National Women's Soccer League

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National Women's Soccer League
NWSL logo.svg
FoundedNovember 21, 2012; 9 years ago (2012-11-21)
CountryUnited States
ConfederationCONCACAF (North America)
Number of teams10
Level on pyramid1
League cup(s)NWSL Challenge Cup
Current championsWashington Spirit (1st title)
Current NWSL ShieldPortland Thorns FC (2nd shield)
Most championshipsFC Kansas City
North Carolina Courage
Portland Thorns FC (2 titles)
Most NWSL ShieldsNorth Carolina Courage (3 shields)
Most appearancesLauren Barnes (170)
(as of October 31, 2021)
Top goalscorerSam Kerr (77)
(as of October 31, 2021)
TV partnersCBS Sports and Twitch
Current: 2022 NWSL season

The National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) is a professional women's soccer league at the top of the United States league system. It is owned by the teams and, until 2020, was under a management contract with the United States Soccer Federation.[1]

The NWSL was established in 2012 as the successor to Women's Professional Soccer (2007–2012), which was itself the successor to Women's United Soccer Association (2001–2003). The league began play in 2013 with eight teams, four of which were former members of Women's Professional Soccer (Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, Sky Blue FC, and Western New York Flash).[2][3][4] It now has 10 teams across the United States, with two more slated to join in 2022.[5][6]

Since the league's inaugural season in 2013, four teams have been crowned NWSL Champions, awarded to the playoff winner; four teams have claimed the NWSL Shield, awarded to the team in first place at the end of the regular season; and two teams have been champions of the NWSL Challenge Cup, an annual league cup tournament that began in 2020. The current (2021) NWSL champions are the Washington Spirit. The current shield winners (2021) are the Portland Thorns, who are also the current (2021) Challenge Cup champions.

Competition format[edit]

The NWSL season runs from April to November, with each team scheduled for 24 regular-season games (12 home and 12 road games).[7] At the end of the regular season, the team with the highest point total is awarded the NWSL Shield. The six teams with the most points from the regular season qualify for the playoffs, with the top two teams receiving a first-round bye;[7] the higher-seeded teams would host single knockout matches, with the semifinal winners advancing to the championship final played at a predetermined site.

The current competition format began in the 2021 season.[7] Prior to 2021, the playoffs included only four teams.[8] The number of regular-season matches had also fluctuated between 20 and 24 in past seasons.[9]

In 2020, the league suspended the season before it started because of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Resumption of play began with the NWSL Challenge Cup, a tournament with a group stage followed by knockout rounds.[10] Its success led the NWSL to make it an annual event.[11]



After Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) officially folded in April 2012, the United States Soccer Federation (US Soccer) announced a roundtable for discussion of the future of women's professional soccer in the United States. The meeting, which included representatives from US Soccer, WPS teams, the W-League (ceased operation in 2015), and the Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL), was held in June. By November, after much discussion, owners from the Chicago Red Stars, Boston Breakers and US Soccer recruited an additional six teams. Compared to WPS, the teams would intentionally operate at a lower cost structure and manage growth in a sustainable way.[12][13]

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, with national team players subsidized by US Soccer, 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. The teams would own the league, and the league would contract US Soccer to manage league operations.[14] After the 2020 season, the league terminated its management contract with US Soccer.[1]

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.[15]

Nike, Inc. was selected as league sponsor, providing apparel to all teams as well as the game ball.[16]

Early years[edit]

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.[17][18] The 2013 season saw regular-season attendance average of 4,270, with a high of 17,619 on August 4 for Kansas City at Portland.[19][20]

The NWSL became the first U.S. professional women's soccer league to reach nine teams with the addition of Houston Dash, backed by Major League Soccer (MLS) team Houston Dynamo, in 2014; expansion interest, particularly from MLS and USL teams, has continued.[21][22] 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.[21]

The league also became the first professional women's league in the US to play more than three seasons when the league kicked off its fourth season in 2016.[23]

Response to COVID-19 pandemic[edit]

The 2020 season was initially postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and later canceled. Instead the league played the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup, a special competition hosted in the Salt Lake City region with no spectators. The cup began in late June, making the NWSL the first major U.S. team sports league to return to play.[24] The league was the recipient of a federal loan through the Paycheck Protection Program, which it used to compensate players before the competition was able to begin.[25] Later that year the league also played the NWSL Fall Series, a set of 18 games between teams within geographically restricted regions.


Current teams[edit]

Locations of National Women's Soccer League teams.
Blue pog.svg Current club; Red pog.svg Future club

The 10 NWSL teams are spread across the United States, with two more to join in 2022. Each club is allowed a minimum of 20 players on their roster, with a maximum of 22 players (26 including supplemental players) allowed at any time during the season.[26]

Originally, each team's roster included up to three allocated American national team players, up to two allocated Mexico women's national team players, and up to two allocated Canadian national team players via the NWSL Player Allocation and subsequent trades.[27] In addition, each team has four spots each season available for international players; these spots may be traded to other teams.[28] 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.[26] Mexico no longer allocates players to the NWSL, having established its own women's league in 2017, and the numbers of allocated players and international players on each team vary each year due to trades.

Of the 10 teams playing in the 2021 season, three are affiliated with men's Major League Soccer teams, two are affiliated with men's teams of the United Soccer League, one is affiliated with a French Ligue 1 team (as well as its women's counterpart in the Division 1 Féminine),[29] and four are independent.

National Women's Soccer League
Team Location Stadium Capacity[a] Founded Joined Head coach Men's affiliate
Chicago Red Stars Bridgeview, Illinois SeatGeek Stadium 20,000 2006 2013
Houston Dash Houston, Texas PNC Stadium 7,000[b] 2013 2014 James Clarkson Houston Dynamo FC (MLS)
Kansas City Current[c] Kansas City, Kansas Children's Mercy Park 18,467 2020 2021
NJ/NY Gotham FC[d] Harrison, New Jersey Red Bull Arena 25,000 2007 2013 Scott Parkinson
North Carolina Courage Cary, North Carolina Sahlen's Stadium 10,000 2017 2017 North Carolina FC (USL1)
OL Reign[e] Tacoma, Washington Cheney Stadium 6,500 2012 2013 Laura Harvey Olympique Lyonnais (Ligue 1)
Orlando Pride Orlando, Florida Exploria Stadium 25,500 2015 2016 Orlando City SC (MLS)
Portland Thorns FC Portland, Oregon Providence Park 25,218 2012 2013 Rhian Wilkinson Portland Timbers (MLS)
Racing Louisville FC Louisville, Kentucky Lynn Family Stadium 15,304[f] 2019 2021 Louisville City FC (USLC)
Washington Spirit Washington, D.C. Audi Field
Segra Field[g]
2012 2013
Team Location Stadium Capacity Founded Joining Head coach Men's affiliate
Angel City FC Los Angeles, California Banc of California Stadium 22,000 2020 2022 Freya Coombe
San Diego Wave FC San Diego, California Torero Stadium 6,000 2021 2022 Casey Stoney
  1. ^ All listed capacities are full capacities unless otherwise noted and do not reflect potential COVID-19 restrictions.
  2. ^ PNC Stadium has a capacity of 22,039 but seating is restricted to 7,000 for Dash games.[30]
  3. ^ Known as Kansas City NWSL in 2021.
  4. ^ Known as Sky Blue FC from 2013 to 2020.
  5. ^ Known as Seattle Reign FC from 2013 to 2018 and Reign FC in 2019.
  6. ^ Full capacity includes safe standing area for supporters' groups; seated capacity is 11,700.
  7. ^ In 2021, the Spirit played regular-season home games at both Audi Field and Segra Field in Leesburg, Virginia.[31]

Former teams[edit]

Membership timeline[edit]

San Diego Wave FCAngel City FCRacing Louisville FCKansas City CurrentKansas CityUtah Royals FCOrlando PrideHouston DashNorth Carolina CourageWestern New York FlashWashington SpiritNJ/NY Gotham FCSky Blue FCOL ReignReign FCSeattle Reign FCPortland Thorns FCChicago Red StarsFC Kansas CityBoston Breakers


Soon after launch, the league reportedly planned to expand to ten teams for 2014.[39] 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)[40] and from Hartford, Connecticut,[41] 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 shuttered 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,[42] Vancouver Whitecaps FC,[43] and the New York Red Bulls,[44] as well as confirmed interest from WPSL side the Houston Aces.[45] NWSL team owners hinted that expansion for 2014 was not a question of "if" but "how many".[46][47] Despite this, it was announced during the playoffs that there would be no expansion for the league's second season,[48] though the Red Bulls and Sky Blue FC confirmed that they were in discussions for cooperation.[46][49]

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[50] and in 2013 they announced the Houston Dash with 2014 as their inaugural season.[51] By early December, NWSL approved a new team run by the Dynamo organization for expansion in 2014,[52] 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 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.[53] 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.[54][55][56] 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.[57] At that announcement, the Pride announced that they had hired former U.S. National Women's Team coach Tom Sermanni.

On November 16, 2017, it was announced that Real Salt Lake would expand into the NWSL beginning in the 2018 season. The Salt Lake City team, shortly thereafter unveiled as Utah Royals FC, is officially considered a new franchise that replaced FC Kansas City. There were hopes but no plans for Sporting Kansas City to take over operations of FCKC, but Sporting KC was focused on sustainability with its United Soccer League reserve team, then known as Swope Park Rangers and now as Sporting Kansas City II.[58]

The NWSL announced on October 22, 2019 that a team in Louisville, Kentucky, affiliated with the city's USL Championship side Louisville City FC, would join the league in 2021. The team was originally to be named Proof Louisville FC,[59] but after significant disapproval from fans it was announced that the Proof Louisville FC branding would not necessarily be the final selection, and that the process to determine the team's identity would be restarted.[60] On July 8, 2020, the Louisville team was rebranded as Racing Louisville FC,[61] and its associated visual identity was announced on the same day.[62] Racing plays in Lynn Family Stadium, which opened in 2020 as the new home of Louisville City.[63]

On July 21, 2020, the NWSL announced that a Los Angeles-based team will begin play in 2022.[64] The team's ownership group, who call themselves "Angel City," is led by president and founder Julie Uhrman, a media and gaming entrepreneur; co-founders Natalie Portman, an Oscar-winning actress, and venture capitalist Kara Nortman; venture capitalist Alexis Ohanian as lead founding investor;[65] and additional investors including fourteen former USWNT members, most with ties to Southern California; actresses Uzo Aduba, Jessica Chastain, America Ferrera, Jennifer Garner, and Eva Longoria; talk show host Lilly Singh; and Ohanian's wife, tennis great Serena Williams.[64] In 2022, the Los Angeles NWSL team will be the first American professional sports team founded by a majority-woman ownership group to begin play,[66] and co-founders Portman, Nortman, and Uhrman have publicly discussed their ownership stakes extensively as one way to address gender inequity in sports and to encourage additional investment by women into women's sports.[67][68][69] On October 21, 2020, the ownership group announced that the expansion club would be called Angel City FC and announced more group members, among them tennis great Billie Jean King, WNBA star Candace Parker, alpine skiing great Lindsey Vonn and her fiancé at the time, NHL star P. K. Subban, actress and activist Sophia Bush, Latin music pop star Becky G, actor and TV host James Corden, and former US men's soccer international Cobi Jones.[70]

On December 7, 2020, the NWSL announced that an expansion team in Kansas City would join the league in 2021 and take over player-related assets from the Utah Royals FC.[36] The Royals ceased operations at the same time, but the new owners of Utah Soccer LLC (after Dell Loy Hansen completes the sale) would have the option of re-establishing the Royals franchise in 2023.[35] The team played under the placeholder name of Kansas City NWSL in the 2021 season, announcing its permanent identity of Kansas City Current immediately before its final home game of that season on October 30.[71]

On January 12, 2021, then-NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird shared in a press conference that an expansion team in Sacramento would join the league in 2022, but that the team ownership would make the official announcement in due course.[72] A team announcement never materialized, however.[73] In May 2021, it was reported that the ownership group behind the Sacramento expansion would be seeking NWSL approval to move its expansion rights to San Diego instead.[74] On June 8, 2021, the NWSL officially announced a San Diego expansion team, ultimately named San Diego Wave FC, with former United States women's national soccer team head coach Jill Ellis as president;[75][76]


Stadiums and attendance[edit]

As of the current 2021 season, the NWSL uses 11 stadiums as primary home venues; one team, the Washington Spirit, splits its home games between two venues. Another team, the NJ/NY Gotham FC, used a smaller venue for its home games during the 2021 Challenge Cup, and a number of other teams take select games to larger venues in their areas. Attendance in 2019, the most recent year not affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, averaged 7,337 per game, with the Portland Thorns leading attendance with an average of 20,098 per game.[77] The highest attendance in the league's history occurred on August 29, 2021, as part of a doubleheader with Seattle Sounders FC of MLS at Lumen Field, when a crowd of 27,278 watched OL Reign play the visiting Portland Thorns FC.[78] The highest standalone attendance (not part of a doubleheader with a men's team) was 25,218, achieved on August 11, 2019, at Portland's Providence Park in a game between the Thorns and the visiting North Carolina Courage.[79] Of the ten most-attended matches in league history, eight were at the Thorns' home of Providence Park, with the other two the aforementioned doubleheader game in 2021 and the Orlando Pride's first-ever home game in 2016.[80]

Squad formation and salaries[edit]

In each season, teams receive a salary cap that limits their total spending on players. The salaries of federation players are paid for completely or mostly by their respective national federations, and they count against the salary cap at a pre-determined amount—$33,000 for U.S. players, and $27,500 or the actual salary for Canadian players, whichever is lower.[81] Non-federation players are subject to minimum and maximum salary limits.[82]

Each team provides fully paid healthcare for its players, and also provides housing, either directly or through a stipend of no more than $3,000 per month. In addition, teams are allowed to provide their players with the use of a car valued at no more than $50,000. These expenses are specifically excluded from cap calculations.[82]

In 2019, the maximum senior roster size was expanded to 22 and the minimum to 20, with an additional four supplemental spots for players earning minimum salary that do not count against the salary cap.[83] As of 2021, the minimum senior roster size is 22 and the maximum 24, so each team could carry a maximum total of 28 players on its active roster.[82]

The NWSL introduced significant changes to its compensation guidelines before the 2020 season.[84] In addition to a sizable increase in the salary cap and the salary limits for unallocated players, teams now can purchase up to $300,000 in "allocation money" in excess of the salary cap to invest in qualified current or future players; allocation money can be traded.[85] Multi-year contracts (up to three years plus one option year) are now permitted, year-round housing becomes mandatory, and the cap for permitted team assistance has been removed.

In 2021, salary for unallocated players and the team salary cap both increased between 5 and 10%.[86]

Year Team cap Unallocated player salary limits
Minimum Maximum
2013 $200,000 $6,000 $30,000
2014 $265,000 $6,600 $31,500
2015 $6,842 $37,800
2016 $278,000 $7,200 $39,700
2017 $315,000 $15,000 $41,700
2018 $350,000 $15,750 $44,000
2019 $421,500 $16,538 $46,200
2020 $650,000 $20,000 $50,000
2021 $682,500 $22,000 $52,500
All currency amounts are in USD

Players' association[edit]

Active non-allocated players, including unpaid amateur players, announced their formation of a players' association on May 15, 2017, as the first step toward forming a union. Membership is limited to non-allocated players because allocated players are members of their own federation-affiliated labor organizations and negotiate contracts covering NWSL play with their respective national federations instead of the league or clubs.[87][88][89] The association is led by civil rights attorney and former WPS players' union organizer Meghann Burke.[90] The association was legally recognized by the NWSL on November 15, 2018, allowing players to bring formal requests to the league.[91]

League competitions[edit]

League championship and shield[edit]

The winner of the NWSL Championship, the final match of the NWSL Playoffs, determines that season's NWSL champion. The playoffs, a single-elimination knockout tournament, are organized by the league in a format similar to other North American professional sports leagues. At the conclusion of the regular season, the top six teams in the standings earn a berth to the tournament;[7] prior to 2021, only the top four teams qualified for the playoffs.

The league also awards the NWSL Shield to the team with the best record (most points) at the end of the regular season. Like the playoff championship, it is recognized as a major trophy by the league.

The first NWSL Championship was played on September 1, 2013.[92] As of 2020, the record for the most championships is shared by Portland Thorns FC, North Carolina Courage, and former club FC Kansas City, with two titles each. The record for the most championships lost is held by Reign FC, who have lost the title game two times since the inaugural season in 2013.

As of 2020, four clubs have been crowned NWSL Champions: Portland Thorns FC (2), FC Kansas City (2), North Carolina Courage (2), and Western New York Flash (1). Four clubs have claimed the NWSL Shield: North Carolina Courage (3), OL Reign (2), Portland Thorns FC (2), and Western New York Flash (1). In 2018, the North Carolina Courage became the first team to win both the NWSL Shield and the NWSL Championship in the same season, a feat they repeated in 2019.[93]

Season NWSL champions
Play-off winners
NWSL Shield
Regular season winners
Championship location Championship attendance Ref.
2013 Portland Thorns FC Western New York Flash Sahlen's Stadium, Rochester, New York 9,129 [94]
2014 FC Kansas City Seattle Reign FC Starfire Sports Complex, Tukwila, Washington 4,252 [95]
2015 Providence Park, Portland, Oregon 13,264 [96]
2016 Western New York Flash Portland Thorns FC BBVA Compass Stadium, Houston, Texas 8,255 [97]
2017 Portland Thorns FC North Carolina Courage Orlando City Stadium, Orlando, Florida 8,124 [98]
2018 North Carolina Courage Providence Park, Portland, Oregon 21,144 [99]
2019 Sahlen's Stadium, Cary, North Carolina 10,227 [100]
2020 Canceled [101]
2021 Washington Spirit Portland Thorns FC Lynn Family Stadium, Louisville, Kentucky 10,360 [102]

Challenge Cup[edit]

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the regular season from starting. Instead the league played the newly-announced Challenge Cup, a tournament-style competition, starting in late June, with all teams in a protective bubble in Salt Lake City. This made the NWSL the first professional team sport in the U.S. to re-start during the pandemic.[103][104] The Houston Dash won the inaugural Challenge Cup, topping the Chicago Red Stars in the final.[105]

In November 2020, the NWSL announced that the Challenge Cup would become a regular league competition.[7] The 2021 edition of the cup was played in April-May 2021, with the Portland Thorns emerging as victors over NJ/NY Gotham FC in the final.[106][107]

Season Challenge Cup champions Runners-up Final location Ref.
2020 Houston Dash Chicago Red Stars Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah [105]
2021 Portland Thorns FC NJ/NY Gotham FC Providence Park, Portland, Oregon [107]

Fall Series[edit]

In September and October 2020, the league played the Fall Series, in which the nine teams were divided into three geographic "pods" to minimize travel during the COVID-19 pandemic; each team played a home-and-away round-robin within its pod.[108] The Portland Thorns earned 12 points, the maximum possible, and won the Fall Series and the associated trophy, the Community Shield (named Verizon Community Shield for sponsorship reasons).[109]

Season Community Shield
2020 Portland Thorns FC


During the 2013–2016 seasons, the majority of league games were available for viewing via YouTube or via individual team's websites.[110] 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.[111]


On April 18, 2013, NWSL signed a one-year agreement with Fox Sports 2 to televise six regular season games, the semifinal, and championship games.[112]


On May 28, 2014, the NWSL signed a one-year agreement with ESPN to televise nine games of the 2014 NWSL season. The matches included three regular season and three playoff matches on ESPN2, as well as 3 regular season games live-streamed on ESPN3.[113]


On June 30, 2015, the NWSL announced a one-year agreement with Fox Sports once more to cover ten matches. Three regular season and three playoff matches were televised on FS1, and four live-streamed on Fox Sports Go.[114] The agreement was extended into 2016 under another one-year contract, covering three regular season matches and the three playoff matches, once again on FS1.[115]


On February 2, 2017, the NWSL announced a three-year agreement with A&E Networks, in which the Lifetime network broadcast 22 regular-season matches as the NWSL Game of the Week at 4 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday afternoons, as well as three post-season matches. This marked the first time that the NWSL had a weekly broadcast window throughout the entire season. As part of the deal, A&E Networks purchased a 25% equity stake in the NWSL and were granted two seats on the league's board. The company also formed a joint venture with the league known as NWSL Media to oversee the league's marketing and broadcast rights, and Lifetime became a league-wide kit sponsor for all players. This deal marked the first time Lifetime had broadcast sports since the WNBA in the late 1990s and early 2000s.[116][117][118][119][120] Lifetime also streamed the game of the week in the United States via its website, and internationally in the NWSL website and iOS app. The remaining games were initially streamed exclusively by go90 in the United States under a digital rights deal with Verizon Communications, and through the NWSL website internationally.[116]

The quality of the streams through go90 faced criticism, with sportswriters, users, and players and team staff criticizing the service for its inconsistent quality and arguing that the NWSL's growth could be harmed by go90's relative lack of reach and prominence when compared to YouTube.[121][122] The Equalizer noted that the app was prone to crashing, did not have the same wide device support as YouTube,[123] and that the telecasts themselves suffered from their own technical problems (such as poor camera angles and glitches with graphics), but that the streams were good when they worked.[124] On May 19, 2017, the league announced that they would additionally stream games on the NWSL website and app in the U.S. until the technical issues with go90 were rectified.[125]

After Houston Dash player Rachel Daly collapsed on the pitch after a match in Houston, on May 27 – where the heat index was reportedly over 100 degrees Fahrenheit – she was carried off on a stretcher and hospitalized for heat illness. League operations director Amanda Duffy subsequently announced that the NWSL Game of the Week matches, many of which were slated for the hottest parts of the day in humid cities such as Houston, Orlando, and Cary, North Carolina, would be rescheduled to allow for longer hydration breaks. Some Game of the Week matches changed to other venues, and teams not scheduled for television were granted more flexibility in rescheduling kickoffs for player safety. The league also adopted new procedures for addressing heat and rescheduling matches.[126][127]

On June 6, 2018, it was announced that six Game of the Week matches through the remainder of the season would move to evening kickoffs and air on ESPNews (which is owned by a sister venture to A&E Networks), in an effort to ensure the safety of players, as well as improve attendance.[128] Go90 shut down in July 2018; the remaining games not aired on television were moved back to the NWSL website for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs.[129]


On February 20, 2019, the NWSL announced that A&E Networks had pulled out of its broadcasting agreement with the league one season early. A&E's stake in NWSL Media was given back to the league, but Lifetime will remain a kit sponsor. NWSL president Amanda Duffy said the changes would give the league and its teams finer control over its media and sponsorship agreements, and expected to announce a new television rights deal soon. Verizon Media remained the U.S. digital rightsholder to the league, but the streams moved from go90 to the Yahoo! Sports website and apps.[130]

The NWSL did not reach any national television deals before the start of the 2019 season,[131] but after their opening match, the Chicago Red Stars reached their own television deal with the regional sports network NBC Sports Chicago.[132] In July 2019, the NWSL announced that ESPN had acquired a 14-match package for the remainder of the season divided among ESPNews and ESPN2, including the semifinals and championship match.[133]


In October 2019, the NWSL signed the agency Octagon to market its media rights. It was reported that Octagon was pursuing multi-year agreements of at least three years and stronger broadcaster commitments, as to help build an audience and discourage broadcasters from acquiring NWSL rights to ride the coattails of the U.S. national team and the FIFA Women's World Cup, but then "abandon" it afterward.[134]

On March 11, 2020, the NWSL entered into a three-year media agreement with CBS Sports and the video game-oriented streaming service Twitch.[135] For the 2020 season, CBS Sports planned to broadcast 87 matches (including the playoffs) split between CBS, CBS Sports Network, and CBS All Access in Canada and the United States, with the exact distribution among the channels subject to change, while Twitch planned to stream an additional 24 matches for free. Twitch also became the NWSL's international media rights holder and stream all matches outside Canada and the United States for free.[136][137]

On May 27, 2020, the NWSL announced that it would return from the COVID-19 pandemic with the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup tournament.[138] All Challenge cup matches would be live on CBS All Access subscription service in the US and Canada and would re-air on CBS Sports Network, while CBS would broadcast both opening and final matches. Fans outside the US and Canada would be able to stream all 23 live matches for free on Twitch as part of NWSL broadcasting rights package.

Statistical leaders[edit]


Bold indicates active NWSL players.

NWSL awards[edit]

Throughout the season, the league awards Player of the Month, Team of the Month, and Player of the Week awards to individual players, which are voted on by the media. At the end of each season, the league presents six annual awards for outstanding achievements, five of which are voted on by players, owners, general managers, coaches, media, and fans.[140]

The current (2021) holders of the annual awards are:

  1. Golden Boot: Ashley Hatch, Washington Spirit[141]
  2. Rookie of the Year: Trinity Rodman, Washington Spirit[142]
  3. Goalkeeper of the Year: Aubrey Bledsoe, Washington Spirit[143]
  4. Defender of the Year: Caprice Dydasco, NJ/NY Gotham FC[144]
  5. Coach of the Year: Laura Harvey, OL Reign[145]
  6. Most Valuable Player: Jess Fishlock, OL Reign[146]

In addition, the league names a NWSL Best XI team and NWSL Second XI team, which are voted on by players, owners, general managers, coaches, media, and fans.[147]

NWSL management[edit]

Name Years Title Ref.
Cheryl Bailey 2012–2014 Commissioner [148]
Jeff Plush 2015–2017 Commissioner [149][150]
Amanda Duffy 2016–2018 Managing director of operations
Amanda Duffy 2019–2020 President [151]
Lisa Baird 2020–2021 Commissioner [152]
Marla Messing 2021– Interim CEO [153]

Former general manager of the United States women's national soccer team Cheryl Bailey was announced by US Soccer President Sunil Gulati as the first commissioner of the NWSL on November 29, 2012.[154] On November 18, 2014, she resigned after overseeing two seasons and the launch of the new professional league in less than five months ahead of the inaugural season.[155]

On January 6, 2015, Jeff Plush, managing director of Colorado Rapids and a former MLS board member, was named as Bailey's successor.[156] Plush oversaw the 2015 and 2016 seasons, including the Orlando Pride expansion, a broadcast partnership with A+E Networks (including the three-year broadcast deal with Lifetime television), and the sale of the Western New York Flash to North Carolina FC owner Stephen Malik and the team's relocation to North Carolina.[157] During his tenure, former Louisville City FC president Amanda Duffy was hired in December 2016 as the NWSL's managing director of operations.[158]

Plush resigned as commissioner on March 2, 2017, and the position remained vacant until 2020, although Duffy served as the public face of league management.[159] On January 15, 2019, Duffy was promoted to president, the league's highest office.[160]

On January 7, 2020, Amanda Duffy announced that she would leave the NWSL for a leadership position at the Orlando Pride on February 15, 2020.[161] On February 27, 2020, the NWSL announced that Lisa Baird, chief marketing officer of the New York Public Radio, would become the league's commissioner on March 10, 2020.[162] Baird resigned on October 1, 2021, during the Paul Riley controversy (see below). On October 18, 2021, the league hired Marla Messing as its Interim CEO.[163]


On September 30, 2021, news was released that North Carolina Courage coach, Paul Riley was being accused of sexual coercion by multiple former players.[164] Riley was promptly fired from his head coaching position and had his coaching license revoked.[165] Commissioner Lisa Baird responded to the report published in The Athletic, writing that "Concurrently, we are reporting these new allegations to the US Center for SafeSport for investigation," but was ousted from her position the next day as she had not responded with sufficient action when the affected players had previously contacted her about the coercion.[152] Riley maintains his innocence.[166] Investigations into the incident, and into player safety more generally, were launched by the NWSL, the US Soccer Federation, and FIFA.[166]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]

Preceded by Division 1 soccer league in the United States
Succeeded by