The National Women’s Soccer League continues to take a slow and steady approach to expansion.
While Major League Soccer and the United Soccer League are adding teams at a rapid pace, raising fans’ expectations for comparable growth from the women’s league, President Amanda Duffy said NWSL will stick with nine teams until league leadership is sure new franchises are ready to thrive.
“We have strong expansion conversations right,” Duffy said Thursday during an interview with Pro Soccer USA. “And we’ll be looking to expand at the right timeline and making sure that we have the right owners that we’re bringing in. Over the next three seasons, we intend to expand, but we’ll always make sure we’re doing that with the right owners coming into the league.”
During previous interviews, Duffy had said expansion would not happen any earlier than 2019. That timeline later moved to the 2020 season.
Meanwhile, MLS power LAFC has frequently had supporters hold up signs during matches begging to add the NWSL’s first team in Los Angeles. It would seem to be a natural fit, with U.S. women’s national team legend Mia Hamm part of the LAFC ownership group.
But the league has reasons to be cautious.
NWSL has survived longer than previous failed U.S. women’s soccer leagues and is in its seventh season.
During the past two years, it saw the Boston Breakers franchise shut down.
In 2017, the Western New York Flash were purchased and relocated to North Carolina. In 2018, FC Kansas City was sold and moved to Utah.
In 2019, the Seattle Reign made a modest shift, relocating to nearby Tacoma and becoming Reign FC.
And during the past year, Sky Blue FC faced intense criticism for poor working conditions and investment in the club. While there have been signs of progress, it is far from the healthiest franchise in the league and is in the midst of a coaching change.
Players have been vocal pushing for the right kind of expansion with owners willing to invest proper resources.
Duffy said NWSL is working to make sure the expansion candidates live up to those expectations while also supporting current teams. That included the announcement Thursday of a new television agreement with ESPN to showcase 14 league games during the remainder of the 2019 season.
“Our owners are doing a lot of work to solidify and stabilize the league and each of the teams in individual markets,” she said. “It’s important that we continue with the path that we’re on with the work that’s going on and continue to build the league the right way.
“… I think we’re well positioned and our expansion conversations are in the right direction with a pace that is right for NWSL.”