Photo by Portland Thorns FC
By CAITLIN MURRAY
The executives at the National Women’s Soccer League have had quite the quagmire on their hands for the 2015 season.
The World Cup will siphon players from the U.S., Mexico and Canada, the three federations that subsidize and allocate players in the league. The U.S. Women’s National team — the league’s biggest stars and drivers of ticket sales — will go into an extended residency camp next year to prepare for the World Cup, as reported by SBI last week.
But the league has some workarounds for that, the NWSL announced Wednesday. The 2015 schedule will be revamped to spread games out and add a World Cup break to minimize the absence of top players, said NWSL Executive Director Cheryl Bailey.
“We’ll take the opportunity to bring players in for the games,” Bailey told reporters Wednesday. “We’ll work with them at the beginning part of the season to do that and we anticipate that it’ll be three games that they’ll have the chance to participate in before they go back into full residency.”
The players will not train with their teams “100 percent of their time,” but will fly in and out for the games under a modified schedule for April, Bailey added.
The federations for Canada and Mexico are committed to again subsidizing the same number of allocated players in the U.S. Soccer-owned league and will also host extended pre-World Cup camps as the USWNT is doing, Bailey added. Wednesday’s announcement puts to rest fears the Canadian federation would pull their players out of the NWSL altogether.
Bailey did not offer specific details on the national team residency camps, but SBI reported last week that the USWNT was looking at a pre-World Cup camp that could be as long as three months. National team players are expected to miss as many as eight NWSL games for the camps.
The addition of a two-week break from June 7 to June 19 to cover World Cup group play means the season will be extended to the end of September, rather than ending in late August as the past two seasons did. The preseason will again begin March 9.
The schedule will be pared down from 108 games this year to 90 next year, which is more in line with the inaugural season schedule. Cutting down the schedule will reduce the number of midweek games, which did poorly attendance-wise in 2014. The new schedule format will include an average of 1.3 midweek games, compared to an average of 7.8 midweek games this year.
“The schedule itself, I think, will allow for a little more rest than we had this year,” Bailey said, adding that it will serve as a model for 2016, when the Olympics will cause a similar disruption as the World Cup. “And we’re excited for what this new schedule will bring for the teams and the players.”
There could, however, be consequences to extending the season into September for some players who are still in college — the kinds of players the NWSL may need to fill the void left by national team players. Players were not consulted in reformatting the schedule, Bailey said, and amateur players would be called up to fill out rosters as players leave for national team duty.
Venues shared with college or high school teams should not be affected as there are contingency plans in place, Bailey added.
What do you think of the new season format? Will it be better for the fans? Will it be better for clubs and players? How do you think it addresses the 2015 World Cup disruption?
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