Five years later, the NWSL's first two Spanish coaches meet again

Paths will cross in Houston, Texas, once again. As old friends Fran Alonso and Juan Carlos Amoros meet in opposing dugouts.

Five years later, the NWSL's first two Spanish coaches meet again
Fran Alonso (left) with Lewes FC and the Houston Dash, Juan Carlos Amoros (right) with Gotham FC and Tottenham Hotspur || Courtesy of the respective clubs

1,942 days ago, Juan Carlos Amoros got the better of Fran Alonso.

Back then, it was the 2018-19 season of the English Women's Championship (the country's second-tier division). Cold, windy, and grey light. The English home counties. Just North of London.

Amoros was the long-tenured co-head coach of Tottenham Hotspur women, alongside Karen Hills. After nearly a decade of raising the club up through the ranks of the English football pyramid, here the North London team was in its first season as a professional outfit.

Spurs were mounting a promotion charge to the Women's Super League. And, were attempting to topple big-spending league newcomers Manchester United, who were then managed by Casey Stoney.

Near the bottom of the table, Alonso was just one month into his new role as the head coach of Lewes FC. An important club, from a small Sussex town, that boasts an equal investment and budget model for its men's and women's clubs.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, on that Sunday afternoon at the Chestnut Stadium in Hertfordshire, Tottenham made light work of Lewes. Amoros' team claimed a 3-0 home victory. A tough outing for Rooks goalkeeper Faye Barker.

"We believe we are closer and closer every day to the team we want to be," Alonso mused afterward. "We can take positives from these games and learn more about the players."

“We are Tottenham Hotspur, we need to make sure we are there, doing our best to win every single game," Amoros said with gusto. "I’m very pleased with how the girls started the game and the second half because that’s something we have been working on."

That victory vaulted Spurs to the top of the Championship table. Eventually, Amoros and his team would fall away and lose the title to United, finishing second. But both Spurs and the Red Devils would earn promotion to the zenith of English football.

At the end of the match, the two Spaniards shook hands. Life and football moved on. But they stayed in touch. A year later, they would end up in the same class studying for their master's degree in management training together.

Paths cross in Southeast Texas

Five years later, on a muggy Wednesday night in Houston, the two Spaniards will meet again under very different circumstances. In the very city that links the duo's footballing stories.

It's a showdown of two Spanish trailblazers who have led the Houston Dash in the NWSL.

Amoros, after being relieved of his duties with Spurs in December 2020, headed home to Spain with Real Betis for two seasons in Liga F before then becoming the interim head coach of the Dash in July 2022. He became the first Spanish head coach in the American league by doing so.

INTERVIEW: From Spain to Spurs, to Houston, meet Juan Carlos Amoros

For the second half of that season, Houston went on a hot streak. Smothering teams away from home with high-pressing football. The Dash would finish fourth in the NWSL and qualify for the playoffs for the first time in club history.

Dash general manager Alex Singer offered Amoros an extension at the end of 2022, but he declined. The Spaniard had a more enticing offer from NJ/NY Gotham FC, and so instead headed North.

Despite finishing in last place in 2022, Gotham rose up the table in 2023. Under Amoros, 'The Bats' squeezed into the playoffs and stunned the world by winning the 2023 NWSL Championship. Amoros was named coach of the year.

In the Autumn of 2023, during that brilliant Gotham playoff run, Alonso was quick to reach back out and celebrate his friend's accomplishments.

"We had spoken, during the semi-finals. I congratulated him [Amoros]. I said that I was proud of him," Alonso told Squad Depth, in February 2024.

"And then, [after the NWSL final] I woke up early [in Scotland], and the first thing I did was check Google. I was delighted for him. I texted him that same morning: 'Well done, crack*." He's a very nice guy. Always somebody I can call."

[NOTE: *crack is Spanish slang. People tend to call a person “crack” after they do something cool, skillful, or impressive. Or refer to them as "crack" if they are the best or brilliant at something.]

Gotham celebrates the 2023 title || Gotham FC

In 2024, Alonso followed Amoros over the Atlantic to the very same club that had opened the doors of the NWSL to his compatriot. Alonso's journey after Lewes went through Glasgow and Celtic FC. At the Scottish club, the passionate head coach won three cup trophies in the three seasons.

Once again, Alonso was back on the phone with Amoros. This time, he was asking for recommendations in Houston. The Gotham head coach helped the new Dash boss pick a neighbourhood to live in and tipped him off on the best places to eat at around 'The Bayou City'.

Alonso hasn't enjoyed the same instant success that Amoros found in Houston. A couple of months into the 2024 NWSL season, the Dash currently sit second-bottom of the NWSL table under Alonso and are on a four-match winless run. Defensively Alonso's Houston has been rocked by opposition, with a league-worst xGoals Against of 14.9 (2.13 p90).

GO FURTHER: How long will Fran Alonso be given in Houston?

That doesn't mean everything is peachy with Amoros, though. The reigning NWSL champions have had a muddled start to life defending their title. Gotham are ninth in the 14-team table with two just wins from their opening six matches. Most alarmingly though, scoring has been hard to come by. The club ranks last for goals per game (0.67).

Now the two friends will be back in opposing dugouts for the first time since 2019. Despite communication from afar, it will also be their first in-person meeting since 2020.

"We've been talking, I'll get in touch when I have a second," Alonso told the media on Tuesday, ahead of his reunion with Amoros.

"We haven't talked this week. You know, although we are friends, for 90 minutes we are not going to be friends until the final whistle.

"We both want to beat each other. Last year, was, for him, incredible. I'm happy for him. But as I say, for 90 minutes, we won't be friends. And, I'm desperate to get the win."

I've been covering the Houston Dash and the NWSL for six seasons, and there are few people who have garnered the amount of affection from the fanbase as Amoros did during his brief four-month spell.

On Wednesday night, even as the opposing head coach, he will get a warm reception from the Dash support at Shell Energy Stadium.

If Alonso wants to leave a positive legacy in orange, then triumphing over his old friend might be just the way to start making that happen.