This week, we focus on the NWSL as it started pre-season camps on February 1, looking in detail at their first collective bargaining agreement with the Players Association, along with some major player and coaching news at the club level. We also look at the divisional alignment for the USL W-League's relaunch season in 2022. Finally, we briefly summarise the final results in the 2022 Women's Asian Cup, which doubled as the regional 2023 Women's World Cup Qualifiers.
NWSLPA Signs a First Collective Bargaining Agreement with the League, averting a boycott of training camps
On January 31, one day before players were due to report to the twelve teams for pre-season training, the NWSL Players Association ratified their first-ever Collective Bargaining Agreement in NWSL history. The Players Association had previously said that they would not report to training camps without a completed CBA. NWSLPA President Tori Huster [who played for years with the Washington Spirit] said, "From our inception, the Players Association has put players first. Our mission in this historic CBA was to put this same philosophy at the center of [the] NWSL's future. With the amount of care and attention that we have given this process since Fall 2020, we are proud that players can confidently enter the tenth season of the NWSL in a better position than ever before."
NWSL Interim CEO Marla Messing stated, "This is a historic moment for women's soccer in the United States. This transformative agreement represents deserved advancements for our players, including significantly stronger compensation packages and benefits, enhanced training and playing environments, and a long-term commitment to continually improve the standards we all regard as essential to securing our position as the best women's soccer league in the world. Our owners are committed to providing the significant and unprecedented investment required to build and sustain a professional women's soccer league that properly supports our players, both as professional soccer players and as individuals. We thank the NWSLPA leadership and the players for their thoughtful approach on the CBA and look forward to continuing to collaborate with them to create the best environment for our players to succeed."
This negotiation process started last year and was affected with the multiple findings of abuse of players by team coaches and other officials. Forty bargaining sessions were held in total and, according to the NWSLPA, more than 30 current NWSL players devoted hundreds of hours to the ultimately successful effort.
The new CBA includes the following major components
The annual player minimum salary will now be $35,000 (up from $22,000 in 2021), with 4% annual increases. The minimum salary increases rises by almost 60% since 2021.
Total compensation, including salary, free housing, transportation, fully-vested 401(k) contributions, health, life and disability insurance, among other material benefits, raises the average total compensation by more than 30% to $54,000 compared to the 2021 season.
The players will also have opportunities for additional bonus payments (for awards, etc.), such a being compensated for certain promotional and commercial appearances and participate revenue sharing, introducing the opportunity for players to receive 10% of the net broadcast revenues, if the league is profitable in years 3, 4, and 5 of the CBA. In addition, the NWSL will commit $255,000 to $300,000 per year for group license rights.
In 2023, individuals who have six years of service with the NWSL will receive full Free Agency. In 2024, individuals who have three years of service in the NWSL will receive Restricted Free Agency. In 2024, individuals who have five years of service in the NWSL will receive full Free Agency.
Players who are waived (released by the club) will receive 4 weeks' severance pay + 30 days housing and health insurance.
Players are ensured a fixed season with start and end windows, as well as limits on the maximum number of games in a season and on the frequency of games. Additionally, players will be guaranteed 42 days of vacation, a seven-day summer break (in season), 8 weeks parental leave for new birth or adoptive parents, leave and salary continuation for pregnant players, and mental health leave for up to 6 months, for players who need it. There will also be strong worker's compensation coverage, professional minimum staffing standards for team healthcare professionals (which some teams have skimped on in the past to save money). Teams will be required to have, at a minimum, a team physician, massage therapist, sports scientist, sports psychologist, and team clinician to provide mental health services. The league will employ a physician as its Medical Director.
The league also promised to do away with using fields that needed substantial conversion to the sport (i.e., baseball stadiums in Tacoma, Washington and Kansas City which were used last season).
The NWSLPA concluded its announcement with this emotional statement, "To the Players who came before us: We stand on your shoulders. We hope we made you proud."
This is an important agreement for the growth of the professional sport in America. The Players Association had the leverage from all of the dirty laundry that came out last year regarding the abuse of players for years and now have a firm commitment from owners to do better, so even with the February 1 deadline, we never felt that a strike would take place and that an agreement would be reached by the deadlines. There are so many good aspects from the agreement for the players involved, ranging from salary boosts to standards for fields and facilities, mental health resources and other gains. The players were particularly interested in the free agency issue, which has long been a bugaboo during Major League Soccer negotiations over the years. This is a very good start to a new 2022, which will see two exciting new teams in California and a new focus on the players well-being within the NWSL.
NWSL Player Movement
Portland Thorns acquire Japanese international Hina Sugita for 2022.
An interesting signing for 2022 by the Portland Thorns FC is Japanese international Hina Sugita, for whom they acquired her rights through a transfer with INAC Kobe Leonessa in exchange for allocation money. Following the transfer, the midfielder was signed to a three-year contract. Sugita (24) has earned 27 caps with 19 starts and scored two goals with the Japan Women's National Team, featuring at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup. A standout with the U-20 and U-17 teams, Sugita helped Japan finish third at the 2016 U-20 Women's World Cup. She played in all six matches and won the Golden Ball as the most valuable player of the tournament. With the U-17s, Sugita played at the 2012 and 2014 U-17 Women's World Cup. In 2014, she helped guide Japan to a championship title, scoring five goals in five matches to earn Golden Ball honors.
At the professional level, Sugita made her debut with Japanese side INAC Kobe Leonessa in 2015. This season with INAC in the new WE-League, Sugita appeared in nine matches (nine starts), tallying one goal, with the team unbeaten to start the season at the top of the table.
Lindsey Horan is leaving Portland for Olympique Lyon in France on Loan
U.S. women's national team member Lindsey Horan is leaving the Portland Thorns to join Olympique Lyon on loan through June of 2023. She will return to the Thorns at that time, with whom she signed a contract extension through the 2025 season. She previously played in France for Paris St. Germain after high school, signing in 2012 before returning to the U.S. and Portland in 2016, where she played with for six seasons. She will play with fellow U.S. women's national team midfielder Catarina Macario at Lyon. The French powerhouse is currently 12-0-0 and leading the Division 1 Feminine, outscoring opponents 53-6. They won 14 consecutive league titles from 2007 through 2020 but finished second last season to PSG. With the Americans, Horan has 25 goals and 34 assists in 108 games.
Washington Spirit Transfer Saori Takarada to Linkoping of Sweden
The Washington Spirit have completed a transfer to send defender Saori Takarada to Linköping FC of the Swedish Damallsvenskan. Takarada joined the Spirit on December 1, 2020 on a two-year deal from Nadeshiko League club [now WE-League] Cerezo Osaka Sakai Ladies. The Tateyama, Japan native appeared in 10 games for the Spirit, starting six of those matches. At the Tokyo Olympics, Takarada represented the national team, starting and playing all 90 minutes against Chile in the final group stage match. In 2021, Takarada started five matches for the national team, playing 90 minutes in four of those matches. In a June match against Ukraine, Takarada scored her first international goal at the senior level.
American Ellie Jean returns from the Netherlands to join NJ/NY Gotham FC for 2022
NJ/NY Gotham FC signed defender Ellie Jean to a one-year contract with a one-year option. Jean returns to the United States after most recently playing for PSV Eindhoven of the Women's Eredivisie in the Netherlands. The former Penn State University star will begin her NWSL career with Gotham FC. The 24-year-old defender most recently appeared in 22 Women's Eredivisie matches and four UEFA Women's Champions League matches for PSV Eindhoven. A Coventry, Connecticut native, Jean frequently featured for the United States Women's National Team at the U-23, U-20, and U-18 levels.
K.C. Current transfers two internationals to Europe and signs a new head coach
Kansas City Current have made some key player and coaching decisions ahead of the 2022 season. They have transferred two of their internationals from last season to European clubs, with Scottish international Rachel Corsie moving to Aston Villa in the English Super League and Portuguese forward Jessica Silva returning home to play for Benfica in the Portuguese Campeonato Nacional Feminino.
Rachel Corsie was one of the original players assigned to Kansas City's expansion roster from the former Utah Royals in December 2020. She appeared in 18 games for Kansas City in 2021. The veteran defender joined the NWSL in 2015 with the Seattle Reign, making 44 appearances for the club, including in the 2015 NWSL Championship game. After a short loan to Glasgow City in 2017, Corsie signed with the Royals for the 2018 season. She has been the captain of Scotland's national team, which she led to the 2019 WWC Finals, their debut appearance.
Jéssica Silva was signed by Kansas City before the start of the 2021 regular season. She started five games for Kansas City in 2021 and provided a spark off the bench in an additional nine games for a total of 548 minutes. The speedy forward now returns to Europe where she has played for Swedish side Linköpings FC, Portugal's Clube de Albergaria, Spanish Premier Division Levante Unión Deportiva and Olympique Lyonnaise (OL) of the French Division 1 Féminine.
The Current has also named Mere, England-native Matt Potter as its new head coach. Potter coached the women's teams at Washington State University (2003-11) and the University of Oklahoma (2012-19). He also has coached the U.S. U-23 national team. Wales native Huw Williams coached the first-year team in 2021. He was re-assigned to a position in the club's technical department after it finished with a 3-14-7 record.
Liverpool Women sign former NWSL striker Katie Stengel
Liverpool Women has signed American forward Katie Stengel (29) on a two-and-a-half-year deal with her former Boston Breaker head coach Matt Beard at Liverpool. Stengel played with the Washington Spirit, Utah Royals, Boston Breakers, and Houston Dash in the NWSL, Western Sydney Wanderers and Newcastle Jets in Australia, won a league title in Germany with Bayern Munich and played with Norwegian side Valerenga last season after being released by Houston in May of 2021. She was a U.S. youth international and was on the U.S. side's World Champions U-20 team in 2012.
Matt Beard explained her signing, "She's an athletic forward who's good in tight spaces. We only worked together briefly [at Boston Breakers] but she's a good finisher and it's important we have options in those positions where we've had some injuries and keep up competition for places. She's an intelligent football player who will be a real help to the team in the second half of the season."
Liverpool is leading the Championship (10-2-1 W-D-L for 32 points)—the second league in England—by seven points over second place London City Lions and the lone promotion spot back to the WSL, after being relegated after the 2019-20 season. Liverpool won two WSL titles under Beard in 2013 and 2014.
USL W League Announces Team Line-up for 2022 Season
The United Soccer League (USL) today confirmed 43 clubs will compete in the W-League's inaugural 2022 season. The elite pre-professional league will begin play this May with seven divisions comprised of teams from 20 different states. The USL launched the W League in June of 2021 with eight initial members and has since welcomed 35 additional clubs. The W League's founding membership includes four clubs from the men's USL Championship, five clubs from the men's USL League One, 24 clubs from the men's summer amateur USL League Two [formerly known as the Premier Development League], and 10 new USL expansion markets. The clubs will be arranged into seven divisions for the 2022 season: the Deep South, Great Lakes, Heartland, Metropolitan, Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Southeast. Full membership for six of the divisions is outlined below, while the league is continuing to finalize the Mid-Atlantic division configuration.
Joel Nash, Vice President of Youth and Pre-Professional for the USL said, "When we set out to build the W League, we made it a focus to involve key stakeholders who have been driving the women's game forward both inside and outside the USL. That sense of community laid the foundation that these clubs are building upon. There are ample stories that have already been told to this point, but players showcasing their talent to thousands of fans across the country and world will be the story we can all celebrate in 2022."
2022 W-League Line-up
Chattanooga Red Wolves SC (Chattanooga, Tenn.)
Tennessee Soccer Club (Franklin, Tenn.)
Peachtree City MOBA (Peachtree, Ga,)
South Carolina United Bantams (Columbia, S.C.)
South Georgia Tormenta FC (Statesboro, Ga.)
Southern Soccer Academy (Marietta, Ga.)
AFC Ann Arbor (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Detroit City FC (Detroit, Mich.)
Flint City AFC (Flint, Mich.)
Indy Eleven (Indianapolis, Ind.)
Kalamazoo FC (Kalamazoo, Mich.)
Kings Hammer FC (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Midwest United FC (Grand Rapids, Mich.)
Racing Louisville FC (Louisville, Ky.)
Chicago City SC (Chicago, Ill.)
Chicago Dutch Lions FC (Chicago, Ill.)
Green Bay Glory (Green Bay, Wis.)
Minnesota Aurora FC (Minneapolis, Minn.)
Kaw Valley FC (Lawrence, Kan.)
St. Louis Lions (St. Louis, Mo.)
AC Connecticut (Newtown, Conn.)
Cedar Stars (Teaneck, N.J.)
FA Euro New York (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Long Island Rough Riders (Long Island, N.Y.)
Manhattan SC (Manhattan, N.Y.)
Morris Elite SC (Morris County, N.J.)
Queensboro FC (Queens, N.Y.)
Westchester Flames (Westchester, N.Y.)
Mid-Atlantic* (additional club(s) to be announced)
Christos FC (Baltimore, Md.)
Eagle FC (Mechanicsburg, Pa.)
Northern Virginia FC (Leesburg, Va.)
Patuxent Football Athletics (Patuxent, Md.)
Asheville City SC (Asheville, N.C.)
Charlotte Independence (Charlotte, N.C.)
Greenville Triumph SC (Greenville, S.C.)
North Carolina Courage U23s (Cary, N.C.)
North Carolina Fusion (Greensboro, N.C.)
Wake FC (Holly Springs, N.C.)
Caledonia SC (Lakeland, Fla.)
Florida Elite Soccer Academy (Jacksonville, Fla.)
Miami AC (Miami, Fla.)
FC Miami City (Miami, Fla.)
Tampa Bay United (Tampa, Fla.)
Note: Due to stadium construction timelines, the USL W League club in Spokane, Washington will begin play in 2022.
China PR wins 2022 Women's Asian Cup—Vietnam Qualifies for its first ever Women's World Cup Finals
China won their eleventh Women's Asian Cup on February 6 and their first title since 2006 with a 3-2 win over Korea Republic, coming back from a 2-0 halftime deficit. China has not lost to Korea Republic in their last 8 meetings. China and Korea Republic have both qualified for the 2023 Women's World Cup in Australia/New Zealand. In addition, Japan and the Philippines, who both lost in the semifinals—Japan on penalty kicks after a 2-2 tie with China and Korea Republic 2-0 winners over the Philippines—also move on to the WWC Finals.
For those teams who lost in the quarterfinals (see last week's column: The Week in Women's Football: Asian Cup recap; Matildas eliminated; Japan, China qualify - Tribal Football), Australia is already in automatically as a co-host and the three other nations played a mini-group to determine the final automatic place in AU/NZ 2023.
Vietnam qualified in the fifth automatic spot from Asian with a 2-1 win over Chinese Taipei on February 6. On February 2, Vietnam defeated Thailand 2-0 while on February 4, Chinese Taipei knocked Thailand out of the reckoning with a 3-0 triumph. Thailand, which has qualified for the last two World Cup Finals, and Chinese Taipei, who qualified for the first finals in 1991, will now go into the ten team intercontinental playoffs for two more spots in 2023. All credit to the Vietnam players and the Federation, who have invested in the Women's National Team and sent the team on an important and beneficial pre-tournament training camp in Spain, where they played friendlies with professional club teams. They will be an interesting team to follow next year at their debut Finals and we will be curious to see if they add to their all domestic-based side with any of their diaspora from America, elsewhere in Asia or in Europe.
Tim Grainey is a contributor to Tribal Football. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham on the global game of women's football. Get yours copy today.
Follow Tim on Twitter: @TimGrainey