There are still a lot of ups and downs as the NWSL becomes more popular, but one good trend that has been seen is expansion.
The development of the National Women’s Soccer League has been quite the roller-coaster ride since its founding in 2013. Teams, players, and coaches have come and gone over the years, and the process has been nothing if not a learning experience. Women’s soccer has increased in popularity since the U.S. Women’s National Team won the Women’s World Cup in both 2015 and 2019, and the attention drawn to the national team, as well as the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup put on this year, has helped the lesser-known NWSL gain fans.
The Utah Royals joined the league in 2018, and Racing Louisville has become the most recent expansion team to be admitted this year, having just finished their expansion draft. Angel City FC, based in Los Angeles, California, is a huge win for the NWSL. With multiple other cities expressing interest in expansion teams, and the success that has come already through expansion, it’s become quite clear why expansion is good news for the NWSL.
History of Expansion
Throughout the history of the league, there have been five teams added, and two teams that have folded, along with several others that have had leadership and ownership changes. Kansas City FC and the Boston Breakers were, unfortunately, unable to continue operations, and the Western New York Flash was sold and later renamed the North Carolina Courage. The Houston Dash was the first expansion team added in 2014, and they have recently encountered new success as the champions of the 2020 Challenge Cup.
The Orlando Pride and the Utah Royals were the next two teams to follow, in 2016 and 2018 respectively, with Racing Louisville and Angel City FC scheduled to begin to play in the next year or two. The NWSL had a minimum of eight teams in 2013, and once the 2022 season begins, they will have eleven, the most in history. This number pales in comparison to the 26 teams that make up the MLS, the NWSL’s male counterpart, but the good news is that the NWSL is continuing to drum up interest in terms of expansion.
What Expansion Can do for the League
There are many reasons why expansion teams are such a good sign for the NWSL. First of all, it means that more players are needed, so more women are able to achieve their dreams of playing soccer professionally. Additionally, more teams would bring soccer to more cities across the United States, and potentially into other countries; the MLS has teams in Canada, a scenario that could be replicated in the NWSL. Cities and states like Atlanta, Sacramento, Connecticut, Indiana, and Pittsburgh have at some point or the other expressed interest in an expansion team. These are all areas where a team would be extremely beneficial for the league.
Expansion teams also bring live games closer to more people; many fans have never attended a game simply because there isn’t a team or stadium close to them. If this problem can be rectified, and more people will have more games played closer to them, attendance, profit, and fan numbers will all go up. Making sure to spread expansion teams across the United States, to different regions and areas, will be beneficial, as well, bringing soccer to those in more rural areas and areas that aren’t typically given sports teams.
Angel City FC’s Specific Role
All expansion teams are important and great for the development of the NWSL, but Angel City FC has the opportunity to play a specifically special role. For one thing, the team is rooted in Los Angeles, one of the most populated cities in the United States, and one that already has a supportive soccer base. LAFC and LA Galaxy are the two MLS teams that call Los Angeles home, and thousands of fans have been campaigning for a women’s team for years.
Additionally, many celebrities have been behind the founding and ownership of Angel City, including Serena Williams, her husband, and daughter, Natalie Portman, Abby Wambach, and Mia Hamm. These big names will inevitably draw attention from Americans, especially those who may not know much about soccer. Popular soccer players like Alex Morgan and Christen Press, who are both from California, have expressed interest in playing for Angel City FC, and if players like them end up on this team, they will draw even more eyes to the team and the league in general.
The staff and the players of the NWSL have been working tirelessly over the past seven years to make the league more popular and successful, and expansion teams have played a large role in its growth. Racing Louisville and Angel City FC are steps in the right direction, and the interest of more cities in states in creating their own expansion teams is promising for women’s soccer.