is able to make them compete with the four top teams this year. And some others have invested more and show more hunger. Position: 6
Icelandic coach Elisabet “Beta” Gunnarsdottir is the only female coach in the Damallsvenskan. Every body writes about it and it surely gets on Beta’s nerves, a character coach who is extremely ambitious. At the press meeting she said that Kristianstad will go for gold. And, as usual, she says too much, she reaches too high. However, the roster looks much stronger with Kosovare Asllani, who had no future in Linköping, but finally a coach who believes in her again. And when former Western New York Flash midfielder Becky Edwards was injured during preseason, they quickly filled the gap with Canadian Sophie Schmidt. Economically, there has been turbulence, but recently it was quiet. Asllani will be the key person, and if she succeeds, Kristianstad can annoy the top teams and beat most of the rest, but they will not reach up to Tyresö. Position: 5
The champions of 2009 will come back after two mediocre seasons. Always strong in their defense, Linköping invested a lot in recruiting players for their offensive game. When the WPS crashed, Manon Melis’ former coach (now in Linköping) Jörgen Pettersson grabbed the phone and made her come to the small town, two hours south of Stockholm. He added Australian Lisa DeVanna to the roster. Together with Finnish striker Linda Sällström, I was talking about the fastest forward line in the history of Damallsvenskan, but unfortunately Sällström suffered an ACL injury in Thursday’s international against Slovakia in Helsinki and will miss the season. But with Charlotte Rohlin and Nilla Fischer, alternating team captains for the Swedish WNT, Linköping will make its way into Champions League again. Position: 2
Half of the Finnish national team will play in Gothenburg this year, almost. Extraordinary goalkeeper Minna Meriluoto will add a lot of stability in the goal, but she has to watch out for her porcelain fingers (third finger injury within a year risks her premiere on Monday). The new coach Stefan Rehn is a former international and could add a lot of charisma and experience from the bench. Preseason went quite well for Jitex, although defender Petronella Ekroth suffered an ACL tear. The new Canadian striker Christina Julien will be the key to a season without worries of going down to 2nd division. Position: 9.
LdB FC Malmö
There were some dark economic clouds above Malmö this spring, but players told me that everything was exaggerated by the media. That is probably what they have been told. Losing Manon Melis to WPS and then Linköping was tough, but with MVP of 2011, Ramona Bachmann, and German international Anja Mittag can be pretty strong again. Instead of Caroline Seger, who left for Tyresö after just a couple of weeks, Malmö has former Tyresö midfielder German Katrin Schmidt, which just seems to be a change of names because Schmidt is like Seger, a ball-winner and sometimes a goal scorer. Add that Malmö has incredible Scandinavian talents with Katrine Veje and Sara Björk Gunnarsdottir, you will know that it again will be difficult to play them. But still, they won’t really reach up to Linköping and Tyresö. Position: 3
The cup winners of 2011 lost Ingvild Stensland (back to Norway) and Linda Sembrant and Lisa Dahlkvist (to competitors Tyresö), and many thought that would keep Göteborg out of the title race. But since March, there are three English-speaking players in Western Sweden in a team that traditionally only had few out-of-Scandinavia people: Americans Ingrid Wells and last year’s WPS Rookie of the Year Christen Press, plus English veteran Anita Asante. Asante could be the key player. Göteborg convinced in the Super Cup final against Malmö (which they lost, 2-1) recently by having again established a good passing game. They won ‘t play so much long balls on Press in the future, and I am sure that she will start to score soon and be one of the forward profiles of this season. The roster seems a little ill-balanced, since there is a lack of defensive players. Position: 4
The Stockholm team of Djurgården has recruited a lot of players from Hammarby in Stockholm, which became second to last in 2011 and lost ALL of their players except the second goalkeeper. Anna Lindblom and Magdalena Ericsson will add a good defense quality to Djurgården, but because both Icelandic creative midfielder Dora Maria Larusdottir (went to Brazil) and super-talented Emma Lundh (Linköping) left the club, they will problems to lead a game. On the bench there will hardly be players who can change a match. It is decided that Frankfurt’s Jessica Landström will join the team, but the German side declared in the beginning of last week that they won’t let her go before the end of June, when half the Swedish season is played. That means very likely no Olympics for Landström and big problems to score goals with only one hot striker, Mia Jalkerud. Position: 10
Rainer Fussgänger, of Germany, lives in Sweden and has followed the Damallsvenskan for eight years now. Living in Stockholm with three clubs (Djurgården, Hammarby, and Tyresö) around the corner, he is lucky to see a lot of games. You can follow Rainer on Twitter @ffschweden and check out his website at http://ffschweden.wordpress.com.