With the 2016 Rio Olympics over, attention fully turns back to NWSL in the women’s soccer realm, and while the biggest story of the week was surely Hope Solo’s suspension and contract cancellation by the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, the fallout of which is sure to continue, there was another notable story on the local front concerning the league.
NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush told FOX Soccer in an interview on Wednesday that the league is looking carefully at its expansion options and California remains at or near the top of the priority list.
“We’ve got to get into California at some point,” Plush said in the interview. “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.”
It has seemed odd that the NWSL, now at 10 teams, has yet to add a team in California considering what a girls soccer hotbed the state is and how many professionals the state produces. Obviously, the right owner(s) have not yet been found, something that is crucial for any professional sports team venture but especially in the tight margins of owning a pro women’s soccer team. But Plush’s comments that the league wants to get into California is a good sign, certainly.
Plush also noted in the interview that the timeline for adding any team, including a California team, in 2017 is feasible but time is running out. So the expansion banner may not ring out in the golden state next year, even if hope is there it will come eventually.
But when NWSL comes to California, which seems increasingly likely, whenever that may be, it will undoubtedly be a great sign for women’s soccer in the state. Sure, the team will need to be marketed well and given plenty of resources to succeed on and off the field, but having a pro team in this state again (to say nothing of possibly more than one, who knows?) will complete the development cycle in the state.
The academy scene is huge here, and with numerous successful programs, and more developments coming in the academy system with the U.S. Soccer Girls Development Academy program being established and kicking off in a year’s time, the expectation is that training and developing youth players will be better than ever.
And much like men’s first-division sides, NWSL sides are now expected to set up their own academy programs, too. Most of those programs may not be ready to produce their own homegrown players for several years, but the pipeline is getting the infrastructure necessary to help keep the United States at the top of the international scene in women’s soccer.
With a thriving academy scene, the priority placed on NWSL teams to set up their own academies, and very strong college programs (UCLA, USC and Stanford, to name a few), bringing pro soccer back to California, whether in the Los Angeles region, the Bay Area, or somewhere else, will give young girls who have what it takes to be pros see how they can become pros someday.
Sure, girls in California can still become professionals now, but with an expanded league and a local team to root for, women can hopefully both see what it’s like to be a pro soccer player in their own backyard but also have expanded opportunities to become professionals themselves.
And assuming the league is expanding at a prudent rate and finding the right owners to establish clubs that will be sustainable, having a team in California makes sense on a number of fronts for the NWSL, too. Soccer is big in this state, and in many respects, it’s too big and influential a state to go without women’s pro soccer for long.