The 2017 United Women’s Soccer season began last weekend, with the newly-expanded league taking several strides forward in providing a high-quality developmental experience for women’s soccer in America.
Formed by 11 teams that had previously played in WPSL and the now-defunct W-League, UWS followed up its highly successful first year by adding 12 new teams with 2 departing, giving the league 19 teams across three conferences for the current term.
As described on their website, UWS aims to be a league that bridges the gap between the college and professional game, offering “a summer competitive season that will help the collegiate player evolve & enhance their game for fall competition while giving the post-collegiate player a chance to further develop for the professional and international ranks.”
Real Salt Lake Women continues in the new season as a member of the UWS West Conference, joining fellow returnees Houston Aces and last years’ champions Santa Clarita Blue Heat, as well as league newcomers Calgary Foothills and So Cal Crush. The addition of Calgary is exciting for the young league after having two Canadian clubs denied approval to join by the Canadian Soccer Association for the first season.
The East Conference sees 2016 regular season winners New Jersey Copa FC returning along with New England Mutiny, Long Island Rough Riders, Lancaster Inferno, and New York Magic. The conference also added New York Surf, Rochester Lancers, and Western New York Flash, which is a UWS re-launch of the club that previously played in NWSL and won last season’s championship before that franchise was sold and relocated to North Carolina.
The Midwest Conference is entirely new this year, and carries 7 new clubs into the future of women’s soccer development. Detroit Sun, Toledo Villa FC, Grand Rapids FC, Fort Wayne Gryphons, Michigan Legends, FC Indiana, and Indy Premier make up this big addition to UWS, and each club brings its own unique history and talent to the league.
The competition format will remain largely unchanged for the second year. Teams in the West Conference will still play a total of 8 regular season matches, a balanced set of home and away games. The Midwest and East teams will have 10 matches a year, with some teams not seeing every opponent in the conference, and some teams are not traveling to play away legs against all teams on their schedules.
Playoffs will see a necessary change in their format as well. With the addition of a third conference the field will expand from two conference champions to three, with a fourth team coming from the same conference as the host team. The final dates and locations of the four-team playoff is still yet to be determined by the league.
With the season already underway, it’s an exciting time to see the continued growth and support for women’s soccer in America. With a solid commitment to player development and high standards for membership, UWS should remain a big part of the support structure in the American soccer pyramid.