The Female CONCACAF Paradox: America
The sign of a great footballing nation is the ability to run a duality with a national team and a decent league system. England possesses the Three Lions plus the Premier League, Germany aren’t bad on the national scene (Russia 2018 aside, lol), they boast the Bundesliga. France is supposedly World Champions, well Ligue 1… errr, it’s ok...
The US dominates the women’s game with eight major honours in the last ten years. Few argue there’s a better ladies national team than those donning the Stars and Stripes.
Using the above formula, there’s fair anticipation that US soccer can facilitate a storied as well as a competitive division for the women to play in, befitting for their national team, their accomplishments, and service to the sport/country.
Well…the… NWSL. It falls short of the mark. Which isn’t the women’s league we were all given the impression of from Bend it like Beckham, (the British movie painted an idyllic set up for ladies football in America) nor the equivalent value of the international system. In fact, in the time since the movie’s been out the league system has seen five major rehauls. That’s five times between 2002 to the present date, that the division has fallen apart and had to been pieced back together with a different initialism. WUSA, WPS, W-League, WPSL-Elite, how much more can they take?
Each of which lasted an average of 3.2 years. Meaning that each incarnation of women's league football usually opens only to close within 39 months.
What makes NWSL different? Well, for one it’s exceeded the average. In fact, it’s longevity made the above statistics better. Without its numbers, we’ve seen four major rebrands in just ten years; making the average duration much shorter. The NWSL formed in 2012, so already bests its predecessors have made it to an unheard of the sixth year.
Yet when you compare this outfit to the national…the gulf is so apparent. The national team usually play in front of crowds of ten-thousands and more. This year the attendances have been high as the supporters enjoyed this 13-game unbeaten spell the side has put together for the year, so far. They’ve beaten Brazil, England, Japan, China - the top teams of the female game.
This set of women are potentially the greatest team in female soccer history to ever walk the earth, but they do not walk the earth above it as they are goddesses.
Eight of those women I’ve just been speaking about play for the NWSL side, North Carolina Courage. They run parallel with the USWNT, both top of their respective completion. NCC hold a vice-like grip on the division with a 15 point lead over their closest opposition. They’ve beaten both PSG as well as Olympic Lyonnaise in intercontinental competition (the French clubs are considered exceptional in Europe).
Still, attendances are low. The average for the last seven home games of the season for the side is just over 6,000 - played in a stadium which can fit another 4,000 more. Whether as USWNT wouldn’t even dream of playing in such confined spaces. The demand for tickets simply wouldn’t allow it.
As I said earlier, a good percentage of USWNT members play their club level football at NCC. Thusly creating even more paradoxical matter. Americans won’t follow the same players due to a different shirt. It is worth noting that NCC isn’t a particularly old team, being brought from the ashes of a New York club - obviously being relocated some 500+ miles south taking them across a few states. This probably didn’t help the fanbase - but given the fresh enthusiasm, start-up nature of the league, you’d still expect a club having USA international heroes to do better than this.
Indeed, the NWSL has outlasted others, but it’s technically in decline. In its six-year history, two teams dropped out, with only one stepping in. Making the odd nine league system, in which of course - there’s a four-team playoff. The instability is telling as the NWSL purists may even pass off as a homage to the history of women’s football in the US. When the top team of superstars can’t fill their tiny ground, the others don’t stand a chance.
Right now, we have to label the league as uncompetitive. Which is a little disenchanting for any follower. Any league where a team wins one game all season must be examined. By comparison, the winners completely polarise the division by winning next to every game they play. Then again, that’s why the USWNT are so popular. There are so many overlapping attributes between the league and national side, it’s hard to see why USWNT fans aren’t NWSL fans.
We can’t even say that the non-NCC US nationals have flocked the nest having left the US division to play overseas. Right now all of the members from the latest squad are playing in the domestic league. The head begins to hurt at this point.
In my journalistic career, I’ve been able to speak to some NWSL players, most of which refuse to speak about the juxtaposition between the league when comparing to the national setup. One even claimed she didn’t understand my question about it, three times before I changed the topic.
The whole subject is black hole waiting to crumble on itself and spew the top Americans out to other more desirable leagues. I’d love to share the answers, but there are unfathomable as well as being absent. The US Women are great, but the NWSL ones (who are the same women) just can’t keep a league going nor attract fans.
Should you want to voluntarily enter this black hole, you can check the NWSL semi-finals taking place this weekend or next month for the CONCACAF women’s championships. Enter at your own mind-bending risk.