National Women's Soccer League
|Confederation||CONCACAF (North America)|
|Number of teams||10|
|Level on pyramid||1|
|Current champions||Western New York Flash (1st title)|
|Current NWSL Shield||Portland Thorns FC (1st shield)|
|Most championships||FC Kansas City (2 titles)|
|Most NWSL Shields||Seattle Reign FC (2 shields)|
|2017 NWSL season|
The National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) is a professional women's soccer league, run by the United States Soccer Federation. At the top of the United States league system, it represents the sport's highest level in the United States. The NWSL was established in 2012 as a successor to Women's Professional Soccer (2007–2012) which was the successor to Women's United Soccer Association (2001–2003). The league began play in 2013 with eight teams; four of which were former members of Women's Professional Soccer. With the addition of two expansion teams in Houston and Orlando since the league's founding, it now has 10 teams based throughout the United States.
Since the league's inaugural 2013 season, three clubs have been crowned NWSL Champions and three clubs have claimed the NWSL Shield. The Western New York Flash is the league's most recent champion in 2016. However, during the 2016–17 offseason, the Flash's NWSL franchise rights were purchased by interests in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which relocated the NWSL team and relaunched it as the North Carolina Courage. The current shield winner is Portland Thorns FC, who finished first in the 2016 season.
The NWSL season runs from April–September with each team scheduled for 20 regular season games, 10 each of home and road. At the end of the regular season, the team with the highest point total is awarded the regular season title. The four clubs with the most points from the regular season standings qualify for the NWSL playoffs, which consist of two semifinal single knockout matches (top seed hosts fourth; second hosts third), with the semifinal winners advancing to the championship final hosted by the team with most regular season points.
After Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) officially folded in April 2012, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) announced a roundtable for discussion of the future of women's professional soccer in the United States. The meeting, which included representatives from USSF, WPS teams, the W-League (ceased operation in 2015), and the Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL), was held in June and resulted in the planning of a new league set to launch in 2013 with 12–16 teams, taking from each of the three leagues. Compared to WPS, the teams would have a relatively low salary cap of $500,000, though this was later lowered to $200,000.
Regular season winners
|2013||Portland Thorns FC||Western New York Flash|
|2014||FC Kansas City||Seattle Reign FC|
|2015||FC Kansas City||Seattle Reign FC|
|2016||Western New York Flash||Portland Thorns FC|
In November 2012, it was announced that there would be eight teams in a new women's professional soccer league that was yet to be named at the time of the announcement, subsidized by the USSF, the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) and the Mexican Football Federation (FMF). The three federations would pay for the salaries of their national team players (24 from the US, 16 from Canada, and 12 to 16 from Mexico) to aid the teams in creating world-class rosters while staying under the salary cap. The players would be distributed evenly (as possible) among the eight teams in an allocation process. USSF would run the league offices and set the schedule.
On November 29, 2012, it was announced that Cheryl Bailey had been named Executive Director in the new league. Bailey had previously served as General Manager of the United States women's national soccer team from 2007 to 2011, which included leading the support staff for the U.S. team during the 2007 and 2011 FIFA Women's World Cups, as well as the 2008 Summer Olympics. During her tenure with the women's national team, she was in charge of all areas of administration including interfacing with clubs, team travel, payroll, and working with FIFA, CONCACAF, and other federations.
The first NWSL game was held on April 13, 2013, as the Portland Thorns visited FC Kansas City, playing to a 1–1 draw in front of a crowd of 6,784 fans at Shawnee Mission District Stadium. Renae Cuellar scored the first goal in league history. The 2013 season saw regular-season attendance average of 4,270, with a high of 17,619 on August 4 for Kansas City at Portland.
The NWSL became the first U.S. professional women's soccer league to reach nine teams with the expansion of the MLS-backed Houston Dash in 2014; expansion interest, particularly from MLS teams, has continued. The third season saw a shortened schedule and some early-season roster instability due to the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup in Canada, but the World Cup also provided exposure to the NWSL, which was credited with boosting attendance numbers across the league.
The league also became the first professional women's league in the US to play more than three seasons when the league kicked off its fourth season in 2016.
Ten NWSL teams are spread across the United States. Each club is allowed a minimum of 18 players on their roster, with a maximum of 20 players allowed at any time during the season.
Originally, each team's roster includes up to three allocated American national team players, up to two allocated Mexico women's national team players, and up to two Canadian allocated national team players via the NWSL Player Allocation and subsequent trades. In addition, each team has three spots available for international players. The remaining roster spots must be filled by domestic players from the United States. Teams fill their rosters via a number of drafts and 4–6 discovery player signings.
|Boston Breakers||Jordan Field||4,000||Boston, Massachusetts||2007||2013||Matt Beard|
|Chicago Red Stars||Toyota Park||20,000||Bridgeview, Illinois||2006||2013||Rory Dames|
|FC Kansas City||Swope Soccer Village||3,557||Kansas City, Missouri||2012||2013||Vlatko Andonovski|
|Houston Dash||BBVA Compass Stadium||7,000[n 1]||Houston, Texas||2013||2014||Randy Waldrum|
|North Carolina Courage||WakeMed Soccer Park||10,000||Cary, North Carolina||2009||2013||Paul Riley|
|Orlando Pride||Orlando City Stadium||25,500||Orlando, Florida||2015||2016||Tom Sermanni|
|Portland Thorns FC||Providence Park||20,438||Portland, Oregon||2012||2013||Mark Parsons|
|Seattle Reign FC||Memorial Stadium||6,088[n 2]||Seattle, Washington||2012||2013||Laura Harvey|
|Sky Blue FC||Yurcak Field||5,000||Piscataway, New Jersey||2007||2013||Christy Holly|
|Washington Spirit||Maryland SoccerPlex||5,200||Boyds, Maryland||2012||2013||Jim Gabarra|
- BBVA Compass Stadium has a capacity of slightly over 22,000, but seating is restricted to 7,000 for Dash games.
- Memorial Stadium has a capacity of 12,000, but standard seating capacity for Reign games is 6,088.
- Western New York Flash — 2013–2016 (NWSL franchise relocated to Cary, North Carolina as the North Carolina Courage; organization now fields a team in the second-level United Women's Soccer)
Soon after launch, the league reportedly planned to expand to ten teams for 2014. Potential candidates included groups not accepted as part of the original eight; groups from the Los Angeles area (joint effort from the LA Strikers and Pali Blues) and from Hartford, Connecticut were confirmed failed bids, as was one from the Seattle Sounders Women. There was speculation that the Vancouver Whitecaps Women could be logical candidates especially given the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup in Canada; however, the Whitecaps cancelled their women's program (except for one U-18 academy team) in December 2012.
During the inaugural season, there were rumors of expansion interest from MLS teams Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls, as well as confirmed interest from WPSL side the Houston Aces. NWSL team owners hinted that expansion for 2014 was not a question of "if" but "how many". Despite this, it was announced during the playoffs that there would be no expansion for the league's second season, though the Red Bulls and Sky Blue FC confirmed that they were in discussions for cooperation.
During the first offseason, the Houston Dynamo added their name to the list of MLS teams interested in fielding a women's side, stating that they were "exploring the opportunity" of starting an NWSL side in 2014 or '15 and in 2013 they announced the Houston Dash with 2014 as their inaugural season. By early December, NWSL approved a new team run by the Dynamo organization for expansion in 2014, despite their earlier statement that there would be no expansion for the league's second season.
During the second offseason, expansion talk grew rapidly, with three established men's teams (Real Salt Lake of MLS, the Indy Eleven of NASL, and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds of USL Pro) expressing interest in joining NWSL, as well as an unattached group from Atlanta. There was also rumored or suggested interest from three men's teams in California, though none of those groups have made official statements. Despite this interest, it was announced in late April 2015 that there would be no expansion for the 2016 season.
However, after the well-publicized success of the US Women's National soccer team, renewed interest in NWSL expansion caused reports from the owners' meeting that "a new team in 2016 has not been ruled out", with potential expansion news to be revealed within a month. Commissioner Jeff Plush said that over a dozen interested groups had contacted the league in the post-World-Cup weeks; MLS team Orlando City SC was one of the first newly interested groups made public.
On October 20, 2015, it was announced that Orlando would be hosting the 10th NWSL team, the Orlando Pride, due to start the 2016 season. At that announcement, the Pride announced that they had hired former U.S. National Women's Team coach Tom Sermanni.
Stadiums and attendanceEdit
As of 2016, the NWSL will use 10 stadiums. The highest attendance in the league's history occurred on April 23, 2016 at the Orlando Citrus Bowl when 23,403 people watched the Orlando Pride defeat the Houston Dash 3–1 in a regular season home match.
Squad formation and salariesEdit
As of 2016, teams receive a salary cap of $278,000, up from $265,000 in 2015 and $200,000 in 2013. The salaries of allocated players from the United States, Canadian, and Mexican national teams are paid by their respective federations and do not count against the salary cap. Non-allocated players earn a minimum of $7,200 and a maximum of $39,700, up from $6,842 and $37,800 in 2015 and $6,000 and $30,000 in 2013.
As of 2017, NWSL games are streamed exclusively by Go90 for American audiences and via the NWSL website for international viewers. As part of a three-year agreement with A&E Networks, Lifetime broadcasts one NWSL Game of the Week on Saturday afternoons.
During the 2013-2016 seasons, the majority of league games were available for viewing via YouTube or via individual team's websites for the 2013–2016 seasons. Of the eight teams in the league during the inaugural season, the Boston Breakers were the only team that charged a fee for access to their broadcasts. On April 18, 2013, NWSL signed a one-year agreement with Fox Sports to televise six regular season games, the semi-final, and championship games on Fox Sports 2.
On May 28, 2014, the NWSL signed a one-year agreement with ESPN to televise nine games of the 2014 NWSL season. The matches included three regular season and three playoff matches on ESPN2, as well as 3 regular season games live-streamed on ESPN3.
On June 30, 2015, the NWSL announced a one-year agreement with Fox Sports once more to cover ten matches. Three regular season and three playoff matches were televised on FS1, and four live-streamed on Fox Sports Go. The agreement was extended into 2016 under another one-year contract, covering three regular season matches and the three playoff matches, once again on FS1.
On February 2, 2017, the NWSL announced a three-year agreement with A&E Networks, which will see Lifetime broadcast an NWSL Game of the Week on Saturday afternoons. This marked the first time that the NWSL had a weekly broadcast window throughout the entire season. As part of the deal, A&E Networks also purchased an equity stake in the NWSL, and formed a joint venture with the league known as NWSL Media to oversee the league's marketing and broadcast rights. All players will also wear a sleeve patch of the network's logo on their uniforms. In the U.S., all other games will be streamed exclusively by Go90, and through the NWSL website internationally.
Statistics below are for all-time regular season leaders. Bold indicates active NWSL players.
- As of November 2, 2016 
Throughout the season, the league awards Player of the Week and Player of the Month awards to individual players, which are voted on by the media. The league presents six annual awards for outstanding achievements voted on by owners, general managers, coaches, players and the media:
- Golden Boot
- Rookie of the Year
- Goalkeeper of the Year
- Defender of the Year
- Coach of the Year
- Most Valuable Player (MVP)
In addition, the league names a NWSL Best XI team and NWSL Second XI team which are voted on by journalists, club officials and NWSL players.
- List of NWSL drafts
- NWSL Player Allocation
- List of foreign NWSL players
- Major women's sport leagues in North America
- Professional sports leagues in the United States
- List of professional sports teams in the United States and Canada
- Women's United Soccer Association (2001–2003)
- Women's soccer in the United States
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