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Archive for September 4, 2021

Sept. 4, 2021 — Is the NWSL on the verge of a reckoning, if not a collapse?

The National Women’s Soccer League is currently in its ninth season of operations, and is the longest-serving USSF-sanctioned Division I women’s soccer league in history.

After losing a number of star U.S. players such as Alex Morgan and Christen Press to foreign clubs in the last year or so, the league has not only gotten a number of national-team players to relocate back to the domestic league, it has announced plans to add clubs in Los Angeles and San Diego in 2022.

But a number of off-field situations and scandals are threatening the stability and viability of the league, going forward. This afternoon, it was announced that the game between the Washington Spirit and Portland Thorns was postponed because of positive COVID-19 tests of four Spirit players. Add to this reports that the Spirit have carried up to eight players on their roster who have not had a Coronavirus vaccine.

The Spirit are at the center of more than one of this year’s scandals. There were questions raised about a week-long cultural exchange with the host of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar. The exchange included a soccer clinic and tours of several facilities, some of which have been pointed out as being built with imported labor that critics and international NGOs have deemed abusive.

The team also botched the recent release of head coach Richie Burke, first announcing a move to the front office, then announcing his firing after the resurfacing of stories of abuse of youth players under Burke’s care in a previous coaching regime. The situation has led supporters to post signs urging owner Steve Baldwin to sell the team — signs which were ordered to be taken down during the team’s last home game last weekend.

Now, the Spirit are not the only NWSL team to have made a coaching change this season. At least six out of the eight NWSL teams have either made a change or have announced the imminent departure of their head coach at the end of the season.

Some of these moves are lateral moves within the world of soccer, but a number of others have been for cause, such as the recent firing of Racing Louisville coach Christy Holly.

The U.S. women’s soccer landscape has become riven with toxic personalities in positions of power. The second Division I pro league, Women’s Professional Soccer, was destabilized and eventually folded because of the actions of Dan Borislow as the self-appointed leader of magicJack FC. Then, you had the situation with the Utah Royals, which saw an ownership change when it was revealed that Andy Carroll, the team’s chief business operator, was mistreating numerous employees within the team.

All of this makes you wonder what is going on. Are players being told not to complain about their owners and GMs because it could reflect badly on the league? Are ownership groups not being vetted to weed out toxic personalities? Are coaches being selected out of convenience instead of competency?

Thing is, the NWSL is being lionized for attracting all-star ownership groups, such as what is happening with Angel City FC in Los Angeles. This group included civic and business leaders, as well as sports stars like Magic Johnson and Mia Hamm.

The Spirit, for what it’s worth, had announced a number of additions to its ownership group just four months ago, adding people like Chelsea Clinton, Alexander Ovechkin, and Briana Scurry. But the Spirit seems to be run by only three people: Steve Baldwin, Michele Yang, and Bill Lynch.

If a similar power arrangement evolves in the high-visibility market of Los Angeles, and another scandal arises, I can’t see how the league gets itself righted going forward.