Carli Lloyd in Man City, Crystal Dunn with Chelsea, Alex Morgan at Lyon, How Does NWSL Adjust?



Despite all the overall substantial infrastructure issues facing the National Women’s Soccer League, the overall outlook is exceedingly positive. When you expand your product, and find a better broadcast deal than the one you held previously, it signals that things are moving in the right direction overall.

However, as the league kicks off its fifth season this weekend, they now must face a new and very real issue to which will have to adjust immediately.


It’s a sports version of what’s called in a labor markets and academic circles a “brain drain.” The top talent is leaving America and going overseas; at least for the first part of the season.

Carli Lloyd is considered by some the greatest women’s soccer player alive. Lloyd, who is a Liverpool fan actually, joined Manchester City on a short term deal and won’t be back until June. Once Man City has concluded their Champions League run, Lloyd will return to her NWSL team, the Houston Dash. It looks like Carli Lloyd, a two time reigning world player of the year and USWNT co-captain, will miss at least the first half of the season.

Another iconic U.S. Women’s National Team player, Alex Morgan, signed a similar deal with French side Lyon. Morgan also plans to return for the NWSL season, with her current NWSL club the Orlando Pride, in June.


Crystal Dunn, who absolutely dominated the 2015 NWSL with the Washington Spirit, left for Chelsea, in the FAWSL. However, her deal is longer term, so she won’t be coming back this season. Dunn is signed with Chelsea until 2018.

Then you have Hope Solo, whose career is over now for both club and country. So that’s four well known USWNT stars who won’t be in the NWSL until the back half of the season. Also, there will be no Olympic bump driving up interest this season like we had last summer. Much more significant and meaningful was the World Cup bump of 2015.

No such advantages this year. The USWNT will play two friendlies in June, but that won’t keep the national team stars from missing more than a couple of games.

crystal dunn

Thus the NWSL will face challenges on the publicity and promotional fronts. It supplements the litany of other issues they have struggled since inception and will continue to deal with during this upcoming season, such as:

very poor attendance, severe lack of exposure, major facility problems, substandard accommodations for the players, little to no media access to star USWNT players (because that’s entirely controlled by the individual player’s publicity professionals, not the NWSL Media Relations) and the extreme disinterest that the United States Women’s National Team seems to have in genuinely promoting the league, on both the corporate and the individual level.

NWSL clubs have zero power over the status of contracted national team players on their rosters because the U.S. Soccer Federation pays their salaries. Thus, Houston and Orlando won’t receive a transfer fee or any other form of compensation for Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan.

There’s a running joke- “U.S. Soccer founded the NWSL, and then totally forgot that it exists.”


Yeah, pretty much because they do the NWSL clubs very few, if any favors.

There is plenty of good news though, starting with the new broadcast deal on Lifetime network. The NWSL needs a niche network that overlaps with their key demographics, and they seem to have found it here. Lifetime seems much more willing to commit the resources required into the giving the league more exposure than FOX Sports 1 did.

It’s a much better fit than FS1.

chicago red stars

“It’s so great that we paired up with Lifetime so I’m excited for every game,” said Chicago Red Stars forward Sofia Huerta, who added “but any game that’s on Lifetime, not just for the Chicago Red stars but any of ’em, I think that’s really excited.”

Better distribution of the product is one way to help grow the league, but another key component is making sure that the product is as high quality as it can be. The NWSL will be very competitive this year as most of the talent that remains is spread out across several teams. The reigning champs, the Western New York Flash, have relocated to North Carolina, but they’ll be in the title hunt again. Last season’s first place finisher, the Portland Thorns, probably have the most loaded side in 2017.

FC Kansas City has won two titles and they’ll be as dangerous as they always are. The Chicago Red Stars have as high caliber a core as any team in the league, and coming off two straight semifinal appearances, this could be the year that they finally break through and win it all.


Also, not having the national team players leave their clubs in the middle of the season, and then return later will be advantageous for team chemistry and cohesion. It should provide better soccer which will then of course help the NWSL brand.

Said Huerta at the Red Stars season kick-off party: “I’ve always said there’s two preseasons, one where we’re all together and the one where the national team players come back.”

“It’s completely different when there here and and they’re not here, so this year it’s going to be huge because we can all be on the same page, and on the same level.”

red stars

“Because when they leave, it drops a bit.”

Last season at this time, the USWNT lawsuit, fighting for equal pay, was the main NWSL storyline. This year it’s the talent drain. Perhaps next year at this time the NWSL will have established itself to the point where the dominant narrative will be something that serves as a more promotional vehicle for the league.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports and TheBank.News, partnered with FOX Sports Engage Network. and News Now. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times and NBC, contributes to Chicago Tribune.comBoldWGN CLTV and KOZN

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