If this last month has taught us anything about the NWSL it’s that your job is never secure (unless you are a referee and then you can mess up some calls on red cards but still come back next week). If you are a coach, you could be ‘mutually parting ways’ with your team. If you are a player, like Kristie Mewis, you could have lived in three different states within a week’s time. And if you are the current Commissioner … oh wait, there is no current NWSL Commissioner. Truth be told, it may not be too easy to sleep at night not knowing what tomorrow may hold for your career. But the men and women associated with the NWSL do just that. They are expendable. Here are the five reasons why:
Unless you are Alex Morgan, most likely you aren’t exactly making ends meat. The minimum NWSL player salary, according to the 2017 Roster Rules, is a whopping $15,000. Barely enough to file taxes. And because this number is so low (along with the $315,000 team salary cap), this makes these low-budget players very expendable. You could be traded, or loaned, or paid out your single-year contract only to be replaced by some younger, fresher legs. It’s easy to shift around little bits of money here and there, and that is primarily what this league is made up of – small contracts for short lengths of time. The players that do get to stay with a club their whole career and actually make a living playing the sport they love are the unicorns of the women’s soccer world – mythical creatures no one really believes exists.
It’s like that movie with Keanu Reeves. If the whole team decided to strike, there would be another whole team waiting to replace them. And the best part about these replacements is that they are eager to play the game they love and will take the minimum salary just to be on the pitch. So if an NWSL player is getting slow, or can’t perform her job up to par, there is someone that can easily be picked up through waivers or discovery in the blink of an eye. This essentially forces the current players to take what they are given or leave. Only the truly strong and dominant can negotiate … and most likely they are getting paid by their country, not their club. So what does that say to the club player who isn’t quite up to international par? Don’t argue too much, or I can find someone else that is adequate enough to do your job at your pay level. Because playing in the NWSL is a coveted prize among women’s soccer players. But one that doesn’t hold too many positions or too much money.
Check Your Record
Just like players, coaches are expendable too. And this season we saw just how much. Randy Waldrum and The Houston Dash parted ways in May after a rather rough start, Christy Holly stepped down as Sky Blue Manager in August, and there are probably a few coaches in the league who might be nervous for their job standing coming next season (looking at you down there at the bottom of the table). Because if you lose too many games with your expendable players then you become expendable yourself. Sure, your job may be more secure than most in the league, but it’s definitely not a guarantee. No one is untouchable in this league. No one holds enough clout or has a salary big enough that it can’t be eaten by the team, or paid out through a severance clause.
The NWSL definitely isn’t about those baseball-sized contracts. There isn’t an Alex Rodriguez of this league, where a player can pretty much guarantee where they are going to be presiding for the next seven years of their life, or their last destination before they retire. Contracts are short. A lot of them are just for a single season. Heck, Marta’s contract is for two with an option for a third. Marta. Arguably one of the best players to ever touch a football and she only gets two years guaranteed. She is the kind of player that you can make the face of your organization – your club’s future legacy. But that is not how this league works. No, this league works on short contracts in order to shuffle players around if need be. It ensures that the team salary cap isn’t too difficult to work around and that a team will never be stuck paying for someone who is no longer producing. These players are expendable, and these teams aren’t betting on them for the long term.
This may seem like a cop-out of a reason, but it is one of the reasons that players get shorter contracts and are treated only as well as their ACLs are holding up. It is part of the reason that there are hundreds of other women still content to wait on the sidelines for a contract that will pay them next to nothing. Because injuries in this league are frequent. And injuries clear up roster space. And injuries make you less marketable as a player. And because of this, injuries make you expendable. No one knows how well a player will bounce back from an injury. Or if they will ever be the same player they were if it was bad enough. So it makes sense to not bet on someone returning from a torn ligament or an accumulation of minor injuries. Especially if that player isn’t your team’s superstar. The Portland Thorns will wait all day for Tobin Heath’s back to get better, but someone making the minimum salary? Heck, you can have your pick of them from off the bench.
The NWSL is kind of cut-throat. It isn’t a league that will make its players or personnel feel secure. But that isn’t necessarily because it doesn’t want to. It’s because it can’t. It’s a new league, and it is trying to grow. So it needs to make smart moves. It needs to bet on the right horse. And those bets have to be made in regards to the short term if it ever wants to succeed long term. So no. Almost no one’s job is secure in the NWSL. But it isn’t the league’s fault. That is just the nature of the underdeveloped beast. We want it to soar and be this amazing platform for women in sports, but in reality, the NWSL is still a business. And like all businesses trying to grow, some of its assets have to be expendable.