A Higher Standard: The Issue of Professionalism in Women’s Soccer


For a little over a month now women’s soccer within the United States has gone completely rogue.

It seems like every day I wake up and look at Twitter and some new major change has occurred with the NWSL, USSF, or the personnel that surround it. Major changes happen in sports all the time, but generally those changes are planned out, executed professionally within a timeline, and supported with assurances to the media, fans, and public as a whole.

None of that happened in the last month-or-so with regards to women’s soccer.

In fact, the exact opposite happened – it was chaos, and question marks, and overall lack of care or due diligence. Frankly, there was nothing professional about it. But still, the Harvey/USSF/Seattle/Andonovski/Kansas City/Salt Lake debauchery was widely accepted as something that could and should readily occur. And therein lies the problem.

Let’s go over the facts. On November 7th it was reported that Laura Harvey was leaving Seattle to take on an expanded role with the US Soccer Federation. Vlatko Andonovski, the former FC Kansas City coach (and personal suggestion from Harvey), would be replacing her. This shocked the Seattle soccer community because Harvey had been such a staple there for so long. But it looked to be a smart move. She was moving up to a national role – one that many were excited about. The issue is that the USSF never stated what Harvey’s expanded role would be. What was her job, exactly? What would she actually be doing? We weren’t told. And yet, for the most part it was accepted. Maybe the details would come later.

But flash-forward a week and suddenly everything changed again. The NWSL announced that Salt Lake would be a ‘new’ team in the 2018 season for the NWSL. The team didn’t have an official name yet, but at the press conference it was announced that it would be one of ten teams within the league. But as a ‘new’ team that would make 11 total clubs within the league. The NWSL didn’t expand on that point, but merely kept the audience in a bit of conundrum as to what the future held for some of the teams within the league.

Close followers of the news knew that FC Kansas City was in a bad way, and that this Salt Lake team was less a ‘new’ team and more a transfer of franchise from KC. Except that this wasn’t what was announced. At the time that Salt Lake declared themselves a new NWSL team, FC Kansas City was still in operation. In fact, the folding of FCKC and the movement of their contracts to Salt Lake wasn’t made until six days later on November 20.

Then, just to complicate the story more, Laura Harvey was signed as the new coach for Salt Lake on November 27. Even though she left Seattle to take a job on the national level. Adding to the complications, her new roster would be the former FCKC squad–the team that her replacement in Seattle had given up to take over that job.  But wait – it gets better. When commenting on it, Harvey stated, “In some ways it’s funny. It is the ultimate trade. We basically traded spots.” You know who isn’t laughing? Seattle fans. Kansas City fans. Anyone who was excited for her potential impact with the USWNT.

Then, finally, on December 1, eleven days after the announcement of the club, Salt Lake finally got a name, after finally settling legal issues that had delayed the process. 

To sum it up: one city lost a team, two rosters traded coaches, the NWSL made announcements before they were ready, and no one ever will know what was supposed to happen with Harvey’s USSF position. And the worst part of it all is that no one batted an eye at it. This was considered business as usual for women’s soccer in the United States. This was considered acceptable for the league and the federation. And that is what is wrong with women’s professional soccer.

The NWSL is trying so hard to be the premier women’s soccer league in the world. They pull from the largest talent pool of its kind. But yet they struggle financially. And when looking at the women’s side of the US Soccer, they aren’t fairing much better. They are the number one team in the world, but they aren’t paid their worth. And in all of this are the players who are struggling to make ends meet, striving for a future in the sport they love, and supporting the platform for future generations of strong female athletes to perform on.

It’s exhausting. But it means something. So they keep trying to build. They keep pushing forward, and keep screaming into the void for recognition and acknowledgment of their worth. They fight to be seen as professionals – to be equal among other professional leagues and athletes. But unfortunately, the NWSL and the USSF have not been acting professional. And because of that, it holds back every female player just a little bit more. It puts a little more drag on their already short line. And it holds themselves back as well – financially, publicly, and in the eyes of the sporting world.

In any other league or in any other sport the movement of a top coach to the national level would have had more publicity. It would have had more concrete details about the job and that coach’s potential new impact. In any other league the movement of a team from one city to another is done with months of planning and preparation. Even if that team is having financial difficulty or there is scandal surrounding it. Look at the Columbus Crew in the MLS – everyone is aware of the potential move and there are really strong feelings on both sides. But in the NWSL? Nothing but bush league transitions, the absence of due care, and a total lack of professionalism.

So the question becomes, ‘How can the professional sporting world take you seriously, when you refuse to act professional?’

The answer is that they don’t. And it isn’t hard to see why, when moves like this happen without any explanation. It feels ill-prepared at best, shady at worst. It’s bad enough that they didn’t have an active Commissioner all of last season, but this? This is just off-the-cuff work that was patched together and came out looking halfway decent.

Now, most likely these transactions weren’t undertaken with malice or bad motives. But that doesn’t mean that they were done correctly. There should be a standard of professionalism. Things need to get better if the league wants to be a serious player, make real money, and change the way women’s sports are treated.

This isn’t asking a lot. They should want to do better and hold themselves accountable. They should want more transparency, in order to show the world that they mean business. They should want to show pride in what they’re doing.

Don’t the women who play in the league deserve that? Don’t the fans? Doesn’t the entire women’s movement that this league – and women’s sports in general – plays a large role in?

Don’t they owe it to themselves?

It can’t be said as to how the next season will go for the NWSL. It can’t be said how USSF President elections will affect the women’s game. But it can be said that in order to be taken seriously, you have to take yourself seriously. That is what should be asked of the NWSL and women’s soccer in the US. Hold yourself to a higher standard. The highest standard. It’s hard – no one is denying that. But to get to where the league, the athletes, the fans, and the media want to go it is a necessity. A necessity that should not be taken so lightly in the future.

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