Late last fall, U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati revealed the then-debuting National Women’s Soccer League was unlikely to expand for the 2014 season. The same eight teams which began the latest attempt at North American women’s professional soccer would continue carrying the torch in year two. With rumored interest from multiple Major League Soccer teams having persisted throughout the season, the decision was looked at by some as a missed opportunity, by most as opting toward stability. Regardless, the issue was thought to be settled, for now.
But that ‘now’ lasted far shorter than expected thanks to Chris Canetti, the president of MLS’s Houston Dynamo. This week, Canetti confirmed Houston’s interest in emulating the Portland Timbers and starting a sister team in the NWSL. Today, the Dynamo executive took another step, taking to his Twitter account to announce the team was ready to start gauging interest:[tweet https://twitter.com/ChrisCanetti/status/403657526282973184 width=450 align=center] [tweet https://twitter.com/ChrisCanetti/status/403657639176859648 width=450 align=center]
Canetti went on to say the deposit is only $25 per ticket, the team presumed to be playing at BBVA Compass Stadium, home of the Dynamo. The league’s ninth franchise would also be its most southern geographically, with the league’s only other team outside the country’s northern half being FC Kansas City.
But what of Gulati’s declaration about expansion? The league’s stance now seems to be a never say never policy. If an opportunity like Houston came up — a stable organization that presents a unique opportunity to add another MLS partner — why would you say no? Portland was by far and away the league’s most successful franchise last season (not only winning the league title but drawing 13,320 per game), largely because they were able to build on the foundation laid by the Timbers. Who wouldn’t want another team that could utilize that recipe?
Of course, that’s what people were asking last season. The general response: Stability was more important, a view that didn’t quite make sense. If the goal is to establish a league that can survive the dreaded three-year curse (WUSA and WPS never playing a fourth season), why wouldn’t you want a partner that’s unlike to fold any time soon? Whereas multiple NWSL teams are struggling to prove their semi-pro viability can translate to professional stability, a organization like the Dynamo would strengthen the ranks. More teams with a better chance at long-term survival shouldn’t be ignored in favor of year-to-year consistency.
There are a number of players overseas looking for opportunities at home, whether you’re talking about U.S. national team-caliber players like Christen Press or Meghan Klingenberg or the myriad journey-women players hopping around, trying to make a living. With the popularity of women’s college soccer, the NCAA ranks are producing enough players to stock these teams. And with a lower salary base augmented by subsidies from U.S. and Canadian soccer, it’s not hard to take a franchise from zero to playing in a few months times.
At one point, though, those subsidies are going to go away. It may happen after the 2016 Summer Olympics. Right now, this league wouldn’t survive without the federations paying for each squad’s best talent. If there were more teams like the Portland Thorns, however, the NWSL would have a better chance at survival come 2017.
The big question is whether Houston would be in it for the long run, but that’s what this test is about. If the Dynamo get enough commitments to mitigate the costs of running the team, it sounds like they’ll push forward. We’ll get a chance to see if Texas is truly ready for women’s professional soccer.
And if the response is light? The NWSL gets that low-risk, low-reward consistency people seemed to want.