Report: USL looks to launch women's league rivaling NWSL, bring in USWNT players

Cassandra Negley
Yahoo Sports Contributor
North Carolina Courage's Debinha, left, works the ball against Chicago Red Stars's Julie Ertz in the NWSL championship. Could they go to a different U.S. league? (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

The United Soccer League is looking into starting a Division I women’s league by 2021 that would reportedly bring in U.S. women’s national team players and compete directly with the National Women’s Soccer League, Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl reported Friday.

This comes two weeks after the NWSL introduced allocation money, though USWNT players would be kept out of the influx of cash.

USL looks into professional women’s soccer league

Some USL owners also own NWSL teams, and the league, which is the second tier in men’s professional soccer in the United States, announced earlier this month plans to include women in the USL Academy. Framed during the announcement as a “first step in our growing commitment to women’s soccer in the United States,” the USL called it a “direct route for ambitious young players to reach the top level of professional soccer.”

From Wahl for Sports Illustrated:

Several ownership groups of USL men’s teams—which play in the second and third divisions on the men’s side—have already confirmed their interest in having a team in the proposed D1 women’s league, one source told SI.com. They are under the belief, the source said, that U.S. Soccer would allocate U.S. women’s national team players to their Division 1 league as it currently does with the NWSL.

 USL spokesperson Ryan Madden had no comment about the news to SI.com, but did say:

“We’re absolutely supporters of the women’s game. And like most soccer fans across the country, we want to see more women being given more opportunities to play the game at whatever level suits them.”

The news is similar to what’s happening in the hockey world, where the National Women’s Hockey League is fighting to grow the sport while fighting other competing forces.

Will USWNT play in new American league?

The USWNT players, who were granted class status in their gender discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, have their NWSL salaries paid for by the federation. The max salary is around $77,500 and U.S. Soccer assigns the players to teams. Players earning separate USWNT salaries are required by the current collective bargaining agreement to play in the NWSL, though they can still make more overseas and can skip the NWSL season once.

Caitlin Murray, who wrote a book on the USWNT, believes the idea players would instead be allocated to a new league under the USL is “misguided.”

NWSL president Amanda Duffy told SI.com “it’s news to me” when asked about the USL plans. The league got a jolt from the World Cup this summer and saw record attendances when the USWNT stars returned to their home clubs. The NWSL is already facing a challenging offseason as U.S. Soccer is expected to step away as the league’s operator.

NWSL’s new salary structure, allocation money

The NWSL announced on Nov. 1 a new salary structure that increases its salary cap starting in the 2020 season. It also introduced allocation money so teams can pay more than the $50,000 cap to pay certain players.

That move comes with fine print as teams cannot use the up to $300,000 extra to pay players from the United States or Canada. It’s intended to bring in talent from other countries, where women’s players are seeing far larger contracts, and keep that talent in the States. Australian star and Golden Boot winner Sam Kerr left the NWSL and signed with Chelsea Women just this week.

USWNT players took issue with being kept out of the investment after they had given their all to starting a league at home for nearly a decade. Megan Rapinoe told Murray and Yahoo Sports that she and her teammates are not opposed to the changes, it’s that the league excluded USWNT players from it, and also from the conversation.

“I’m sorry, that’s just so disrespectful and such a slap in the face to everything that we do to grow this sport in this country,” she said.

That rule change is expected to be addressed in the new CBA after the current one expires in 2021.

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