NWSL expansion: Mad dash from here to April

Dan Lauletta December 12, 2013 46

NWSL executive director Cheryl Bailey said the Houston Dash represent an extraordinary opportunity for the league. (Photo Copyright: Patricia Giobetti | http://www.printroom.com/pro/psgiobetti)

Houston was formally announced as the NWSL’s 9th franchise on Thursday, ending weeks of waiting and speculation as the ownership group looked at the finer points of adding a women’s team to their MLS squad, the Houston Dynamo.  The Dash will begin play at BBVA Compass Stadium in April where capacity will be downsized to around 7,000.

Now that the team has finally been announced—and has a name—here is a look at what we know and what we don’t know about the impending growth of NWSL.

2014/2015:  The main source of backlash against this move is that it contradicts U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati’s August comments that NWSL would expand slowly and that no new teams would be joining in 2014.

“We had originally been set with eight teams for this year and had decided that we weren’t going to expand,” Gulati said Thursday evening via conference call.  “But we had frankly what we considered an extraordinary opportunity with Houston and with the ownership group there in the city.  (It is) a group that we think can do everything that needs to happen in a very short period of time.  We’re very excited about having them join the league.”

Cheryl Bailey, the NWSL executive director who formally announced the club at BBVA Compass earlier in the day, added: “I think it’s pretty simple when you have a team like Houston that has an interest in joining NWSL and all the things that they can bring to this league.   The previous eight owners were all in favor of this.  We have coming into our league a team that is going to provide more stability to the league, has the infrastructure and fan support.  We would have been crazy not to have said, ‘Welcome to the league.’’

[MORE: Why long term benefits outweight short term concerns over expansion]

How will the roster be stocked? The Dash are immediately allowed to acquire up to four discovery players and they may be domestic or international.  That will be the only player movement allowed in the league until allocations are announced later this month or possibly the very beginning of January.  Teams may not trade or sign discovery players during this quiet period.

An expansion draft will not happen until after the allocation process and the national team coaches are still a week or so out from submitting their allocation lists.  It was not immediately clear if the respective federations will subsidize enough players to account for the new team.

Bailey did make clear that players already allocated would not be moved to other teams except by trades or if they are dropped from the allocation club.

Coach by Christmas? Chris Canetti, the president of the Dynamo and now Dash who has been the public face of the expansion bid, said he would like to hire a Dash coach before Christmas.  He said there have already been several inquiries about the job but he declined to go into details.  Canetti added that the coach would be responsible for player selection.

Schedule expands, season does not:  The addition of the Dash will push the NWSL schedule to 24 games, but the calendar will be status quo.  That means the 2014 season will begin the weekend of April 12-13 and conclude with a championship match on August 30.  While the number of midweek matches figures to increase it should not be an issue to squeeze 24 matches into 19 weeks.  Just don’t expect any 20-day periods of inactivity like the Spirit had last spring.

[MORE: It's official:  Houston Dash to join NWSL for 2014 season]

College Draft:  The Equalizer learned earlier in the week that the Dash will draft between the non-playoff teams and playoff teams in the 1st round of the entry draft on January 17.  That would slide them in behind the Spirit-Red Stars-Red Stars-FC Kansas City (the top four after trades.)  Soccer by Ives further reported the Dash would hold the initial pick in Rounds 2 and 4.

Front offices shared/technical staffs split:  Houston Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear was on hand for the announcement, but there will be no overlap between the technical staffs of the Dynamo and Dash.  The front office though will be entirely shared with the current group of Dynamo employees about to have their workload upped to accommodate the Dash.  Canetti said staffing was the biggest red flag in determining whether or not to go forward with the NWSL team.

Other Notes:

-Canetti said there is a chance some Dash matches will be broadcast on television.  Stay tuned for more details on this.

-Portland Thorns FC owner Merritt Paulson was instrumental in convincing Canetti and the Dynamo to jump on board with NWSL.  “I would say that the Portland Timbers/Thorns were a great inspiration to us,” Canetti said.  “We leaned on them a lot to learn about the business and setup.  In the process of exploring the business model, Merritt Paulson and Mike Golub were terrific.  I can say with absolute certainly that we wouldn’t be having this conversation today if it wasn’t for them and the support that they provided.”

-Canetti said the Dash’s goal will be to sell out the downsized capacity of 7,000 seats for each match.  That may seem lofty, but remember the Thorns were originally going to play a few games at Merlot Field until ticket demand insisted they play them all at JELD-WEN Field.

  • wosofan

    Impressed by team president, Chris Cannetti, based on his appearance at the franchise announcement today. I would urge any fan, and especially skeptics, to watch the video of the announcement, including Cannetti’s remarks. I believe the video is on the Houston Dynamo website.

    Interesting tidbit — he admits that several conversations with Alex Morgan, during recent Dynamo matches in Houston, were helpful to Cannetti and other Dynamo leaders, in terms of understanding the league and in pushing them forward into making this happen. He similarly credits discussions with Mia Hamm, who gave advice and encouragement.

    Crazy, but true: only three years ago, Morgan was still in college and scoring her first big international goal (against Italy), which lifted the US into the 2011 World Cup. Now she’s a major influence the direction of pro women’s soccer in the U.S. Her life plays out in warp speed.

    • newsouth

      where did morgan and hamm come into this? it comes down to paulson. that;s who will pull the strings to get other mls clubs to bite the bait.

    • GUEST

      WOW!!!!! Alex Morgan convinces Canetti to join the NWSL. What an influential young talent. YAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!! LMFAOOOO!!!! What an effing joke.

      • Steglitz49

        Why would Alex not be able to? Alex is one of the biggest iternational name in women’s soccer and the biggest in the US. I do not know the young lady from Adam, but she may well have the gift of a salesman, be persuasive and be able to close a deal. Alex, like Hope and Abby, has been loyal to the NWSL and such loyalty cuts a lot of ice.

        • GUEST

          Having influence over USSF does not equate to having influence over big corporations .Its business as far as these people are concerned.I don’t think Alex has the business acumen to convince them to make a business decision.
          The had already made the decision to join the NWSL before they spoke MORGAN. If she has so much power to convince people why cant she convince all MLS teams to join in?

          • framboat

            I think it’s less about convincing, and more providing insight into the way the NWSL works (and how it feels as a player on a team connected to an MLS team), and why this business model is trying to be different from the past go-rounds. She happens to be high profile enough to actually be heard. Win win win.

          • newsouth

            the business works because of ussoccer and canadian covering the big salaries, not because of morgan. lets be real. how much would paulson have to pay out of pocket for his allocations? if so, he’d pass on the nwsl like the wps. morgan was just a photo opt meeting if someone had a camera. next thing someone will say nike and coke makes their moves based on morgan suggestions.

          • framboat

            I agree with you; the reason this model is working is that national federations are involved and subsidizing the best players in the country… that’s amazing! And you know, the more eyes on the sport the better. Morgan has stated that outside of being an athlete, she is interested in the business aspects of soccer and spreading interest and money for it globally. Her involvement with the NWSL is a good thing, photo op or not.

          • JAMES

            Its a good thing for a player of any caliber to promote the league.

          • GUEST

            Of course she can help sell the league but people are trying to make it look like the deal had happened because of her.

          • TsovLoj

            Maybe it’s what she said to Houston in particular. I think it lends credence to the idea that she’s heading there.

        • GUEST

          Investors don’t care how loyal these ladies have been to the NWSL, they care about the bottom-line. Do you think investors would invest in a women soccer team because a super star told them to?

          • Steglitz49

            There is no bottom line in women’s soccer. All women’s soccer loses money. It is just a question of who picks up the tab and settles the debts.

            The NWSL would break major new ground if they can run a women’s soccer league that pays the players a decent wage and breaks even. Let’s hope they succeed.

          • GUEST

            There was a bottom-line in Portland which Houston is trying to replicate.

          • Steglitz49

            Verily, though one ought to be mindful that players like Alex and Sinc were paid for from outside sources (ie being subsidized by the USSF) while most players did not get a decent wage. By all means let Portland play themselves for a few years to come.

            As I typed, let’s hope the NWSL succeed.

          • newsouth

            you really think portland lost money when washington more or less broke even.

          • Steglitz49

            How much would Portland and USSF have had to pay for their star players in an open market?

          • newsouth

            Good response. Pull USSoccer and Canada and make the MLS teams pay 40-60k per allocation out of pocket.. MLS would stay away from the NWLS, just like they did the WPS. That’s why USSoccer will allocate as long as the league is around because Paulson won;t pay 50-70k a piece for Morgan and Sinclair. Then, add in Heath and the Canadian salaries.

          • GUEST

            I hope it doesn’t get ugly real quick when USSF stops subsidizing.

      • luke

        Alex Morgan could have club on the moon if she wanted, she is selling tickets and that’s what it’s all about.

    • Ben

      I don’t know why the others I mocking your statement about Morgan as if you made it up. I watched the announcement and Canetti give special thanks to both Morgan and Hamm as been instrumental in this decision. Now we do not know to what level but it is nothing to be mocked.
      I’m sure it was helpful to Canetti and others to know that one of the biggest stars in the game today is committed to this venture and that could have played a key role

      • Steglitz49

        Hear hear!

    • kernel_thai

      Which further makes ESPNWs Impact10 list ridiculous.

      • Steglitz49

        Do women in sport have any impact?

  • Rdalford

    Dan, thanks for the recap. The what we know what we don’t summary may reduce some of the speculation. It will be interesting to watch the hire a coach acquire players and build a team process. Pleased to see the NWSL growth thru leverage of existing (and interested) MLS teams. Looking forward to 2014 NWSL season.

  • Phins

    hopefully for the first game they can open the upper deck.

    • kaiser

      who wants to play in hot ass Houston?

      • STT

        Opening day is in April; it’s not that hot yet. Besides, doesn’t seem to bother the MLS teams down in Texas. Nor any teams in Mexico, Costa Rica…

  • Steglitz49

    Strange things are afoot in England’s women’s soccer. The FAWSL is essentially now the same format as the NWSL, that is it is a closed league without relegation and promotion.

    The difference is that while for many years Englsih clubs only signed women players from the British Isles, during the last couple of seasons teams (with foreign ownership) broke ranks and started to sign overseas lady players, sometimes on short term contracts such as Whitney Engen in Liverpool and Sofia Jakobsson in Chelsea.

    It is unclear what is the stimulus behind this. It could be seen as a move to try to strengthen the NT before WC-15. Alternatively, it could be interpreted that the FA considers women’s soccer as a circus that will never break even, so it might as well be treated as a giant exhibition circus with big names strutting their stuff, a sort of cat-walk of soccer.

    • Ben

      Or it could be for the simple fact that most lower divisions in women’s soccer are by no means ready to make the jump to first. Also, there is already the high turn around with players and there’s no need to add to that further by promoting and relegating teams.

      • JN West

        No the poster is simply incorrect about what is going on in the English Women’s league.

        • Ben

          Won’t be surprised

          • Steglitz49

            England has created a closed shop. Whether the English FA intend for this to continue for ever we cannot tell.

            What we do know is that the English WNT did not have a happy Euro-13 and Team-Gbr did not exactly cover itself in glory in OG-12 though, to be fair, England beat Japan in WC-11.

    • Ingmar Bergman

      Vad betyder denna tirad har att göra med expansionen av Houston laget?
      Det är roligare att läsa dina kommentarer om Zlatan.

    • JN West

      Actually the FAWSL is moving to a regulation and promotion format in 2014. They had a three year plan in place and are following it. The upper division is adding 2 teams including Manchester City, for a total of 10 teams. The Doncaster Belles were controversially notified that they would be sent down to the lower division at the start of the last season. They finished in last place in the league anyway. I believe the lower division will have 12 teams.

      Foreign players in the FAWSL is nothing new. Laura Del Rio of Spain for example, has been playing at Bristol Academy since 2012. There have been foreign players in the league since its inception in 2011, just not many. That might have something to do with coaches personal preferences, but mainly due to the fact that the WSL was set up as a semi-professional league. Only 4 players on a team would be paid, the rest needed to have a 2nd job. You’re not going to attract many foreign players on your team if they aren’t getting paid directly.

      I’m not sure if the FAWSL ever had an official policy limiting the number of foreign players per team, but its clear that the 4 players per team being paid were always from the NT players from the British federations. However, its never been clear to me how a team like Liverpool was able to bring on several international players with the 4 player paid limit.

      Its not surprising that the NWSL adopted the initial FAWSL format, rather than the other way around. They are an obvious choice. The WSL is a new league, started three years ago. Its proven to be a sustainable model and its growing. I hope the NWSL adding an expansion team in its 2nd season won’t be a problem for the league.

      Finally if the FA (Football Association, governing body in England) did not take women’s soccer seriously why would they have supported the WSL at all? Just last year the FA helped women’s soccer get more coverage in the UK media, which includes more reporting and televised games. I don’t understand the need to jump to really strange conclusions about the FA?

      • Steglitz49

        Membership of the FAWSL appears to be by application, not qualification by promotion from lower divisions. The FAWSL is a closed shop.

        It is indeed correct that for the 2014 season the FAWSL will be changed. This is because they will add a lower tier (second division of the FAWSL, if you prefer) named FAWSL-2. The plan is for 1 team (not 2 as is usual or 3 as in France) to be relegated from the FAWSL-1. Maybe we should call them FAWSL-R for “rich” and FAWSL-L for “light”?

        Thus, in reality the FAWSL will remain a closed shop because, as I understand it, there is no plan for promotion to FAWSL-2 from the great unwashed from other leagues. You either belong or don’t. Maybe I have misunderstood and it is possible to be promoted into FAWSL-2.

        This system may well suit England but is a big departure from the systems in the vast majority of other countries in Europe who generally run their women’s soccer in the time honored way. It would be interesting to learn why England has gone this way of a closed shop. Why?

        The fact is that the proportion of non-British Isles players has been well below that of other leagues in Europe. This was the case before the FAWSL started and remains so.

        The three teams most noted for interest in foreign talent, Liverpool (owner Red Sox), Man City, who wanted Hope (owner Abu Dhabi) and Chelsea (owner Abramovitc) are in foreign hands. Maybe the fear of ending up in FAWSL-2 was enough of a threat?

        • JN West

          Your original point above that the FAWSL was a closed league because it lacked regulation and promotion is and was incorrect. You have now changed your criteria as to what you deem a “closed league”. Now its the lower divisions that are closed off.

          For the upcoming season they are regulating and promoting teams. They also promoted and regulated teams last season, but your right it was based on an application process and not on the results of the table. The FA required all teams in both leagues to fill out applications. They used those applications to place teams in Division 1 and Division 2. Manchester City was promoted and Donchaster Belles were regulated based upon the applications.

          The fact is that the other leagues in Europe have been in existence a lot longer. Those teams and leagues had money to spend on international players. As I explained above the FAWSL is a semi-professional league. Only 4 players per team are paid full time. The rest are working 2nd jobs. There was simply no incentive for foreign players to play in England, because they weren’t going to get paid. This isn’t a big mystery or conspiracy.

          The FAWSL as a newbie league has made some mistakes this past year in particular with how they regulated the Belles. However, the FAWSL has a plan in place. They are slowly growing the league. They are trying to ensure all the teams that join have the resources in place to be a Division 1 team if they get promoted. The league started out with 8 teams and no regulation and promotion at all. They have now expanded the number of teams and are including regulation and promotion.

          Its not a reasonable expectation that the FAWSL would look more like the other established women’s leagues in Europe when they are essentially a 3 year old league, moving slowly with stability in mind.

          As far as more foreign players in the league go, it was Liverpool’s owners & managers that decided to shake things up in the women’s league. They decided to bring in more foreign players and have gone on to train 5 days a week. They are moving the league away from semi-professional into a more professional league. Manchester City jumped on the post-Olympic women’s soccer bandwagon. Its not surprising they have recruited Steph Houghton the star of Olympics for Team GB. Most of the top English clubs are in foreign hands. Its just not that black and white that foreign owners are bringing in foreign players. The controlling interest in Arsenal is also American, but as of last season they kept a British Isle focused team. Who knows what will happen next season.

          The FA just like the USSF is paying the salaries of its NT players, so its not a mystery as to why British players were given priority over international players. Really there is nothing wrong with limiting the number of international players in your league if you really want to build up your national team. Having said there there is no official limit on international players in the FAWSL as far as I’m aware of.

          Lastly, there was no fear or threat of wealthy teams like Man City, Liverpool or Chelsea ending up in Division 2. Quite the contrary actually. The Belles were regulated officially because they failed to meet the application but as most fans suspect they were bumped for Man City because money talks.

  • Lorehead

    Small correction: Harry A. Merlo Field.

  • JN West

    I’m really excited that Houston has joined. I watched the press conference yesterday. The Dash will be run by good group of professionals. From what I understand from the reporting above, it appears the Dash will get the 5th overall pick in the first round. I was concerned that the Spirit and Red Stars in particular would get screwed in the college draft. I’m glad that is not the case.

  • morSOC

    Other than a strange need to comment on every post what the heck is a FAWSL thread doing here!

  • kernel_thai

    The NWSL is the most reactive league in history. Obviously the reason the exact mechanism for expansion isnt already in place is because u never do today what u can put off until tomorrow. Just once Id like to hear an NWSL press conference that didnt include the phrase we’ll get back to u with the details. The NWSL has a great business model, excellent players, provides a high quality of play and seems to have a very dedicated group of owners but is run like someone’s hobby. Very frustrating.

    • Silver Frost

      Is Bailey up to the task? The head of NWSL has an impact on our NT players’ careers on the WNT. I share your frustration.

      • kernel_thai

        I dont think it’s Bailey I think it’s the mind set.

  • TsovLoj

    Have the Aces commented on any of this yet?

  • treehill

    For those that missed it, here’s the press conference (starts at 16:15). Good watch. It’s exciting to see that beautiful stadium in the background and know that thenumber of quality broadcasts from real stadiums will double next year. Interesting fact I looked up is that Annise Parker is the first openly gay mayor of a city with population larger than 1,000,000. It’s great Houston has such a progressive movement.

    I thought all the talk of Alex going to Houston was silly soap opera stuff. But Cannetti’s effusive thanks and praise towards Alex, and a fairly prominent “Texas Loves Morgan” poster shown in their Dash reveal video, make me wonder just a little.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ceWmIEWT5yM#t=16m15s

    • Ben

      Exactly my impression re Morgan. When I was watching this live, my impression at the time was he was really name dropping Morgan and it give some legs to the numerous rumors going around.