Women’s soccer has had a slow climb to popularity in the United States. Before the NWSL existed there were two other leagues that started and failed. Both of those teams, Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) league, and the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) had two teams in California. The WUSA had teams in San Diego and San Jose while the WPS had a team in Carson and Hayward California. However, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) does not have a single team in California.
The pattern of women’s soccer in California seems to be on a downward trend. Going from having professional teams in major cities in California, to smaller cities, and now to absolutely no teams at all is telling of the culture of women’s soccer in California. Unfortunately, soccer is still seen as a men’s game in parts of the state, from men-only small-sided pickup games to schools struggling to field a team of 11 girls for a game. Moreover, the announcement of a new Major League Soccer (MLS) team coming to LA is representative of the culture of support the men’s game receives.
Is there even room for women’s professional soccer in California? Can a team tap into the prominent men’s side in order to build a fan base and support, as well as partner with for financial stability? What are the options for expanding the NWSL into the sunny state of CA?
Really, there are three possible options for an NWSL California expansion: by adding a women’s club to a pre-existing MLS team in California, by promoting a semi-pro women’s team, or by courting an investment by an international club. And all three are possible, if not equally likely.
The new MLS team, LAFC, is slated to enter the scene in 2018 and is partially owned by none other than Mia Hamm. She has already spoken about her desire to add a NWSL team to the LAFC team. However, Jeff Plush, former commissioner of the NWSL, has said that he believes the window to add another team will close in October 2017, which is just a few short months away. Would LAFC be able to put together a NWSL team during their inaugural season in the MLS, or would they want to wait a year or two? Could they afford to start one in their early MLS days, or might it be better to wait until they’ve got a few years and a large base of support–financial and fan-based–to make a move in the direction of women’s soccer?
A second option would be to promote a semi-pro women’s soccer team. The Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) fields 13 teams based in California at the moment. A WPSL-related expansion This could happen either independently, a WPSL owner making the case and having the financial backing to convince the NWSL to expand with them. Or, it could happen with international support. One of these teams is WPSL teams is sponsored by Ajax, a European team out of the Netherlands. If Barcelona followed Ajax to California, as is predicted, it could make a strong argument for an NWSL expansion, and the numerous WPSL teams would help to fill out the roster after a college draft, allocation process, and (likely) expansion draft.
If Barcelona is interested in backing an NWSL team, is it likely they would follow Ajax’s interest in the California area? Or might they stay in New York where their office is based? Honestly, the likelihood of Barcelona not going to New York is slim. Especially after Western New York moved to North Carolina, leaving behind a professional WoSo vacuum in the state. But, there are already many NWSL teams on the East coast, and provisions to protect teams from encroaching upon the markets of others within the league.
Despite the unsteadiness of the past two women’s leagues in the United States, the NWSL is doing well and looks to be continuing to improve and grow. Additionally, the teams in the NWSL that are sponsored by an MLS team have proven to be stable teams and are avoiding any financial issues. Orlando City added the Pride in 2015, and the Houston Dynamo added the Dash in 2013, and the Portland Thorns have always been closely associated with their men’s side, the Portland Timbers.
Between Barcelona and LAFC, someone will take California on and attempt to break the downward trend of the women’s game. Hopefully, the fact that there are 13 WPSL teams to pull talented and young players from will encourage someone to start a team in California. Will anyone be brave enough to take California on, or will the curse scare a team off?