It's no secret that Orlando City's front office wants to make Orlando the soccer capital of the south. So far, they are about 90% of the way there. They have an MLS team, a U-23 team in the Premier Development League (PDL), a healthy soccer academy from ages 8-18 that is nurturing young talent for the future, and have seemingly fended off Miami from ever getting a team. The one element still missing: a professional women's team.
In the past decade, women's soccer has grown in popularity throughout the United States. Its initial growth led to the creation of a professional women's soccer league in 2007, Women's Professional Soccer (WPS). However, the league only lasted until 2012, when it folded due to financial instability and internal organization issues.
Despite the failure of WPS, women's professional soccer was not going to be denied. With the ashes of the WPS still steaming, the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) rose like a phoenix from the flames. Since then, women's soccer in the U.S. has gone from strength to strength, even though problems still persist.
The NWSL, currently in its third season, is comprised of nine teams in three different time zones, as required by the United States Soccer Federation. Since its creation from the ruins of the WPS, rumors, talks and discussions have been underway for expansion, however nothing has yet materialized to make it a reality, and that is ultimately the problem.
People like the idea of women's professional soccer, but it doesn't get the credit it deserves. It is always going to play second fiddle to the men's game and that is no one's fault.
The women's game is just as exciting and played under the same rules, however, it gets no respect and that is ultimately, in my opinion, one of the barriers that will stop Orlando City from ever expanding to a women's professional soccer team. The other is there is no money in it.
The NWSL this year is operating with a $265,000 salary cap for the whole team, with a minimum requirement of 18 players on the roster at any one time. Some exceptions apply, such as allocated players but that is still a paltry amount.
The league minimum salary is $6,482 (MLS's is $60,000). When you add this all up, it means that the talent pool, despite Title IX,will just not develop into something that allows the creation of a lot of women's teams in the foreseeable future. The other is that when you run a league on a shoestring -- take Arena Football, for example -- success will never follow. It costs more than $265,000 to operate the team for 20 games (travel, hotels, training and overhead), and when you pay the women playing less than the women working the turnstiles, something is wrong.
There is no larger pay gap between men and women than in the world of soccer, and that needs fixing. That is also why Orlando can't get a women's team. The City Beautiful and this front office can't condone the status quo. However, since ultimately soccer teams exist to make money and because women's soccer is something that doesn't generate enough revenue to even pay its players a wage above the poverty line, don't expect Orlando City to make the leap to a women's team any time soon, if ever.