ST. PAUL -- After the U.S. women’s national soccer team garnered more support by winning the World Cup in France last month, attention turned to the domestic National Women’s Soccer League.
In Minnesota, there was a new round of curiosity from fans on the prospects of having a local team join the NWSL, which started play in 2013 and now has nine clubs, from Seattle to Orlando.
These questions likely will arise again when the U.S. women’s team makes its “Victory Tour” stop for a exhibition match against Portugal on Sept. 3. They are expected to have a capacity crowd of more than 19,700 at Allianz Field in St. Paul.
For years, Bill McGuire, the principal owner of Minnesota United, has been asked about his interest in an NWSL franchise to go with his third-year men’s club in Major League Soccer.
In 2016, he said, “That is not an imminent thought at this moment, but it’s certainly a consideration down the road.”
McGuire maintained that line of thinking in an interview Monday, Aug. 19, with the Pioneer Press.
“We are cognizant of it, obviously, and we think about it — or, I do — but not today,” he said. “We’ve got to improve where we are.
“… The first thing is we have to get our act together here with being in this new stadium (Allianz Field) six months. … We have to secure our business and make it work and do everything to run our business well.”
Looking to McGuire is natural considering four NWSL teams have ties to MLS clubs — Houston Dash and the Dynamo; Orlando Pride and Orlando City; Portland Thorns and Timbers; Utah Royals and Real Salt Lake. Another NWSL club has ties to a lower-level men’s division in the United Soccer League: North Carolina Courage and North Carolina FC.
McGuire believes more due diligence on these decisions is what NWSL and its players “deserves.”
“People shouldn’t be jumping in to just, ‘Lets get another sport’ because there is noise about it,” McGuire said. “Those women are far too good of athletes for that. They need the same type of commitment.”
And NWSL is not expanding anywhere near the rate of MLS, which on Tuesday announced the addition of its 28th club, in St. Louis.
In 2017, Atlanta and Minnesota came in as the 21st and 22nd clubs. Los Angeles FC joined in 2018 and FC Cincinnati this season. Inter Miami and Nashville SC join in 2020, with a third team in Texas, Austin FC, in 2021. St. Louis could join in 2022.
NWSL had two clubs cease operations after the 2017 season: the Boston Breakers and FC Kansas City, which had its assets transfer to the new Utah Royals.
Amanda Duffy, the NWSL’s managing director, told prosoccerusa.com in January the league is “focused on finding smart expansion markets with infrastructure to support and lift the quality of the league.”
With McGuire, along with United’s 16 ownership partners, Allianz Field and an existing and expanding soccer operation in MLS, Minnesota appears to be a viable option.
The NWSL, the longest-lasting women’s professional league in the U.S., added a multi-year sponsorship deal with Budweiser in June. The league extended a deal with Nike through 2022, and as the USWNT had success in France, ESPN announced it would air NWSL games for the rest of this season and through the playoffs.
But there are questions about the viability of the NWSL.
As attention shifted from the U.S. women’s World Cup title, Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl said in July there was concern from agents of NWSL players that the league is “not guaranteed to exist next year.”
The NWSL has had a vacant commissioner spot since March 2017, and before the ESPN TV deal, the league had been off the air after A+E Networks in February ended its broadcast deal a year early.