N.W.S.L.’s First Season From the Outside Looking In

18yael1-articleLargeGOTHENBURG, Sweden — Last month, I lay in bed in Sweden with my computer tuned to the inaugural championship game of the National Women’s Soccer League. It was 2 a.m., and through sleepy eyes I watched the starting lineups walk out in Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester. I couldn’t help but reminisce about my last professional game in the United States — played in that same stadium — the 2011 championship game of Women’s Professional Soccer.

As the Portland Thorns celebrated the championship, I watched on the screen from a different place — literally (across the world in Europe) and mentally — than when I celebrated on that field in 2011 with the Western New York Flash. Since then, I have played for three different clubs: one in Russia, a W-League team in New Jersey and now for Kopparbergs/Goteborg in Sweden. All of a sudden, the new American league seemed foreign to me.

As an outside observer, the coverage of the N.W.S.L. has been excellent. The games have all been available for me to follow, although I have only caught a handful because of the time difference. As much as I do know about the league, I’ve realized there are a lot of areas in which I am out of the loop. Many of the players I know well and have played with over the years, but there were also some unfamiliar faces. Since I played in the U.S., there are also two new franchises — the Thorns and the Seattle Reign.

Playing in W.P.S. was my first professional experience, so I didn’t have much with which to compare. Now, as a slightly more experienced professional, my observations of the N.W.S.L. are influenced by my feel for European women’s soccer and how the game is growing globally, in addition to in the U.S.

In Sweden, while there is fantastic support for the women’s game, there is a different emphasis on marketing and attendance. Damallsvenskan (the Swedish women’s league) games have much smaller turnouts than the numbers I was seeing in N.W.S.L. game reports, but, for the most part, the teams here do not rely on ticket sales as a source of income. Most clubs have a number of local and corporate sponsors who support the team regardless. Hence the extreme number of logos on most Swedish team uniforms, sometimes including ones on the posterior of the shorts.

I am hoping to watch the N.W.S.L. sustain itself and flourish over the coming years. Playing in Europe has opened my eyes to how the plans need to be long-term. Teams in Sweden and in Europe have gradually developed a culture, style and system of play. It’s something I really appreciate about playing abroad and hope to see take place in the U.S. In Sweden, there is a promotion-relegation system with a second league, Champions League spots to aim for and the Swedish Cup. Every team has something to fight for, regardless of its standing in the 12-team first division. This has taken time to evolve, but I’d love to see professional women’s soccer in the U.S. reach that point down the road.

Seeing the photos of the Portland Thorns celebrating their title took me back to 2011, but also took me forward in time with hopes that the league will continue to provide playing opportunities for American, Canadian and Mexican players, and also begin to expand to attract players from elsewhere in the world.

It is an impressive league with wonderful talent and dedicated fans. With my added perspective from playing in Europe, I realize how much N.W.S.L. is truly in its infancy. As Americans, we always look to quickly make things bigger, better and more successful. Like most invested followers and participants, I think there should be some tweaks made to the N.W.S.L. to continue to improve from season to season. After playing elsewhere, however, and seeing that even the leagues with great history and parity are not perfect, I have come to the conclusion that the N.W.S.L.'s opening season was a success.