3 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About the National Women’s Soccer League

This past weekend, I took a trip to Winnipeg, Manitoba.  Thanks to Vanessa Martinez, a friend and colleague of mine and the Head Coach of the University of Manitoba Bison’s Women’s Soccer Team, I had the opportunity to attend some Women’s World Cup matches at the U of M’s beautiful new stadium, and also to tour the rest of the soccer and athletic facilities of the campus.  During the trip, I also got to speak at length with Coach Martinez and her staff, and in the process I learned a lot of things that changed come of my misconceptions about women’s soccer in general, and the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL; a new professional soccer league for women that was founded in 2013) in particular.    Below is a summary of the three things I – and probably many others – didn’t know about the National Women’s Soccer League:

  1. The top professional players in the NWSL are paid – and paid well.

First of all, when examining salaries of professional athletes, it is important to keep everything in perspective.  It is not realistic to expect to see women’s professional players in a new league like the NWSL, which is barely 2 years old, make the kind of money that the big stars of European leagues, or even Major League Soccer, are making.  What I found surprising, however, was that the top players in the NWSL are able to earn a good living, plus benefits, while working 6 months of the year, and in most cases also getting cost of living expenses paid for.  I have been guilty for a long time of advising young female players that “there is no money in women’s professional soccer,” but this simply is not the case anymore.  The average salaries of the W.P.S.L. range from $6,000 to $30,000, and are growing each year.  The best players in the NWSL, however, area paid well.  Abby Wambach, star striker for the United States National Team and for the Western New York Flash in NWSL, for example, will earn $190,000 in 2015.  Marta, the Brazilian forward and one of the greatest female players ever to play the game, will earn an incredible $400,000 this year.  Of course, these players and many others will also be earning a lot more revenue from advertising and sponsors in addition to their salaries from the NWSL.  Two of our top Canadian Women’s National Team players, Adriana Leon ($36,000) and Rhiann Wilkinson ($54,000) are also among the top 10 highest paid players in the NWSL.

  1. The FA’s of the three largest CONCACAF Countries – U.S.A., Canada, and Mexico – have partnered with the NWSL to ensure its long-term success.

Another unique aspect of the NWSL that I was really surprised to hear about was the agreement that the league has in place with the Football Associations of the three largest CONCACAF countries (U.S.A., Canada, and Mexico).  Spearheaded by United States Soccer Federation (USSF) President Sunil Gulati, the WPSL has secured contracts with the USSF; the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA); and the Mexican Football Federation (MFF), whereby all U.S., Canadian, and Mexican Women’s National Team players playing in the NWSL will have their entire salaries paid for by their home country’s Football Association.  What this means for the NWSL is that a huge chunk of all teams’ salary budget (Abby Wambach is a great example of this) will be alleviated, allowing for more money to be spent on young up-and-coming players and/or foreign star players.  This is a unique move that is really unprecedented in women’s or men’s professional soccer (imagine the USSF paying Toronto FC star Michael Bradley’s $6.5 million per year salary!).  It is both surprising and refreshing to see that the Canadian Soccer Association has committed to this agreement and to help its top players develop in the highest level “domestic” league they can.

  1. Many – if not all – of the players in the NWSL have college or university degrees, meaning they have not sacrificed their education for a career in professional soccer.

I think that this is the one fat about the NWSL that resonated most with me, because of the amount of time I have spent in university soccer, first as a player and then as an Assistant Coach and Fitness Coach with several different women’s university teams.  I grew up in an era in men’s soccer where, by the time you had been accepted into a university program, you had basically zero chance of becoming a professional soccer player, regardless of how good you were.  Things have changed a bit with the development of Major League Soccer and its college draft, but in the men’s game the chances of becoming a pro at the age of 22 or 23 – when most young adults finish their undergraduate education – are still slim.  This is because, in most men’s professional soccer leagues around the world, players can be signed as professionals when they turn 18, so often the more talented players are forced to forego their education beyond high school if they decide to become a professional player.  In the NWSL, the opposite is almost always true.  Most of the female players in the nine-team league are drafted by clubs at the conclusion of their college or university undergraduate education.  Also, in many cases, players will continue their post-graduate education while playing in the league, as the spring/summer schedule does not interfere with typical fall/winter school schedules.  What this means in the long run for young, talented, aspiring female soccer players is that they will not be forced to choose at the age of 18 between getting an education and becoming a professional soccer player.  Indeed, our current Canadian Women’s National Team is full of players who hold either a university undergraduate diploma or higher, or are presently in school working towards their degrees, while at the same time are playing professionally and earning money in the NWSL.

Speaking with an experienced coach like Coach Martinez, who has been a National Team player (with Mexico), an NCAA Division I College Player (with the University of Texas), and a women’s professional league player (in the German Women’s Bundesliga), was a very eye-opening experience for me.  After learning more about the NWSL and how they are helping to develop the female game, I am now a lot more optimistic about the future of women’s soccer in North America in general, and in Canada in particular.

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