The growth of women’s soccer in this country took another step forward with the announcement that the USL, which runs the second tier league on the men’s side, will form a second-tier women’s league in 2023, the USL Super League (are we seriously going with this term now? Whatever.)
Which gives women’s professional soccer the chance to do something soccer fans in this country have been salivating for pretty much since MLS’s inception: A promotion/relegation system between the NWSL and USL Super League.
To put it plainly, nothing the NWSL does, nor women’s soccer in general, should be with the mindset of sparring with the men’s leagues and games. The league and sport should always be run and decisions made on their own merits, not because it’s something the MLS does or doesn’t do. The league has always and will always aim higher than just being an alternative.
But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t suffer from some of the same problems. Right now, half the teams in the NWSL make the playoffs, which means only a couple or few are out of the race altogether come the end of the season. Right now, only Louisville and Kansas City are out of it completely with six or seven games to go. But that could change as we move along, and when the league adds new teams over the next couple years, that number will grow more.
Which means you have a handful of teams with weeks of nothing to play for, and running out the string. The threat of relegation to the USL Super League would certainly keep teams on their toes.
But more importantly, though it’s less of a problem now than it was, the threat of relegation would keep teams from being run like Gotham FC (the former SkyBlue FC) was only a few years ago. Standards would have to be kept high (and they’ve been seriously raised since that Sky Blue fiasco, especially in New York), because shitty training or facilities or coaching would mean relegation, as well as raising the standards of those in the second division in the hopes of promotion. Perhaps bullshit like we saw just recently with Washington would be even under more scrutiny, because keeping a coach abusing his players and torpedoing the team would threaten more than just a bad season. Teams in the USL league would strive to try and one-up each other in the hopes of getting into the NWSL.
But mostly, it would give fans yet another reason to watch and follow, because it would be unique to the country. It would look more like the game that fans watch elsewhere around the world.
It’ll never happen, because owners of NWSL teams would never risk it. Yet with the progressive and creative ways the NWSL has been run, they must see the appeal.
Don’t do it because the men don’t. Do it because you’d be the first.