The NWSL has long leaned on their national team players for both firepower in games and star power outside of games.
The United States Women’s National Team has carried the load over the five years of the NWSL in terms of the sheer number of players allocated. Between 2013 and 2016 USWNT players have been allocated within the NWSL 98 times. Compared to just 56 times with the Canadians and a mere 28 times with the Mexican players.
In 2013 the Allocations were almost perfectly even in terms of numbers. Each team was given three US players and two each Canadians and Mexican players. Western New York was an American short but given Lloyd and Wambach. Nothing to scoff at in 2013.
But the issues in terms of parity started nearly as soon as they started. For the Americans, Amy LePeilbet was out due to injury, Heather Mitts retired before the season and Amy Rodriguez was pregnant with her first child. On the Mexican side, two players failed fitness tests, Marylin Diaz and Luz Saucedo; one had a contract already with FFC Frankfurt, Alina Garciamendez; and a fourth showed up hurt, Rubi Sandoval.
During the 2013 season, FC Kansas City seemingly hit the jackpot. Nicole Barnhart, Lauren Cheney, Becky Sauerbrunn, all from the USWNT, were gifted to the club. Barnhart and Sauerbrunn serve as co-captains today and have done well in their five years on the team to bring in two NWSL titles. Something that I doubt anyone would say would be guaranteed if the allocation fairy had chosen differently.
Another footnote of the original 2013 Allocations comes from Chicago. No player allocated to the Red Stars in 2013 is currently on their roster, or anyone else’s in the NWSL in 2017. Shannon Boxx, Amy LePeilbet, Keelin Winters, Erin McLeod, Carmelina Moscato, Maribel Dominguez, and Dinora Garza were all allocated to the Red Stars that very first season, and all have either retired or gone to play elsewhere.
The most startling difference between 2013 and 2014 in terms of Allocations has to be Mexico only allocating 8 total players. Allegations of underfunding, of lack of proper support and training, are not new to the Mexican federation when it comes to women’s soccer. One of the easiest to see symptoms of that is the Allocations being halved in a year Mexico should have, with the gear up to the 2015 World Cup underway, been pushing its players to fight for starting spots in the NWSL.
As with FCKC in 2013, and really themselves in 2013 as well, the Portland Thorns have had a lucky go of the Allocations given to them. From the USWNT, Rachel Buehler, Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan. From Canada Karina LeBlanc and Christine Sinclair. Finally from Mexico, Jackie Acevedo. The Thorns of 2017 have shed Buehler and LeBlanc to retirement, Acevedo has left the league. And Morgan, well we all know what happened there. But having been dealt Tobin Health and Christine Sinclair has to be a win in most eyes.
Two 2014 Allocations, Stephanie Cox for Seattle and Jillian Loyden for Sky Blue FC are current assistant coaches for the clubs.
In 2015 the Women’s World Cup removed all 42 Allocations for what amounted to a third of the season. And while Mexico did allocate 4 players, none played in the 2015 season.
The 38 American and Canadian players taken out of the NWSL during the World Cup did leave a hole in the league that showed one of the great injustices the league has to offer. While the World Cup players, national teamers all, were away to play for their country the players who filled their roster spots and donned uniforms in their place were unpaid amateurs. Players who under NWSL rules can not be paid for their work. It was truly a tale of the best-paid players in the league leaving to participate in the grandest spectacle the game has to offer and those filling in couldn’t be given a $1 of pay while keeping their club teams afloat.
Of the 25 USWNT Allocations announced on January 14, 2015, 23 went to Canada to bring home the World Cup. Two did not. Kristie Mewis and Crystal Dunn. While Dunn’s story of being either the second to last or very last cut is well known, Mewis is rarely spoken about. Mewis was a project that then USWNT Head Coach Tom Sermanni was working on as an outside back and outside midfielder. When Ellis replaced him, Mewis the Elder’s time on the NT faded as the team moved closer to the World Cup. In 2016 she would no longer be an allocation. In 2017 she is having one the best years she has had in years.
The 2016 Allocations look most like the current 2017. Whitney Engen might not be with the Boston Breakers this year, Hope Solo isn’t keeping the net free of goals in Seattle, and we won’t go into Washington’s 2016 to 2017 changes, but mostly it’s what we know from 2017.
And though either luck, talented coaching or magic FC Kansas City carried five Allocated players into the 2016 season. And then by either bad luck, fickle soccer gods, or dark magic they lost both Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez for the season due to pregnancy. That Becky Sauerbrunn isn’t doing too bad for herself though.
Two Allocations from the 2016 list that I do want to note are Kelley O’Hara and Christie Pearce. Sky Blue and Portland are the only two teams, from the original 8, that had kept two original Allocations for all four seasons by the time that 2016 rolled around. And unlike Portland, which as had two or three additional Allocations during that time, in New Jersey it was mostly O’Hara and Pearce lifting the weight as the only two national team players.
Make no mistake. The NWSL is the USWNT’s league. 54% of the 2013-2016 Allocations came from the US. 31% from Canada. 15% from Mexico. No one complains when a Canadian player is played in a position their club doesn’t need them in but whispers of the national team staff asking them to be played in said position because it doesn’t happen. Canada doesn’t have the same monetary investment in the league as the US does, and with that investment comes power to dictate terms that not all coaches have the will to say no to.
In 2013 when the first set of Allocations came out the US had 42% of the total Allocations in the league. There were other voices in the room. Other national teams who had their own ideas. In 2016 it was 69% USWNT allocations, same as 2017.
In some ways, the NWSL is the best league in the world. In others, it’s the USSF’s longest USWNT camp in history.