We’re seeing plans for a lower-division women’s league emerge, as United Soccer League is planning to roll out an eight-team pre-professional W-League for the 2022 season.
There is plenty of interest in women’s soccer, but apart from NWSL, interest in any pro league waxes and wanes. As you’ll recall, NISA made a huge splash in announcing a new Division II pro circuit in association with the pro-am United Women’s Soccer (UWS) league, only to scrap that plan, then embark on a new league, the Women’s Independent Soccer League (WISL), with Carrie Taylor in charge. But Taylor departed that effort, though WISL is still in develop, with one NISA side committed to a women’s team.
In the meantime, USL moved forward with its planning for a new lower-division women’s league led by former MiLB team exec Betsy Haugh. It’s being billed as a “pre-professional” league–a nice way of saying unpaid player competing on an amateur basis, ala USL League Two–and is envisioned as an adjunct circuit for USL Championship and USL League One owners, with the eventual goal being 30 teams. Based on a few conversations with some of the said owners, it could be a rough sell: several expressed an opinion that they preferred the NISA business model–embracing a pro game on the Division II level–but wished the USL were offering it, not NISA.
The eight teams in the initial lineup:
- Chattanooga Red Wolves SC (USL League One)
- Greenville Triumph SC (USL League One)
- Hartford Athletic (USL Championship)
- Minnesota Women’s Soccer
- Kaw Valley FC (USL League Two)
- Queensboro FC (USL Championship)
- South Georgia Tormenta FC (USL League One)
- Washington D.C (MLS)
In alignment with the League Two season, the W League will kick off in May and end with the W League Playoffs and W League Final in late July.
“Our goal for the W League is to use women’s soccer as a force for societal good by creating a national platform to increase opportunity, gender equity and career development,” said USL Director of Women’s Soccer Betsy Haugh. “We’re expecting to have at least 30 clubs for our inaugural season, which would provide upwards of 750 new opportunities to play, work and coach in the women’s game. We’re very excited about what the future holds.”
Indeed, that’s the big elephant in the room: whether NWSL will be involved in some sort of lower-division effort. So far NWSL owners are taking a hand’s-off approach to lower-level women’s soccer, but at some point the attractiveness of involvement if only from the developmental side will be hard to ignore. By going pre-professional, USL may be shooting too low for what owners and the market will bear.