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Report: NWSL instability means no expansion for now

An explosive new report makes a California team in 2018 unlikely.

2015 NWSL Championship
FC Kansas City in better times.
Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

A very concerning report dropped from FourFourTwo’s Richard Farley on Tuesday, in which many issues were brought up concerning the health of the NWSL.

The article began by examining the struggles at FC Kansas City, under new ownership this year but reportedly running afoul of a slew of minimum standards, leading to speculation the team could or would be sold again and relocated. The report also briefly mentions the Seattle Reign and Boston Breakers appear to be on shaky ground.

Of local concern, beyond the possibility a third of the women’s top-flight league in the U.S. sounds like it’s in considerable trouble, is that it appears the driving engine of expansion, thought at the beginning of this year to be a strong likelihood, has apparently been put on hold indefinitely.

That example of selling and relocating franchises has overtaken expansion as the league’s preferred option. While the additions of Houston (in 2014) and Orlando (2016) helped the league reached its current, 10-team mark, it didn’t address a problem that’s endured since the league’s onset: There are teams that are struggling to survive.

Coming out of the league’s meetings earlier this summer in Chicago, the NWSL began moving away from expansion in favor of stabilization. That was a stark change from earlier this year, when then-NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush was assumed to be finding the league’s 11th and 12th teams before leaving his job. Plush’s departure from the league in March came without the next round of expansion being settled, and with his old position still unfilled, the idea is considered dead, for now.

Instead, the league has turned its attention to shoring up its struggling franchises. Kansas City is the most obvious example, but it is not the only one. The Seattle Reign, according to sources, continue to endure unsustainable losses, while the Boston Breakers are also facing solvency issues. The possibility of contracting to eight teams before the next round of expansion was mentioned by one source, while the NWSL’s divide between big-and-small teams continues to grow.

Given this, if these reports (attributed to multiple unnamed sources in Farley’s report, although he is well-connected) are true, then the hope that California would get an NWSL team in 2018 appears to be dead.

What’s puzzling is that earlier this summer, Spanish giant FC Barcelona publicly expressed a wish to found an NWSL team, with another prominent soccer reporter, Steven Goff, claiming the Barça-backed team would play in the Bay Area. Perhaps there were talks in this direction before the NWSL hit the pause button, or perhaps Barcelona were expressing their hopes for the future more than they were making concrete plans. Either way, this new report indicates that there won’t be any new teams for the foreseeable future.

Of course, there’s a chance that one of the struggling teams could be moved, as Farley’s report indicates, and there is a chance that if that happened they could go to California. But it would be bittersweet to benefit, as fans, at the expense of others, and while Kansas City might be in the air, Boston has one of the longest lasting brands in American soccer and Seattle remains one of the best soccer cities in the country, so assuming any of those teams will pack up and leave seems naïve at best.

Anyway, this latest news seems like a real blow to our hopes that the NWSL will finally, finally come out to California next year. That’s a shame, but if the health of the entire league is at stake with several clubs in trouble these days, it definitely sounds like they need to get their house in order to ensure the league’s survival.

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