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NWSL awards Louisville 2021 expansion team

The club will share an ownership group with USL Championship side Louisville City FC.

Louisville will field an NWSL team in 2021. This file photo shows the Louisville, Ky., skyline. (AP Photo/The Courier–Journal, Michael Hayman)

Louisville will be the next city to field a National Women’s Soccer League team, joining the league in 2021.

The team is the fourth expansion side since the NWSL launched in 2013 and the sixth franchise affiliated with a men’s professional team. The ownership group of Louisville City FC, which plays in the second-tier USL Championship and won back-to-back league titles in 2017 and 2018, will operate the NWSL team.

“We are very excited to welcome John Neace and Louisville City FC into the NWSL,” league president Amanda Duffy said. “With the club’s growing, passionate fanbase, coupled with its strong ownership group and its significant investment in a soccer-specific stadium in a downtown location, we are thrilled to bring the highest level of women’s professional soccer to the area.”

Duffy formerly served as the vice president of operations in Louisville City FC’s early days, holding the role from 2014 until she became the NWSL president in 2016.

Louisville has not hosted a top-level professional team since the Kentucky Colonels basketball team folded in the 1970s. The women’s side will officially fill that vacancy for the city, which is still pushing for an Major League Soccer bid as well.

The new team will play at Lynn Family Stadium, a soccer-specific venue that will open this spring with a capacity of 14,000. The ownership group, Soccer Holdings, LLC, hosted a press conference at the stadium Tuesday to announce the NWSL team.

Louisville City FC president Brad Estes hinted at the possibility for combined ticket packages and other joint ventures between the men’s and women’s sides. However, the club is still in the early stages for most of its marketing plans and will announce a logo, crest and colors later this year. An international search for a coach and technical staff will also precede any player announcements, according to a statement released by the league.

“We are incredibly honored to be joining NWSL, the greatest women’s soccer league in the world,” Estes said. “We can’t wait to welcome these incredible athletes with open arms and support them in their mission to win championships. This market is hungry for more pro soccer, and we know our NWSL team will be a shining star in this league and in our community.”

 

The team will participate in the NWSL expansion draft for the 2021 season, which will come at the end of 2020. 

Louisville City joins the NWSL after a banner year for women’s soccer as a whole. NWSL attendance and viewing numbers continued to steadily climb following the World Cup and leading into Sunday’s NWSL Championship match between the North Carolina Courage and the Chicago Red Stars, which will be nationally televised on ESPN. The league also formed a partnership earlier this week with Octagon, a sports and media marketing company that will work with the league on media rights, sponsorships and marketing, among other things.

Louisville would bring the NWSL to 10 teams, but additional expansion teams are expected to be announced by 2021. Sacramento, which just announced an MLS expansion team, is reportedly in advanced talks to be one of those teams. 

As Louisville City FC continues to enjoy success in its league — heading to the USL Championship quarterfinals Saturday — the club’s leadership emphasized it plans to hit the ground running in the NWSL.

“We’re not here to participate,” Estes said. “We’re not here to join the party. In this town, we lift trophies. Period.”

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