After the United States won the World Cup this summer, the message to fans was clear: If you enjoyed watching these women conquer the world, just wait until you see them battle at home in the NWSL. The league usually receives a bump in interest following the tournament, and this year is no different. That interest also highlights a conflict that the NWSL still struggles to navigate: Its best players have a larger priority than NWSL glory.
Take this fall, when the U.S. will play five games around the country, including Sept. 3 at Allianz Field, in what’s being billed as the team’s “Victory Tour.” The issue is that those games are, in some cases, directly in conflict with NWSL match days and add wear and tear on the league’s best players.
U.S. Soccer is well within its rights. Not only does it pay the team’s salaries, but four of the five games come during official FIFA international windows, during which clubs are required to release players anyway. Even so, the NWSL can ill afford to lose its marquee players as it tries to build interest. Those players are the drawing card, but the league can only watch as they play for the national team, their top priority, instead.
• Attendance records around the NWSL are falling. The Chicago Red Stars, averaging just more than 4,000 fans a game, drew 17,388 for their win against North Carolina last week. The Portland Thorns, always the league’s attendance leader, took advantage of the Providence Park expansion to set a record — in a midweek game — by drawing 22,329 fans to a 5-0 drubbing of Houston. Washington and Sky Blue FC sold out home games as well.
• This week saw the debut of the Leagues Cup, an eight-team tournament boasting four of the best teams from Mexico, the Los Angeles Galaxy and three teams that were apparently randomly drawn from the bottom half of the MLS standings. Given MLS’ repeated failure to compete with Liga MX in the CONCACAF Champions League, you won’t be surprised to learn that the Galaxy was the only MLS team to win a quarterfinal. When it comes to interleague competition, MLS is Charlie Brown and Liga MX is Lucy holding the football.
NWSL: North Carolina at Utah, 9 p.m. Saturday, ESPNews. Utah boasts the best defense in the league, with just 10 goals conceded in 12 games. But the Royals can’t score, with 10 goals all year. Welcoming back Christen Press helps the attack, but North Carolina’s stacked lineup only gets better with the addition of Crystal Dunn, Sam Mewis, Abby Dahlkemper and Jess McDonald. Can Utah climb back into the playoff spots?
Writer Jon Marthaler gives you a recap of recent events and previews the week ahead. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org