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Is the NWSL’s Silliest Silly Season Yet Helping or Hurting the League?

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What do the big name trades and off-season news really mean for the NWSL?

Houston Dash v Orlando Pride Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

If you want to talk about a whirlwind off-season, the NWSL has done it in spades. Some of the biggest names have been on the move and now one of the most storied franchises in women’s soccer history, the Boston Breakers, has folded as an organization. With the league just recently getting over the hump with its fifth year — eclipsing that of its predecessors (the WUSA and WPS) — we have to wonder if all these major moves are good or bad (or a mix of both) for the young league as it looks to grow in its sixth season.

If you haven't seen The Greatest Showman, then, after you read this article, immediately go to the theater. But if you have, then you already know P.T. Barnum is famous for his stance on public relations and that “there is no such thing as bad publicity.” You have to ask if this is the case with major players — the best in the league — moving along to new teams, as well as this news about Boston.

It’s certainly giving plenty of buzz when you talk about players like Carli Lloyd — FIFA Player of the Year — or Sam Kerr — the Golden Boot winner in 2017 — being moved. But would you say it’s a good thing for the NBA to have a trade involving Lebron James and Russell Westbrook? Or in the NFL, Tom Brady being moved for Aaron Rodgers and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (I’ve always wanted to include that name in an article)? You wouldn't say so. Maybe I’m assuming a lot there but if you talk about fandom and what drives it, team affinity and loyalty will always be pieces of the puzzle.

How would you feel if your star player was on the trading block? I can tell you that when Ronaldo was moved from Manchester United I was livid. I refused to buy another kit until the front office bought a player I liked, and I still haven't (partly because of that hideous Chevy logo) despite the god known as Zlatan. The same can be said about all those little girls who idolize Carli Lloyd in Houston, or Christen Press in Chicago. Now those girls don’t have their heroes on the field, which means it hurts ticket sales. Yes, big names went all around, but league stability is dependent on a few things, and the protection — more importantly, consistency — of your stars is one of them.

It brings headlines, but outsiders hearing of these moves isn't always positive. No matter what Barnum had to say. The wrong light, in the wrong people’s eyes can cost more than the fandom. It can cost the league money as well. If you signed onto the Red Stars’ corporate roster, and were banking on Christen Press, sorry, too bad. Or let’s say an Australian company signed with Sky Blue FC last season. Well, no more Sam Kerr.

Or if you look at it from a new franchise standpoint, having a team fold in its first five years is a tough sell to new investors. Is the league going to be around? What players do we tie ourselves to? We’re going to ignore the overseas back and forth of the league’s best stars for a moment and just focus on these two topics, but the NWSL may have an image problem.

Now, proponents of “no bad press” will argue that the league is getting buzz and any buzz for the infant league is fantastic. The league has signed an unprecedented deal for women’s soccer with A&E and Lifetime and there appears to be some big spenders moving in and varying interest from overseas partners. So, the NWSL is on the uptick.

The Breakers folding is just an example of NWSL 2.0 and clubs and owners need to get on board with financial support, and, if they won't, well then they will be left behind. That can all be fine and good, as can growth, if the right ownership groups are paying attention. But losing a storied franchise isn't ideal on any level. Maybe this will be a catalyst for better ownership, which is sorely needed, but it is something I will certainly be keeping an eye out for in the coming future.

But moves like we’re seeing aren't always those of an established league, and I have to hope that some of these trades begin to slow down as it seems every summer big names are on the move. The league needs some consistency and these trades — while a great sideshow— aren't a shining example of stability and the NWSL would do well if it slowed down.