National Women's Soccer League

For the former Australian league, see Women's National Soccer League.
National Women's Soccer League
Country United States
Confederation CONCACAF (North America)
Founded 2012
Number of teams 10
Level on pyramid 1
Current champions Western New York Flash (1st title)
Current NWSL Shield Portland Thorns FC (1st shield)
Most championships FC Kansas City (2 titles)
Most NWSL Shields Seattle Reign FC (2 shields)
2016 NWSL season

The National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) is a professional women's soccer league, run by the United States Soccer Federation. At the top of the United States league system, it is the country's primary competition for the sport. The NWSL was established in 2012 as a successor to Women's Professional Soccer (2007–2012). The league began play in 2013 with eight teams; four of which were former members of Women's Professional Soccer.[1][2][3] With the addition of two expansion teams in Houston and Orlando since the league's founding, it now has 10 teams based throughout the United States.[4]

Since the league's inaugural 2013 season, three clubs have claimed the NWSL Shield and three clubs have been crowned NWSL Champions. The current shield winner is Portland Thorns FC, who finished first in the 2016 season. The current champions are the Western New York Flash, who won their first NWSL title in the 2016 playoffs.

Competition format

The NWSL season runs from April–September with each team scheduled for 20 regular season games, 10 each of home and road.[5] At the end of the regular season, the team with the highest point total is awarded the regular season title. The four clubs with the most points from the regular season standings qualify for the NWSL playoffs, which consist of two semifinal single knockout matches (1 seed plays 4; 2 seed plays 3), with the winner of each semifinal advancing to the championship final hosted by the team with most regular season points.[6]



After Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) officially folded in April 2012, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) announced a roundtable for discussion of the future of women's professional soccer in the United States. The meeting, which included representatives from USSF, WPS teams, the W-League, and the Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL), was held in June and resulted in the planning of a new league set to launch in 2013 with 12–16 teams, taking from each of the three leagues. Compared to WPS, the teams would have a relatively low salary cap of $500,000,[7] though this was later lowered to $200,000.[8]

NWSL Major Trophy Winners
Season NWSL Champions
Play-off winners
NWSL Shield
Regular season winners
2013 Portland Thorns FC Western New York Flash
2014 FC Kansas City Seattle Reign FC
2015 FC Kansas City Seattle Reign FC
2016 Western New York Flash Portland Thorns FC

In November 2012, it was announced that there would be eight teams in a new women's professional soccer league that was yet to be named at the time of the announcement, subsidized by the USSF, the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) and the Mexican Football Federation (FMF). The three federations would pay for the salaries of their national team players (24 from the US, 16 from Canada, and 12 to 16 from Mexico) to aid the teams in creating world-class rosters while staying under the salary cap. The players would be distributed evenly (as possible) among the eight teams in an allocation process. USSF would run the league offices and set the schedule.[9]

On November 29, 2012, it was announced that Cheryl Bailey had been named Executive Director in the new league. Bailey had previously served as General Manager of the United States women's national soccer team from 2007 to 2011, which included leading the support staff for the U.S. team during the 2007 and 2011 FIFA Women's World Cups, as well as the 2008 Summer Olympics. During her tenure with the women's national team, she was in charge of all areas of administration including interfacing with clubs, team travel, payroll, and working with FIFA, CONCACAF, and other federations.[10]

Early years

The first NWSL game was held on April 13, 2013, as the Portland Thorns visited FC Kansas City, playing to a 1-1 draw in front of a crowd of 6,784 fans at Shawnee Mission District Stadium. Renae Cuellar scored the first goal in league history.[11][12] The 2013 season saw regular-season attendance average 4,270, with a high of 17,619 on August 4 for Kansas City at Portland.[13][14]

NWSL became the first U.S. professional women's soccer league to reach nine teams with the expansion of the MLS-backed Houston Dash in 2014; expansion interest, particularly from MLS teams, has continued.[15][16] The third season saw a shortened schedule and some early-season roster instability due to the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup in Canada, but the World Cup also provided exposure to the NWSL, which was credited with boosting attendance numbers across the league.[15]


Locations National Women's Soccer League teams.

Ten NWSL teams are spread across the United States. Each club is allowed a minimum of 18 players on their roster, with a maximum of 20 players allowed at any time during the season.[17]

Originally, each team's roster includes up to three allocated American national team players, up to two allocated Mexico women's national team players, and up to two Canadian allocated national team players via the NWSL Player Allocation and subsequent trades.[18] In addition, each team has three spots available for international players.[19] The remaining roster spots must be filled by domestic players from the United States. Teams fill their rosters via a number of drafts and 4-6 discovery player signings.[17]

National Women's Soccer League
Team Stadium Capacity City Founded Joined Head coach
Boston Breakers Jordan Field 4,000 Boston, Massachusetts 2007 2013 Matt Beard
Chicago Red Stars Toyota Park 20,000 Bridgeview, Illinois 2006 2013 Rory Dames
FC Kansas City Swope Soccer Village[20] 3,557 Kansas City, Missouri 2012 2013 Vlatko Andonovski
Houston Dash BBVA Compass Stadium 7,000[n 1][21] Houston, Texas 2013 2014 Randy Waldrum
Orlando Pride Camping World Stadium 61,348 Orlando, Florida 2015 2016 Tom Sermanni
Portland Thorns FC Providence Park 20,438 Portland, Oregon 2012 2013 Mark Parsons
Seattle Reign FC Memorial Stadium 6,000[n 2] Seattle, Washington 2012 2013 Laura Harvey
Sky Blue FC Yurcak Field 5,000 Piscataway, New Jersey 2007 2013 Christy Holly
Washington Spirit Maryland SoccerPlex 5,200 Boyds, Maryland 2012 2013 Jim Gabarra
Western New York Flash Rochester Rhinos Stadium 13,768 Rochester, New York 2008 2013 Paul Riley
  1. BBVA Compass Stadium has a capacity of slightly over 22,000, but seating is restricted to 7,000 for Dash games.
  2. Memorial Stadium has a capacity of 12,000, but seating is restricted to 6,000 for Reign games.


Main article: NWSL expansion

Soon after launch, the league reportedly planned to expand to ten teams for 2014.[22] Potential candidates included groups not accepted as part of the original eight; groups from the Los Angeles area (joint effort from the LA Strikers and Pali Blues)[23] and from Hartford, Connecticut[24] were confirmed failed bids, as was one from the Seattle Sounders Women. There was speculation that the Vancouver Whitecaps Women could be logical candidates especially given the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup in Canada; however, the Whitecaps cancelled their women's program (except for one U-18 academy team) in December 2012.

During the inaugural season, there were rumors of expansion interest from MLS teams Toronto FC[25][26] and the New York Red Bulls,[27] as well as confirmed interest from WPSL side the Houston Aces.[28] NWSL team owners hinted that expansion for 2014 was not a question of "if" but "how many".[29][30] Despite this, it was announced during the playoffs that there would be no expansion for the league's second season,[31] though the Red Bulls and Sky Blue FC confirmed that they were in discussions for cooperation.[29][32]

During the first offseason, the Houston Dynamo added their name to the list of MLS teams interested in fielding a women's side, stating that they were "exploring the opportunity" of starting an NWSL side in 2014 or '15[33] and in 2013 they announced the Houston Dash with 2014 as their inaugural season.[34] By early December, NWSL approved a new team run by the Dynamo organization for expansion in 2014,[35] despite their earlier statement that there would be no expansion for the league's second season.

During the second offseason, expansion talk grew rapidly, with three established men's teams (Real Salt Lake of MLS, the Indy Eleven of NASL, and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds of USL Pro) expressing interest in joining NWSL, as well as an unattached group from Atlanta. There was also rumored or suggested interest from three men's teams in California, though none of those groups have made official statements. Despite this interest, it was announced in late April 2015 that there would be no expansion for the 2016 season.

However, after the well-publicized success of the US Women's National soccer team, renewed interest in NWSL expansion caused reports from the owners' meeting that "a new team in 2016 has not been ruled out", with potential expansion news to be revealed within a month.[36] Commissioner Jeff Plush said that over a dozen interested groups had contacted the league in the post-World-Cup weeks; MLS team Orlando City SC was one of the first newly interested groups made public.[37][38][39]

On October 20, 2015, it was announced that Orlando would be hosting the 10th NWSL team, the Orlando Pride, due to start the 2016 season.[40] At that announcement, the Pride announced that they had hired former U.S. National Women's Team coach Tom Sermanni.


Stadiums and attendance

As of 2016, the NWSL will use 10 stadiums. The highest attendance in the league's history occurred on April 23, 2016 at the Orlando Citrus Bowl when 23,403 people watched the Orlando Pride defeat the Houston Dash 3–1 in a regular season home match.[41]

Squad formation and salaries

As of 2016, teams receive a salary cap of $278,000, up from $265,000 in 2015 and $200,000 in 2013. The salaries of allocated players from the United States, Canadian, and Mexican national teams are paid by their respective federations and do not count against the salary cap.[42] Non-allocated players earn a minimum of $7,200 and a maximum of $39,700, up from $6,842 and $37,800 in 2015 and $6,000 and $30,000 in 2013.[43][44]

Media coverage

The majority of league games are available for viewing via YouTube or via individual team's websites.[45] Of the eight teams in the league during the inaugural season, the Boston Breakers were the only team that charged a fee for access to their broadcasts.[46]

On April 18, 2013, NWSL signed a one-year agreement with Fox Sports to televise nine games of the NWSL’s inaugural season. As part of the agreement, Fox Sports 2 aired six regular-season matches and all three playoff matches, which included the two semifinal games on August 24 and 25, and the championship game on August 31.[47]

On May 28, 2014, NWSL signed a one-year agreement with ESPN to televise nine games of the 2014 NWSL Season. The games include 3 regular season games on ESPN2, as well as 3 regular season games live-streamed on ESPN3, available at and the WatchESPN app. Additionally, the two semi-final games on August 23 and 24, and the NWSL final on August 31 will all be aired live on ESPN2.[48]

On June 30, 2015, NWSL announced a one-year agreement with Fox Sports once more to cover ten games, including both semifinals and the final match. Six games will be televised on Fox Sports 1 and four games on Fox Sports GO.[49]

On April 14, 2016, NWSL announced a one-year agreement with Fox Sports to cover six games, including three regular season games in September, both semifinals and the final match.[50]


Statistics below are for all-time regular season leaders.

As of November 2, 2016

NWSL awards

Main article: NWSL awards

Throughout the season, the league awards Player of the Week and Player of the Month awards to individual players, which are voted on by the media.[51][52] The league presents six annual awards for outstanding achievements voted on by owners, general managers, coaches, players and the media:[53]

  1. Golden Boot
  2. Rookie of the Year
  3. Goalkeeper of the Year
  4. Defender of the Year
  5. Coach of the Year
  6. Most Valuable Player (MVP)

In addition, the league names a NWSL Best XI team and NWSL Second XI team which are voted on by journalists, club officials and NWSL players.[54]

NWSL commissioners

Name Years
Cheryl Bailey (com.) 2012–2014[55]
Jeff Plush (com.) 2015–present[56]

See also


  1. "WILL NWSL BE A SUCCESS? WELL ...". ESPN. Retrieved September 21, 2013.
  2. Whiteside, Kelly (November 21, 2012). "Women's pro soccer league to debut in U.S. next year". USA Today. Retrieved September 21, 2013.
  3. "Seattle will have team in new women's professional league owned by Bill Predmore". Seattle Times. Retrieved September 21, 2013.
  4. Kassouf, Jeff (20 October 2015). "Orlando Pride named 10th NWSL team for 2016". The Equalizer. Retrieved 20 October 2015.
  5. "The Lowdown: My thoughts on the 2016 NWSL schedule". March 2, 2016. Retrieved May 10, 2016.
  6. "2014 Competition Rules and Regulations". National Women's Soccer League. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
  7. Kassouf, Jeff (June 29, 2012). "New women's soccer league in the works for 2013 following meeting in Chicago". The Equalizer. Retrieved April 13, 2013.
  8. Bell, Jack (April 13, 2013). "Another Attempt at Women's Circuit, but With a Twist". New York Times. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  9. Lauletta, Dan (November 21, 2012). "Eight teams to start new women's pro soccer league in 2013". The Equalizer. Retrieved April 13, 2013.
  10. "Cheryl Bailey Named Executive Director of New Women's Soccer League". US Soccer. Retrieved December 16, 2012.
  11. "FC KANSAS CITY EARNS POINT IN LEAGUE OPENER". FC Kansas City. April 14, 2013. Retrieved August 27, 2015.
  12. "Christine Sinclair penalty kick leads Thorns FC to 1-1 draw against FC Kansas City". Portland Thorns. April 13, 2013. Retrieved August 27, 2015.
  13. Jorstad, Keith (August 20, 2013). "NWSL Attendance Watch Week 19". The Equalizer. Retrieved August 4, 2014.
  14. "FC KANSAS CITY EARN PLAYOFF BERTH WITH 3-2 WIN OVER THORNS FC". August 4, 2013. Retrieved August 5, 2014.
  15. 1 2 Moran, Gwen (July 29, 2015). "Pro women's soccer is having a moment. Here's how to make it last". Fortune. Retrieved 13 October 2015.
  16. Kassouf, Jeff (March 19, 2015). "Plush: Six cities interested in NWSL expansion". The Equalizer. Retrieved 13 October 2015.
  17. 1 2 "2013 Roster Rules". National Women's Soccer League. Retrieved September 22, 2013.
  18. Graham Hays (January 11, 2013). "NWSL ALLOCATION EASIER SAID THAN DONE". ESPN. Retrieved September 22, 2013.
  19. "2014 Roster Rules - National Women's Soccer League". National Women's Soccer League. Retrieved March 4, 2014.
  20. Bell, Thad. "FC Kansas City and Sporting KC partner". SB Nation. Retrieved January 17, 2015.
  21. "Dynamo welcome NWSL expansion team: Houston Dash". Retrieved December 12, 2013.
  22. Giase, Frank (December 11, 2012). "On Soccer: New women's pro league has backing of U.S. Soccer Federation". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved April 13, 2013.
  23. Kassouf, Jeff (November 20, 2012). "Established LA ownership excluded for geography". The Equalizer. Retrieved April 13, 2013.
  24. Kassouf, Jeff (November 21, 2012). "Connecticut hopes for expansion bid, again". The Equalizer. Retrieved April 13, 2013.
  25. Wahl, Grant (April 14, 2013). "GrantWahl: Hearing Vancouver and Toronto...". Twitter. Retrieved September 1, 2013.
  26. Rollins, Duane (May 15, 2013). "The View from the North: Silence speaking volumes in Toronto?". The Equalizer. Retrieved September 1, 2013.
  27. Wahl, Grant (April 26, 2013). "GrantWahl: Hearing more MLS teams are...". Twitter. Retrieved September 1, 2013.
  28. Coleman, Adam (July 17, 2013). "Cy Woods girls' soccer coach living dream as pro player". Cyprus Creek Mirror. Retrieved September 1, 2013.
  29. 1 2 Giase, Frank (August 20, 2013). "On Soccer: National Women's Soccer League on solid ground". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved September 1, 2013.
  30. "arnim whisler on expansion". August 4, 2013. Retrieved September 1, 2013.
  31. Murray, Caitlin (August 25, 2013). "Exclusive: Gulati confirms no NWSL expansion for 2014". Retrieved September 1, 2013.
  32. Bell, Jack (August 23, 2013). "Sky Blue Looks Beyond N.W.S.L. Playoffs". The New York Times. Retrieved September 1, 2013.
  33. Lovell, Darrell (November 19, 2013). "Houston Dynamo looking into becoming second MLS team to own professional women's club". Houston Dynamo. Retrieved November 19, 2013.
  34. "Houston Dynamo launch Houston Dash as expansion member of National Women's Soccer League". Houston Dynamo. December 12, 2013. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
  35. Goff, Steve (December 11, 2013). "NWSL expanding to Houston in 2014". Washington Post. Retrieved December 11, 2013.
  36. "The Lowdown: World Cup bump engulfs NWSL". Equalizer Soccer. July 16, 2015. Retrieved July 21, 2015.
  37. "10 minutes with NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush on the Women's World Cup, role models, league expansion". July 8, 2015. Retrieved July 21, 2015.
  38. "Orlando City likely to add NWSL Women's team". Fansided. July 20, 2015. Retrieved July 21, 2015.
  39. "National Women's Soccer League set to capitalize on U.S.'s World Cup title". Retrieved July 21, 2015.
  40. "Orlando Pride women's soccer team to join NWSL in 2016". Bay News 9. Retrieved 20 October 2015.
  41. "Orlando Pride rolls to 3-1 win before record crowd in home debut". Retrieved 2016-04-23.
  42. Pramuk, Jacob. "For US soccer wages, women still fall far short of men". CNBC. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
  43. "NWSL make modest increase to salary cap ahead of 2016 season". April 2, 2016. Retrieved May 10, 2016.
  44. "Fairer wages for women to dominate CBA talks". Retrieved July 14, 2015.
  45. "National Women's Soccer League". YouTube. Retrieved September 21, 2013.
  46. Murray, Caitlin (August 14, 2013). "Assessing Year 1, future of NWSL livestreams". Equalizer Soccer. Retrieved September 21, 2013.
  47. "NWSL, FSMG ANNOUNCE NATIONAL TV AGREEMENT - National Women's Soccer League". Retrieved April 28, 2013.
  48. "NWSL AND ESPN ANNOUNCE NATIONAL BROADCAST AGREEMENT". May 28, 2014. Retrieved July 20, 2014.
  49. "NWSL and FOX Sports announce national broadcast deal". June 30, 2015. Retrieved May 10, 2016.
  50. "FOX Sports to broadcast six NWSL games in 2016". April 14, 2016. Retrieved May 10, 2016.
  51. "Player of the Week: Jen Hoy". National Women's Soccer League. Retrieved September 22, 2013.
  52. "August's Best: Monica Ocampo". National Women's Soccer League. Retrieved September 22, 2013.
  53. "NWSL ANNOUNCES 2013 AWARDS". National Women's Soccer League. Retrieved September 22, 2013.
  54. "NWSL BEST XI". National Women's Soccer League. Retrieved September 22, 2013.
  55. "NWSL Executive Director Cheryl Bailey to step down". November 18, 2014.
  56. "Jeff Plush is new commissioner of women's soccer league". January 6, 2015.
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