This is something I’ve been thinking about since the 2019 NWSL schedule and World Cup schedule were announced. Immediately, the talk was on how many of the international players were going to miss a good portion of the NWSL season. And that’s valid. The U.S. Women National Team players left their NWSL clubs after the second game of the season. Then, the Canadians, followed by the Australians, New Zealanders, Scottish, and so on. We watched teams announce National Replacement Players on the daily and realized how vital those international players are to their NWSL teams. Talking about their absence and the impact of the World Cup is valid.
The World Cup, in its 8th edition, appears to be bigger than 2015, receiving all forms of attention on ads in social media, magazines, Good Morning America, etc. And the media attention is needed and important. The Women’s World Cup should get the same level of attention as the men’s edition. And as a soccer fan, it is exciting to see all the coverage.
BUT...right in the middle of this World Cup, an NWSL season is also happening. The league took a two-week break (and it maybe should have been longer), but now it’s back to business. How many of these outlets will give the league some form of attention? What about the fan excited about the World Cup, especially the many USWNT-adoring fans?
Ah, see. That is where we should talk.
But Cindy, the World Cup happens every four years!
Hey, I’m with you. I’ve been looking forward to this World Cup, too. We should be excited and try to watch every game, and so far, it’s been a good one to follow. From the support the French are giving the France national team to an upset to Australia to Argentina playing with grit to the controversy about the 13-0 USWNT win over Thailand, there’s plenty of story lines to get pumped for the remainder of the tournament.
AND a World Cup for the nation who wins will undoubtedly change the landscape of women’s soccer. Imagine if the U.S. wins again. We remember 1999 (well, a good majority of us) and 2015, and how that sent ripples throughout U.S. Soccer. And we can’t forget how the 2015 World Cup win helped NWSL attendance grow, and I was one of those who took notice post-World Cup...and that is where my next point goes...
The NWSL matters and should matter even more
As great as it is to witness the attention the World Cup is getting, the NWSL in the American sports landscape is still forgotten. ESPN. Fox Sports. You name it. It’s rare that the NWSL is covered like Major League Soccer. Our best bet is to rely on coverage by dedicated soccer writers who cover the league basically for free. Outside of that is the reality that the National Women’s Soccer League is not worth the extensive national coverage, even with names like Alex Morgan in Orlando and Megan Rapinoe in Seattle.
And I think this World Cup cycle is an important time for the NWSL to be relevant just as much as the World Cup. League play resumes this weekend without its international stars, and the World Cup will likely overshadow the league. But I think if the NWSL is going to grow, it has to do without Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press, Tobin Heath, etc. Listen, these players can’t play forever. They will retire in a few years, and the NWSL will have to evolve from relying on international stars.
So as the NWSL resumes play this weekend, pay attention to your local NWSL team or pick one closest to your home or pick Orlando Pride because Alex Morgan plays there, or if you’re reading this, you know that Utah has seven players at the World Cup, and you want to pay more attention to Utah Royals FC because you saw that Kelley O’Hara bossed the right flank on Tuesday.
But more importantly, support your NWSL team because you love the game, regardless of who suits up. The NWSL will carry on without those World Cup players, and it will be here when they return, with or without the World Cup trophy. But also, remember that there are players just as good as those representing the red, white, and blue, who will put on their NWSL kit as the World Cup carries on and represent your city.