NWSL – What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

Quite a bit of shade being thrown by Alex Morgan, the rumored marquee player of NWSL’s newest expansion team Orlando Pride. Orlando’s entrance into the league is also rumored to be based on the ability to acquire Morgan. Morgan is said to have requested to leave Portland Thorns FC who are owned by MLS side Portland Timbers for personal reasons, she’d like to play in the same city as her husband. Her husband, Servando Carrasco,  plays for Orlando Pride owner’s MLS side, Orlando City SC.   If that seems all too coincidental..join the club.

If you read almost any interview with NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush where the subject of expansion comes up you’ll see these phrases repeated again and again; passionate ownership group, quality venue, business infrastructure, team-controlled venue if possible, quality marketplace. You’ll also routinely see him say that MLS teams aren’t necessarily the only way to expand, but they’re attractive because they have all those things. It doesn’t take very much to read between the lines to see an MLS team fits most all of the desired qualities. And the first two league expansions have gone to MLS teams.

So, I’m left with the question: What does NWSL want to be when it grows up?

Does it want to forever be the little sister to MLS’s big brother? Check out Seattle Sounders entry level salaries after 20 years of MLS growth, is that the type of league NWSL wants to be? Does it want to be a league where 20 years from now players are still not making as much as they could using their college degree? Does it want to be a league that still takes a back seat to every male sport when being considered for innovation and growth? Does it want a league that people refer to as WMLS?

Or..does it want to be a league that can lead the way for women in professional sports? Does it want to be the league that school kids and high school kids and college kids and all the adults that surround them and support them see as being a step ahead and a step above? Does it want to grow the game in such a way that the product on the field is exciting and unencumbered by low expectations of people who see it as a side show and not the main attraction Does it want to be the league that shows the United States and by extension the world, that what has gone before does not need to be repeated, but can be improved upon without selling your soul to the highest bidder. Does it want to be a league that is creative and innovative in the way it interacts with and attracts new fans?

I’m under no illusions here. I realize all of these high ideals take money and lots of it. I’m also of the opinion that how you get that money is just as important as how you spend it.

I don’t think MLS is inherently evil, it’s a business like hundreds of others in sport, but I don’t think the business focus is necessarily on doing the best things for women’s soccer. WoSo is not men’s soccer with less testosterone. It has a history and a struggle all its own that makes it different and resonates with its fans. I’m not convinced, by Portland or Houston, and now Orlando that they fully grasp what makes WoSo different. The founders of NWSL are a pretty unique group. With the exception (to my knowledge) of Kansas City, Portland and Seattle they’ve all been intimately involved with the struggle to create and maintain a women’s pro soccer league. They are five in number and now are matched by 5 owners who don’t come from that background. The league is at a crossroads where they truly have to decide what they want to become.

What do you want the NWSL to be when it grows up? Let me know in the comments.

Expansion 2016…

With the recently announced press release that the NWSL waiver process has been pushed back, it would seem that an expansion to Orlando is about a 99% certainty. I hold back the one percent since they didn’t include Orlando in the waiver process, but I think it’s just wishful thinking on my part.

I think the league is missing a great opportunity, and one they may not get again soon. The opportunity I speak of is a time to breathe, learn from the first three years and their first expansion, and have a clear plan for what the next 3 years will look like.

The league did some things well during the first three years, but there is much room for improvement, and expansion so soon leaves them no real time to do that. Expansion right now is not a necessity. If Orlando is keen to get in, they will still be keen in a year. There is no other pro league to become a part of, no other place for them to join.

Expansion in 2016 will just be another year of instability for players who already are leaving the league because they cannot continue to pull up stakes every year and move to a new team on the same meager salary. Why put the very commodity that the league absolutely needs to survive under that pressure again? And probably again in 2017?

It will also be a year interrupted by another big international tournament, the Olympics. Scheduling of 20 games was hard enough with a break for the World Cup in 2015, why add a team and make it more so? Expansion is likely for 2017 even if Orlando does come in in 2016, why not wait until 2017 when  better planning and a non-World Cup/Olympics schedule will be easier to manage?

Many arguments for expansion are based on being able to get a better TV deal with 10 teams, a balanced schedule and more MLS ownership. I really don’t buy that. If the survival of the league for 2016 is based on a TV deal, the league is in more dire straits than the most pessimistic of fans could imagine. And I just don’t get the feeling that’s the case. A good TV deal would be great, but one team added to the league isn’t going to be the tipping point.

The league needs to fix the things that didn’t work in 2015. Simple things like more team merchandise being available, for all teams. Match day experiences that cater to kids AND adults, less bouncy house and more adult beverages. More complex things like better venues, consistent streams across the league and communication with fans that really is more transparent. How about a year to work on getting some meaningful league sponsorships? Even NWSL can’t live on Nike alone. Maybe more important than any of these things is a raised salary cap that allows the lowest tier of players to make a living wage for the length of their contract. A single expansion team only means jobs for 20 more players, over half who will not make a living wage. If waiting a year can increase that to 60 players making a living wage, why not wait?

And at some point the league season will have to be longer, with an additional year to allow players and teams a chance to figure out how it will work in relation to player contracts, salaries and the need for a job outside soccer to survive for most players, maybe a mass exodus won’t occur when that happens. An additional year would also allow US Soccer to decide how they are going to treat the NT player pool, either by expanding to allow more players to be allocated or a lump sum payment to the league. These are things that should not be worked out on the fly. They affect players directly and should be settled. Many have called for a player’s union to be established and I have said it’s too soon, but if the league has no regard for how their expansion affects players, I would have to side with the players and say sooner is better.

A year without expansion would allow all these things to be worked on without the added pressure of a big change in player personnel, scheduling and having to do it on the fly. Imagine bringing in 3 teams in 2017 with a plan and a standard set they would have to meet in all the things that need improvement. Not only would the new teams have to be up to standard, the existing teams would have another year to meet it or be gone, or sanctioned. Don’t have a field devoid of 15 other sports markings? Work it out with your current venue or move to a new one..you’ve got a year to figure it out or you’re out/sanctioned. Can’t serve adult beverages? Work it out with your venue or move to a new one..you’ve got a year to figure it out or you’re out/sanctioned. Don’t have a reliable HD stream (since that is NWSL standard)? Work it out..you’ve got a year to figure it out or you’re out/sanctioned. The answer to all these things has nothing to do with expansion, but everything to do with being able to devote your existing resources to fixing them.

I know this is all just so much spitting into the wind on my part, but I haven’t really seen anyone WoSo related address this. Expansion is not bad, it’s just not always the answer to what’s wrong. I would love to see someone in the WoSo realm play devil’s advocate to the pro-expansion love-fest going on. It’s easy to ask for the league to fix things, it seems a little harder for people to give them a space to do it. Maybe the league has this all figured out..and maybe I will win the lottery, but both are pretty far-fetched.

If any WoSo journo out there has taken on the no expansion side. I’d be all eyes on a link in the comments.


NSFW WoSo Rant

NWSL (owners/admins), you suck. That’s right, I said it, you suck.

I’m so pissed right now I really can’t see straight. What the fuck is wrong with you? After one year you think you’re in a position to expand? I don’t care how much you lust after MLS money, in the end it just makes you their whore.

After spending thousands and thousands of dollars to support the first year, hundreds of hours and countless social media interactions defending all the inadequate things you gave us, you give me this..expansion in Houston in 2014.

Yes, I take it personally. I was 44 when WUSA debuted, 52 for WPS and 56 for NWSL. I’ve lived through this shit before, but you had the opportunity to do it differently, smarter, more cost effective, slower with more purpose. And like the others you’re just all about the Wham, Bam, thank you Ma’am. No one needs this expansion now. No one.

This better be a picture perfect NWSL season. Soccer venues, no multi-purpose optical illusion fields, or fields that don’t allow alcohol, or tailgating. Double attendance for you slackers. A great product on the field, not some mediocre shit you blame on everything under the sun except that your coach or players just aren’t good enough. Uniforms that don’t look like you found them on some bargain rack and they gave you a deal if you took them all off their hands. Fantastic websites and social media that tells us everything we want to know before we know we want to know it. Quality fucking streams that you can actually watch, not pay per view streams that aren’t worth the bandwidth it takes to try to watch them. Commentators that have seen a women’s game and might know some of the players without a cheat sheet..the list goes on. Fucking perfect, that’s what you owe us now. I’ve lost my patience waiting for you to get it right.

Nothing less will get my support. And if you think I’m alone in this, think again.

And if by some odd twist of fate this Houston expansion turns out not to be in 2014, I don’t apologize. You can’t treat me like shit by not saying a word and think you get a pass.

If you were a girlfriend I would have kicked your ass to the curb when you started talking to Houston for 2014.

An Open Letter to NWSL Executive Director Cheryl Bailey

Dear Cheryl,

I hope you don’t mind me addressing you as Cheryl, I feel you are as much a fan of the game as anyone and I’m writing one fan to another.

So, Cheryl what’s going on?

I recently became aware of MLS team Houston Dynamo’s interest in joining NWSL.  I was very happy with the initial season of NWSL and thought the decision not to expand in 2014 was a good one. The reasons Mr. Gulati gave were all sound and seemed well thought out. Now it seems that isn’t the case and Houston is giving the impression that if they show good enough numbers NWSL will allow them in for 2014. This concerns me, how about you?

This is troubling on so many levels, but mainly it’s a trust issue for me. After two failed leagues I am totally invested in the success of NWSL. I was ecstatic when USSF announced its formation and supported it with my time and money. I bought season tickets to every team. I traveled to attend games and when I could not, I made sure that someone else was in my seat. I bought merchandise and encouraged everyone I knew to at least give the product a try. I defended short comings and encouraged better efforts, from teams and fellow fans alike. In other words, I bought-in, with words and money and time, I bought-in. And I am certainly not alone.

Now it seems that after convincing me NWSL/USSF finally got it right, it’s all going wrong. Make no mistake, I truly do support the league and that’s why I’m concerned. When so many people, on both sides of the business, invest their energy in something with the expectation that it will be better handled than their last two investments only to see things happening that question whether those expectations will be met, it’s disheartening.

I trust NWSL/USSF to say what they mean and mean what they say. When the president of USSF clearly states “no expansion in 2014”, as a fan I trust that to be true. And I’m sure that future investors trust that also. I know other teams, as well as Houston, have eyes on an expansion team, what message does this push by Houston send to them?

If USSF/NWSL has no intention of allowing Houston in for 2014, they should say so, and the opposite holds true, don’t you think?  Or is USSF/NWSL so interested in getting more MLS involvement that they’ll go back on their own word to get it? And if they were to allow Houston a 2014 team, does that give the green light to other MLS teams that they can also impose their will on NWSL? And to extrapolate that out, what happens when NWSL becomes MLS-Lite and teams decide it’s too much trouble? Does NWSL fold like the first two leagues?

Are you starting to see where I’m coming from, Cheryl? I’m a fan. I love the game and support the league, but this new iteration has very little transparency of late and not enough history to make me feel comfortable with this expansion talk. As a fan, don’t you want to know what the league intends? I understand business and that most negotiations are out of sight, but the ill will this will create with other teams looking to join NWSL just isn’t necessary. As a fan I’ll put up with a lot to be able to have a pro women’s league, but I won’t go quietly when I think the league is heading down a wrong path. I think allowing any team in for the 2104 season is the wrong path. And I have nothing against Houston or expanding there, but I am against unequal treatment which seems to be the case since Houston is an MLS team.

Do you think I’m wrong? I’d like you to change my mind, or at least put it at ease. Right now I’m not feeling very happy with my NWSL, how about you? Help me out here.

Thanks for your time, Cheryl. Hope to hear from you soon.

Always a fan,