Amandine Henry is a winner. Don’t take my word for it, just take a look at her resume.
Thirteen French Premier League titles and seven Champions League titles with Lyon. A championship and NWSL Shield in the US with Portland. In total, the former France captain has collected 32 trophies for club and country in his 19-year professional career. Only a handful of players of both genders have won more.
So it wasn’t the pursuit of hardware that led Henry to Los Angeles, where she joined an Angel City team that, two seasons into its existence, was still searching for its first trophy.
“It’s a new challenge because Los Angeles is a new team,” she said. “I think it’s the best moment to face a new challenge and I want to keep developing.”
Angel City probably thinks otherwise. The team knows Henry hasn’t won a trophy in a full year since 2008… and so far in 2023, she’s left empty-handed.
“To bring a player of her caliber to the club is huge, both on and off the field,” said interim manager Becki Tweed, whose side are unbeaten in their last nine games in all competitions and are three points away from a play-off spot five games to go. “Is there a better role model than her to be surrounded by? Someone who has played worldwide. She has competed in the Olympics and World Championships and has been outside of the United States for part of her career.”
Still, Henry’s move from Lyon to LA is odd as it comes at a time when many top players are going the other way. Four years ago, more than one in ten world championship players came from the NWSL. But this summer, England’s Women’s Super League and Spain’s Liga F – a league their own federation only recognized as professional in 2020 – have overtaken the US league, together providing almost a quarter of the tournament’s 736 players.
Unsurprisingly, Spain and England made it to the final with squads made up almost entirely of players from their respective domestic leagues.
The recent departure from the NWSL saw Sam Kerr, the league’s all-time top scorer, join Chelsea from the WSL. England’s Rachel Daly, 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup MVP, plays for Aston Villa; Former Houston Dash team-mates Lydia Williams and Clare Polkinghorne, both from Australia, play for clubs in England and Sweden respectively; while Ellie Carpenter, once the youngest player in NWSL history, plays at Lyon, Henry’s former club in France.
Even US national team captain Lindsey Horan is gone, leaving the Portland Thorns to sign a three-year deal with Lyon.
Tweed said competition with foreign leagues to sign the best players is welcome because it will improve the game.
“If every league can keep moving forward, other leagues need to grow. It’s almost a game of, ‘You do it, we’ll do it better,'” she said. “The more we support each other, but can also compete against each other, the better the sport becomes.”
Speaking of competition, even as the European leagues gather top talent, the NWSL remains a far more exciting and competitive league. The average gap between first and last place in Europe’s top three leagues was 55 points last season, more than double that of the NWSL, where eight of the 12 teams with a shot at the title entered the final round of the regular season went the league’s playoff format.
In the US league, too, the average number of viewers was twice as high as in the European leagues.
“Although the game has grown in Europe, there are still top-down differences,” Tweed said. “If you look around the NWSL, there is equality on and off the field, but also in the facilities, stadiums and crowds. For anyone who is later in their career and has been to the NWSL and Europe, craving that feeling every week is probably something exciting.”
That certainly describes Henry, a defensive midfielder who admits she’s much closer to the finish line than to the start. The long-time France captain was left out of the squad for the European Championships last year after a dispute with then-coach Corinne Diacre and missed this summer’s World Cup through injury. She signed a 1½-year contract with Angel City in June, two months after a left knee sprain ended her last season at Lyon. She has been on the bench for Angel City’s last two games but has yet to play for her new team.
“I’m almost 34 years old and I want to prepare my progress,” she said. “I want to enjoy the end of my career and the new challenge. It’s more exciting for me to keep moving forward.”
“It’s totally different because the style is different here,” she continued of the NWSL. “It’s more athletic, more physical, more direct.”
Henry is no newcomer to the NWSL, having played 30 games in two seasons in Portland, winning a league title in 2016 and a regular-season title in 2017. Her return, she hopes, will help her prepare for a post-playing career as CEO or sporting director.
Winning another trophy with Angel City and continuing their title streak would improve their record as well.
“I hope to win a new title, but for now [the goal] is qualifying for the playoffs,” she said. “And to learn English.”
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