The 2017 NWSL season is almost here, with the first games kicking off on Saturday. It’s another historic season for the first-division women’s professional league in the United States, as they’ve now reached a fifth season of existence, with the hope that maybe in a few years we’ll stop calling each subsequent season “historic” for merely existing. Baby steps.
So what’s new this year? Let’s get you ready for the coming season:
Flash –> Courage
The biggest news of the offseason is that the defending champions relocated. Yes, you read that right. The Western New York Flash, who in addition to winning the title gave the league the biggest headache last season with #tinypitchgate, sold the team to Steve Malik, who moved the club to Cary, North Carolina to play as the North Carolina Courage. Malik also owns NASL side North Carolina FC (rebranded this offseason from the Carolina RailHawks) and has MLS aspirations for his men’s team, so the move seems to make a lot of sense on a practical level, even if the thought of a champion moving immediately after winning seems absurd.
The offseason partnership with A+E Networks, which include an equity stake in the league by the media company and an agreement for A+E to take over content management, is great news. In addition to the commitment and investment, the partnership includes a “Game of the Week” to be aired every Saturday on Lifetime Network. That arrangement should open the league to new fans and expand its footprint, particularly among women.
Meanwhile, what are you options for non-Lifetime games? In previous years, all games not on television were streamed on YouTube, but on Thursday the league announced the rest of the games will be streamed on go90. Other leagues have dipped a toe into the platform, but it will be a new introduction for the rest of us.
New USWNT CBA
Last week, the U.S. Women’s National Team announced they have come to an agreement with U.S. Soccer on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement for the program. While the CBA specifically covers the USWNT and not NWSL as a whole, part of the agreement includes raised standards within NWSL concerning facilities and the like, which impacts all players overall, those on the national team and those who aren’t.
In addition, the new USWNT CBA to some extent ensures the survival of the NWSL. Players are incentivized to play professionally in the NWSL with larger contracts from U.S. Soccer than they would get if they played abroad, while teams are able to field the stars of the national team without having to pay those players’ wages. It’s not a perfect system, but it does appear to be a sustainable option, and that’s the enduring goal for the league, even into its fifth season.
New Commissioner coming
Jeff Plush abruptly resigned as NWSL Commissioner in the offseason, after the A+E Network partnership was announced, a deal with which he was credited for completing. Obviously there aren’t pro commissioners out of work just waiting for a phone call, so the league has yet to fill the role and say they are searching for a permanent replacement now. In the meantime, another newcomer to the league office, Amanda Duffy, appears to be taking the leadership roles in lieu of a commissioner for the moment. Duffy joined the NWSL this offseason after helping to launch USL side Louisville City FC, quickly moving through the front office ranks during her time there.
While the commissioner question may sound like inside baseball for readers, given the relative newness of the NWSL and the need to ensure the right person is picked to facilitate the health and growth of the league for years to come, the league has a monumental task on their hands to find a good commissioner.
Week 1 Schedule
Here’s the slate for the opening week of the season:
- Houston Dash vs. Chicago Red Stars | Saturday, 11 am PT, watch on go90
- Portland Thorns vs. Orlando Pride | Saturday, 12 pm PT, watch on Lifetime
- Washington Spirit vs. North Carolina Courage | Saturday, 12 pm PT, watch on go90
- Seattle Reign vs. Sky Blue FC | Saturday, 7 pm PT, watch on go90
- FC Kansas City vs. Boston Breakers | Sunday, 3 pm PT, watch on go90