The National Women's Soccer League will kick off its fourth season this coming Saturday, a somewhat important event in the history of a league that's gaining more traction and stability in the United States.
The Orlando Pride, of course, will be joining the league as its 10th team, kicking off their inaugural season Sunday night in Portland.
NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush spoke with the media on a conference call Wednesday afternoon, discussing the league entering its fourth season, what the future holds in terms of expansion and TV deals, and he even touched on the ongoing USWNT saga, among other topics.
Here are some of the highlights from the call:
- Plush made it almost official, saying that the NWSL has expanded its partnership with FOX Sports to air games for the upcoming season. Although details of the extension won't come out until today at the earliest, original reports have the deal covering a handful of league matches on FS1 throughout the season, including postseason matches. Plush also made it known that the deal is not exclusive, and left the door open for the league to add even more TV deals this season with other networks. The timing of the announcement is obvious, of course, with the deal beginning this season.
- Plush said he and the league are not focused on what's happening between U.S. Soccer and the U.S. Women's National Team, noting that he has his sights set on things that are within his control, such as preparing for the start of the NWSL season.
- Adding to the USWNT drama: FC Kansas City midfielder Becky Sauerbrunn was on the call and, while she shot down any questions of a possible USWNT strike, she did add that any boycotting of the Olympics would not include the NWSL. Sauerbrunn noted that the league and national team are two completely separate issues, and that U.S. players in the league are focused on playing for the club teams this season. "We're committed to playing in the league," she said.
- This is a big year for the league, and there are areas where growth needs to be shown -- sponsorship is one of them. "Certainly, we need to show growth with sponsorships," Plush said. "We need more sponsors." He added that there have been a handful of significant negotiations with potential sponsors and details could begin to emerge in the coming weeks. He also noted expanded partnerships with existing sponsors, such as Nike, Coppertone, and Mango Board.
- Expansion continues to be a big topic, with Orlando joining the league this season. Plush said he would like to continue expansion in pairs, avoiding returning to an odd number of teams. And while he wouldn't name any potential cities, he said there is plenty of interest from ownership groups in MLS as well as other entities. Real Salt Lake has expressed interest in the past. Atlanta and LA are also possibilities as the league looks to keep growing. Plush also said he was on a phone call about expansion just yesterday morning.
Orlando Pride Head Coach Tom Sermanni and defender Becky Edwards were also on the call, but technical difficulties kept much from coming out of their portion of the conference call.
Sermanni noted his excitement for the upcoming season, and that he's happy to finally be getting underway. He said the squad is healthy and prepared to take on the Portland Thorns this Sunday. The Pride are holding their inaugural Media Day this afternoon in Lake Mary -- complete with jersey reveal -- and will travel to Portland tomorrow ahead of Sunday's match.