Morgan Brian is packing her bags and taking her talents to Lyon. Jessie Fleming is allegedly setting her sights on Europe. Crystal Dunn is playing very well for Chelsea Ladies FC. And Rachel Hill has found her stride in Perth. Meanwhile, what’s going on in America you ask? Well, a very poor transition of women’s soccer out of Kansas City and into Salt Lake, and, as always, a lot of the same unsteadiness that the league has been known for in the past. From not having a commissioner, to clubs not being able to make ends meet, there are a lot of reasons why players are beginning to find American club soccer less appealing. Compare that to some great options for players overseas and the NWSL is left with some real hefty competition and some cleanup work to do. In reality, there are a lot of reasons that the women’s professional leagues in Europe and Australia are looking like more of an attractive option to players here in the U.S. Here are just five of those reasons.
It’s no secret that the NWSL isn’t the most stable league in the world. But knowing that and realizing that are two different things. For the Kansas City FC women and their fans, they got that reality slap of truth this last week. In America, it isn’t always set that where you are playing one year will equate to where you are playing the next, and that isn’t just because of trades. We saw it with the Western New York Flash too. It isn’t fun for the fans to lose their team and it definitely isn’t fun for the players to up and relocate. But unless you have hit the jackpot and are playing in Portland, your future in a city or with a team isn’t guaranteed. In Europe that isn’t necessarily the case. Part of that is because the beautiful game is a way of life across the pond, but the other part is the fact that the women’s league grew off of the men’s. And sure, that isn’t necessarily the most attractive part of their stability. We would all love for a women’s league to stand by itself, but having a larger league that can offer a history of successful management, an established financial basis, and an existing fan base leads to a better chance for a successful women’s club. Is it ideal? No. But does this structure work? Absolutely. And for a player, that can look really appealing.
Money isn’t everything, but it sure is something. And we live in a time where women know their worth. They certainly know that they are worth more than the NWSL’s $15,000 minimum salary. So, for many young players – and sadly some veterans – they have to swallow a bitter pill and play at a level that is way below their pay grade. And it isn’t the NWSL’s fault. There simply isn’t money available. And for international players that aren’t from the U.S. or Canada, where their paycheck is signed by the National Team, the most that can be made is only $45,000. Take that in. Marta, one of the best women to ever touch a football, can only make $45,000 playing in Orlando. So as much as we would love to have these amazing international players in the NWSL, like Amandine Henry and Nadia Nadim, we cannot blame them when they decide to go back to Europe and make a bigger paycheck.
We play women’s soccer at a very high level here in America. No one can deny that. We have the number one ranked National Team in the world, and some of the greatest depth the game has to offer. But there are some skills that we do not have. There are numerous styles of play that we do not possess. If a player is looking to become more well-rounded, then looking to Australia, France, or England may be just the ticket to get them to that next level of play (See: Rachel Hill in her past four matches with the Perth Glory). There is also the added benefit of knowing how to better play against a National Team opponent. And sure, the transition isn’t always an easy one, but it can benefit the player ten-fold if they can perform well. Take, for example, Lindsey Horan. Instead of playing college soccer, she began her professional career in France and because of that, she plays a very different style of game than the rest of her USWNT teammates. But that also leads her to create opportunities for her team that another player wouldn’t consider. It also leads to her having a different kind of strategic mindset when on the pitch. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Staying in Form
I made this point last month when I wrote about the W-League. There are great opportunities for NWSL players that do not affect their contract and give them the chance to stay in form during the offseason. For many players, especially young ones who aren’t bogged down by National Team duties, the W-League offers them a chance to further condition themselves, gain some new skills, and become acquainted with other playing structures. This is a great option for so many reasons, but the best part has to be that they get to come back and play a whole season in the NWSL as well. So for all those Americans and Aussies doing a bit of double-duty, keep on keeping on. Because a little bit of extra soccer never hurt anyone. Just ask NWSL MVP, Sam Kerr or NWSL Rookie of the Year, Ashley Hatch.
This may not sound like a very important reason for foreign leagues to look so attractive to players here in the U.S., but there is something to be said about the opportunity to win multiple competitions while playing at a single club. In the NWSL, players can only with the NWSL Championship. They can play all season, be the best team in the league and then lose it all in the Championship Final. North Carolina knows what that’s like. And it’s awful. But then there are clubs oversees like Chelsea Ladies FC that get to play in the FA Women’s Super League, which consists of other English clubs, but also in the UEFA Women’s Champion League, which is made up of clubs across Europe. It’s more competition against different kinds of teams that only lead to more player development. It’s more opportunities to lift a trophy. And it’s more opportunities the completely dominate on multiple levels. Who doesn’t want that?
Surely there are more reasons than just these five for a player to consider playing somewhere other than the NWSL. This isn’t an exhaustive list. Not even close. And in some circumstances, these five reasons aren’t any of the ones that a player may consider when deciding to go play overseas. But the point of the matter is that the NWSL doesn’t hold the single most dominant place in women’s soccer. Not by a long shot. This league isn’t necessarily the biggest pull for professional players and we have to accept that, but we also have to look to fix it. Because what the league is doing isn’t enough. They need to stay competitive and progress. They need to do more to make the league more attractive on an international scale. But most importantly, they need to find stability. Because once they do, the other parts will begin to fall into place.