US Soccer’s relationship with NWSL changing

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U.S. Soccer is no longer managing the National Women’s Soccer League, although some aspects of the partnership remain, NWSL Commissioner Lisa Baird said Tuesday.

Baird spoke on a wide-ranging conference call with reporters ahead of the league‘s draft Wednesday night. She also announced that a franchise in Sacramento would join the NWSL in 2022.

U.S. Soccer‘s management of the NWSL was supposed to come to an end at the close of 2019 but was extended through 2020. The change gives team owners more control over the league.

U.S. Soccer, which has managed the league since its launch in 2013, will continue to invest in the NWSL, Baird said. She characterized the relationship as a “new chapter” with both sides committed to the ongoing success of the league.

“We have a mutual interest in building the best women’s soccer league in the world. That’s what this new partnership will be about,” Baird said. “And we want to continue to lead with initiatives in the areas of performance, like continuing to upgrade and improve the standards of women’s soccer in the United States with sports science, coaching, other things like that. They will continue to invest in our league and we will do so as partners going forward.”

The federation, which has invested an estimated $20 million in the league since its inception, will also continue to pay the salaries of the U.S. national team players allocated across the league, part of the national team’s labor agreement. Details about the relationship are still being worked out but no significant drop in federation funding is expected.

The addition of Sacramento brings the league to 12 teams. Racing Louisville joins the NWSL this season. Sacramento and Angel City FC in Los Angeles come aboard next season.

Details about the Sacramento franchise were not immediately released, but the Sacramento Republic, which will join Major League Soccer in 2023, has long been interested in an expansion team.

The league received a waiver from the NCAA this season that will allow drafted players to remain with their college teams this spring and join the NWSL following the season. The college season was delayed because of the pandemic, although some leagues completed a fall season.

The NWSL’s Board of Governors expanded the pool of available players to all of those who had exhausted three years of college eligibility before the 2020-21 season. Forty-nine players have declared for the draft.

The NWSL‘s 2020 season was shut down because of the coronavirus in March. The league went on to host the Challenge Cup tournament in a bubble in Utah over the summer before a fall series of regional matches in local markets.

Baird said the league is planning a preseason Challenge Cup this year but the details have not been finalized. The regular season is expected to start in mid-May.

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