The United Soccer League is reportedly planning to establish a division one women’s professional soccer league in the United States as early as 2021, which would directly rival the established National Women’s Soccer League.
According to Sports Illustrated, several ownership groups of clubs in the second-tier USL Championship and third-tier USL League One are interested in establishing teams in this proposed women’s league.
The United States Soccer Federation confirmed that it would be possible to sanction two division one women’s pro leagues. There are currently two sanctioned division three men’s leagues, USL League One and the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA).
There are already close ties between the USL and the NWSL. USL Championship team North Carolina FC already has a sister team in the NWSL, 2019 champions North Carolina Courage, while Louisville City has announced plans to launch a NWSL team in 2021. Meanwhile, Sacramento Republic FC, which is currently in the USL but is moving to Major League Soccer in 2022, is close to launching a NWSL team in 2020.
“It’s news to me,” NWSL president Amanda Duffy told SI about USL’s plans. “From our standpoint, I can say that given the season that we’re coming out of right now, with record-setting attendances and important partnerships that have come into the picture, important expansion conversations and the outlook for the coming years and our player-compensation announcement recently, there are a lot of exciting things that have happened and that we’re working on in the NWSL.”
News of the reported plans led a generally negative response on social media. The NWSL Players Association said in a statement: “We, the NWSL Players, are committed to the growth of the game, but we want to make clear our support of the investment that NWSL ownership groups have made to grow this League. We’d encourage the USL to collaborate with NWSL and together make NWSL the best league in the world.”
Allie Long, US women’s national team and Reign FC player, tweeted: “I guess if USL was serious and truly cared about growing the women’s game they should make this a joint venture with NWSL owners/teams? I am assuming they would be having conversations ab it in near future. If not then they already lost all the fans and 97% of players.”
The NWSL is preparing for a transition in the off-season, with US Soccer expected to step away from its management role in the coming months. In preparation of this, the NWSL has appointed Octagon as a consultant to advise the league on its media- and marketing-rights strategy globally for the next three seasons.