Expansion of the NWSL remains a priority, but a few key questions remain, according to commissioner Jeff Plush.
As women’s soccer grows in popularity, the NWSL could be in a position to expand its audience over the next few seasons. The league is currently at 10 teams and Plush would like to increase that number before next season, but the issue right now is timing. In order for an expansion team to be added for 2017, it would need to be in place by October of this year, something that is still possible but becomes increasingly unlikely as time passes.
The main priority for the league is location. The NWSL wants to get into bigger markets, and sees soccer-rich California as a state that is particularly ripe for expansion. Of the league’s current teams, only four play west of the Mississippi River—Kansas City, Houston, Portland, and Seattle—and none of them are based in California.
Plush foresees opportunities in California, particularly if those teams follow the model of tying themselves to MLS teams that is seen in other cities. The question that remains are which cities, and which teams, could give the NWSL that opportunity. More from Fox Sports:
“We’ve got to get into California at some point,” Plush said. “We’d like to for lots of reasons — two of the top media markets are out there, but there are also so many young women and girls playing the game that I think that clubs there would have an opportunity for success right away.”
Those media markets that Plush refers to are the regions around Los Angeles and San Francisco — and both areas have clubs that have expressed some interest in the NWSL.
Los Angeles FC, which will join Major League Soccer in 2018 and broke ground on a new $350-million stadium complex on Tuesday, are backed by a high-powered ownership group that includes former player Mia Hamm. The American soccer great has reportedly said she’s been “very vocal about wanting a women’s team to be a part” of LAFC’s future, but she hinted that establishing LAFC’s MLS first-team and academy, which are in the early stages still, have pushed talk of a women’s team to the backburner.
The Sacramento Republic of the United Soccer League, which are currently trying to win an expansion slot in MLS and are finalizing approvals for a new stadium, also have put a women’s team in long-term plans, though establishing an MLS team is the clear top priority.
“We’ve discussed what the road map is,” Kevin Nagle, one of the team’s owners, told FOX Sports back in November. “You have to have a USL team — that is something that’s on the map — as well as a PDL (Premier Development League) team. And to me, it just makes all the sense in the world to have a women’s soccer team be part of that.”
There have been instances of where NWSL teams thrive in the same environment as MLS squads, with the Portland Thorns perhaps standing out as the best model. Additionally, there is some room for growth among existing teams, particularly when the Orlando Pride move into a new soccer-specific stadium.
Given that template, it would be interesting to see how and if the NWSL could enter into Los Angeles and other west coast cities, or even Atlanta, as Plush went on to state in the article that the South is also under serious consideration for expansion. Plush added in the story that, if market and ownership conditions are solid, the league would like to be at 14 teams by the 2020 season.
Image courtesy of the Portland Thorns.