Professional women’s soccer in North America has had its ups and downs. In the late 1990s, the international success of the US Women’s National Soccer Team (featuring players Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy) was the driving force behind establishing the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) in 2000, but WUSA folded in 2003 due to financial constraints. In 2009, Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) was set-up to, again, offer elite women soccer players an opportunity to play at a professional level in North America. The WPS, amid internal politics and financial challenges, folded in 2012.
Coming-off of the impressive play displayed by Germany, France, USA, Brazil, and Japan at the FIFA 2011 Women’s World Cup hosted in Germany, and the women’s soccer competitions of the 2012 Summer Olympics in England where Canada played against USA in that infamous semi-final match-up, North America seemed ‘ready’ for a professional women’s league that would deliver long-term. Moreover, the Associations and people directly involved in elite and/or professional women’s soccer in North America were better equipped to successfully establish a league with long-term goals as their directive.
Keeping in mind that the United Soccer Leagues W-League (established in 1995 as a transition league for female college students and professional soccer players alike) has offered elite women’s soccer players a space to play high-level soccer (for instance, many Canadian National women’s soccer players have been a part of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC), W-League has been an option for many players post college or university. Yet the salary and notoriety these players have received in the USL W-League has/is disproportionate to the depth of their experience and skill. (The salary gap between women and men in professional sports is outrageous and a much more complex conversation than I have space to engage with here). Furthermore, establishing a North American women’s soccer league that is exclusive to professional players is an attempt at bringing the infrastructure of the women’s game in North America to a place it deserves (and should have been at a long time ago).
At present, the Canadian, Mexican, and American governments, in conjunction with their respective national soccer associations and sponsors, have committed funding to the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), which was established in 2012. These governments are trying to help stabilize the league as private funding has not worked out for North American professional women’s soccer leagues in the past (see above). And so the NWSL is picking up where WPS left-off and has key international players (Abby Wombach, Alex Morgan, Christine Sinclair, Sidney Leroux, Monica Ocampo, Samantha Kerr, and Hope Solo) on their rosters.
With teams in Boston, Chicago, and Rochester, NY, some NWSL games are a short-drive from Toronto and well worth the road trip. I went to the playoff finals last year in Rochester, NY and saw an excellent match between Portland Thorns and Western New York Flash. For further details about the 2013 NWSL Schedule and Teams, go here: nwslsoccer.com. Attending a NWSL game is an important way to support NWSL as big attendance numbers help to raise its visibility, and viability, both locally and in the media.