THE FUTURE OF THE NWSL
From a player’s standpoint, one could understand the frustration of being a first round or second round draft pick and no opportunity to dig their cleats into the pitch during a match. Why is it that so many top tier players are struggling to find playing time or traveling over-seas for the opportunity to contribute in matches? Is the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) saturated with talent or is there more to the story?
In 2018, twenty players were drafted from nine NWSL teams with the hopes of making their dream of playing professional soccer come true. Only six of the twenty players who were drafted in the NWSL signed with their club. The stability of the league seems to be on the rise with six seasons under its belt. The NWSL was established in 2013, after the previous United States Women’s Soccer League folded. The league began with eight teams, but with an expansion and the loss of the Boston Breakers last year, the league is now at nine teams. To compare in size, on the men’s side, there are twenty-three teams competing in Major League Soccer, a big discrepancy between the two leagues.
The NWSL season is comprised of twenty-four regular season games from April to September, twelve home games and twelve away games. To further the excitement of the possibility of a more concrete league, in 2017, the players have formed a National Women’s Soccer League Player’s Association with the intent to form a union. Last year, the league also announced a three-year agreement with A&E, for which Lifetime televises twenty-two regular season games in return for twenty-five percent equity stake in the NWSL. This was an exciting deal for the league because it marked the first weekly broadcast throughout the entire season. In the recent year, the league seems be more solid. So the question remains, with progress moving in the right direction, why are the top players coming out of the NCAA not guaranteed a roster spot or seeing playing time?
It is no surprise, that the United States has an impressive side of women’s soccer. With the United States National Team being one of the best teams in the world each year and players coming from other countries to participate in the NCAA, it is clear, that the United States is a hot bed for women’s soccer talent. With only nine teams in the league and eleven spots on the field, it is difficult for young players to get the experience they need to flourish and develop. Logically, these top picks were top contributors on their collegiate teams and are used to logging a substantial amount of the ninety-minute games they played in. It is frustrating for a player who is used to playing close to, if not, a full match to get drafted to a team and not be guaranteed a pot or, in some cases, even see the pitch. With the competition at an all-time high, more and more young players are opting to go over-seas to get time on the pitch and grow their skills, in the hopes of one day coming back to the NWSL. The problem is the NWSL is losing many quality young players to teams in Europe. How can the league grow if the best young players are unhappy and playing in other countries?
It seems that the economics of the league could be impacting the team’s abilities to hold onto players. With lack of funding, even drafted first round players are not guaranteed a roster spot or payment. While most players who do hold roster spots find alternative ways to make money in the off-season, the lack in funding for players makes it difficult to stay in the NWSL when there may be a more promising deal over-seas. A young player’s career will only develop with experience and time playing at a higher level, there is no blame to be given to players who want to make the move in order to ensure a bright future. The problem is, will the loss of these young talented players, for example, Michaela Adam, who was drafted fourth overall by Sky Blue FC and now plays in Paris, effect the league in the long term? Only time will tell.
About the Author:
Cassandra (Cassie) Inacio- Cassandra is from Manalapan NJ. She is a Rutgers University Women's Soccer alumna who competed in the 'Final Four' championship. Cassie played professionally in Sweden for one season and is now a rising 3L (Year III Law student) at New England Law [NESL] Boston.