The Necessity of NWSL
In order to remain a dominant force in the world of women’s national teams, the U.S. needs a domestic professional league. Europe seems to be doing it right. With youth teams feeding into the top division women’s league, other countries are developing their younger, future national team players. And their mainstay national team players are maintaining their level of play.
Without a domestic league, the U.S. can become stagnant in its overall molding of future national team players. So we may have an untouchable team now. But what happens when the “older” stars, like Abby, Boxx, Hope, and Christie retire? Without a league, how do we develop players after college seniors play their last game of the season?
Maybe the saying “third time is a charm” will help out women’s professional soccer this time around. Because if NWSL does not prove to be sustainable, it may be strike one (WUSA), strike two (WPS) and strike three and it is out!
WPS boasted the most talented players from many different countries, especially in its inaugural year in 2009. It truly was the “best league in the world.” The soccer was beautiful. And it was not just because of the household names on the pitch. A lot of hardworking, not-so-common names emerged as unsung heroines.
Because of quality marketing, WPS and its players created women’s soccer superfans. There were player fan groups, like “Marta’s Maniacs” in the corner of the Home Depot Center at Los Angeles Sol games. And there were team fan sections, like The Riptide, which was always ruthless and antagonistic at Harvard Stadium for the Boston Breakers home games (ask my Sol teammate Aya Miyama about the time she took a corner draped in streamers thrown from The Riptide crew).
Struggles of WPS
Each year WPS faced certain adversities, big and small. The poorly structured business model was mostly to blame.
After the 2009 season, my team the Los Angeles Sol folded due to certain business and management disagreements. Fortunately, there were going to be two expansion teams, Philadelphia Independence, and my team for the 2010 season, the Atlanta Beat.
During the middle of the 2010 season, the St. Louis Athletica folded, this time because of financial struggles. Luckily the players were able to be dispersed to the rest of the WPS teams.
And then there was the 2012 season. Players received notification that the league was going to “suspend operations” about a month before they were going to head to their teams for preseason. Even though WPS front office knew about the troubles ahead of them for about six months, their lips were sealed and they pressed on without a foundation to build on.
The past two seasons I tested out the waters of playing in Europe. In 2011, I was almost forced to go abroad. After tearing my ACL the fourth day of preseason with the Atlanta Beat in 2010, WPS coaches were not too sure of my recovery. After WPS suspended operations in 2012, I had a few weeks to find a team to play for. I luckily landed on a team in Finland.
In order to play overseas, most American players use an agency. The most common misconception about having an agent is that you really cannot tell your agent to get you on a certain team. Well, unless you are Marta, it does not work that way.
My agent can express my interest in playing for a team. But usually a team contacts an agency to tell the agency its player needs, whether it be a position or type of player. The agency then goes through the list of clients and their team/country preferences to see if there is a match.
The experience of playing overseas is a whole other chapter that I can write about. I do not regret going to play in Iceland and Finland. I had an amazing experience, on and off the field, in both countries.
NWSL For Me
My first year as a professional with the Los Angeles Sol, for the first season of WPS, I played with and against some of the best players in the world. Personally I think I had a great season. But I knew I was not at my peak yet. I was more than upset when the Sol folded during the offseason. Getting drafted in the dispersal draft to the Atlanta Beat gave me a fresh start. I worked hard during the offseason, and it showed during the first three days of preseason; I was playing the best I have ever played!
I have been able to do those things the past few seasons in Europe. After playing a few seasons at outside back, I unexpectedly enjoyed a few seasons at forward. In Iceland, I was voted to what would be called the All-Star team and scored the most goals on my team. In Finland, I broke the league record for goals (31 goals in 25 games) and was named the Player of the Year for the league.
I can easily go back to another team in Europe and create a similar path. I can without a doubt sign with a team overseas, become a starter without having to prove myself, and rock out on the field.
But what is the fun in that? Well of course it would be fun. But I want to challenge myself. I believe I am playing at my peak and I will be for as long as I want to. Playing against the best players in North America in the NWSL is my answer. Just like the U.S. needs a professional league, I need to play in that league.