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lindagray

United States : NWSL expansion

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The expansion of the National Women's Soccer League began with the league's sophomore season in 2014, when the league expanded to a ninth team in Houston, and is an ongoing process that currently has seen two expansions and one relocation. The National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) was established as the top level of professional women's soccer in the United States in 2013 in the wake of the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA, 2001–2003) and Women's Professional Soccer (WPS, 2009–2011). The league has seen two teams fold, one relocate to a distant city, and one relocate to a secondary city within its existing market area. The 2016 champions Western New York Flash sold their NWSL franchise rights to North Carolina FC the following offseason, with the new owners relocating the NWSL side as the North Carolina Courage. During the next offseason, two-time champions FC Kansas City were sold back to the league and folded, followed immediately by the sale of a franchise slot to Real Salt Lake, and the Boston Breakers folded.

As of January 2019, the NWSL consists of nine teams with nine separate ownership groups. In 2015, former commissioner Jeff Plush expressed plans to expand to 14 by the year 2020. In early 2019, President (and former Managing Director) Amanda Duffy alluded that the league would rather take its time and focus on adding more quality teams:

“We’re really concentrating on the quality of the ownership, the quality of the market, the quality of existing facilities – both the match venue, training facilities — staff, infrastructure and the support in that market for soccer and women’s soccer, in particular. So, the past year, we’ve been really trying to refine that process and refine what it is that we’re looking for and what is the pace that we want to grow as a league? Because we’re a strong league. We were strong at 10, we’re strong at nine.

“If we all of sudden next year end up at 16 teams, how does that impact the quality of our competition and is that a pace that is sustainable and that we can still continue to operate with on a broader scale? Our efforts are very focused and specific to certain areas that we want to be strong for any team that’s does come into the league that’s going to help propel us at the top and help to elevate the league."

Many interested ownership groups are associated with existing men's soccer teams, often from Major League Soccer. Five current NWSL ownership groups also run men's teams: original franchise the Portland Thorns FC (Portland Timbers), relocated original franchise North Carolina Courage (North Carolina FC), and the first three outright expansion teams the Houston Dash (Houston Dynamo), Orlando Pride (Orlando City SC), and Utah Royals FC (Real Salt Lake). Another NWSL ownership group, that of original franchise Reign FC, includes the principal owner of Seattle Sounders FC. Original franchise FC Kansas City was initially owned by the same group running the Missouri Comets, but was sold to new ownership in January 2017 before folding in November later that year.

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