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NWSL kits have become a picture of monotony – Equalizer Soccer



Scrub through the early days of the National Women’s Soccer League YouTube archives, and you’ll find a treasure trove of games from the inaugural season in 2013. Without some supporting metadata from the videos, you might have trouble identifying teams.

The poor quality of the team-produced broadcasts in those days didn’t help, but among the NWSL’s early visual issues was the fact that many teams looked exactly the same. Each of the eight teams from that first season wore one of a few Nike templates in a team-specified color. So lacking in variety were the jerseys that it was easy to confuse which team was which in multiple matchups on a given day. Just try distinguishing the Portland Thorns from the Washington Spirit at a distance, each with the same red jersey with a white stripe across the chest. The same issue existed for Sky Blue FC (which, despite its name, wore navy) and the Seattle Reign.

All of this was understandable enough in the early years. The NWSL came together in a hurry, by the standards of a professional sports league, evolving from a hasty press release hours before the 2012 Olympic final into a league backed by U.S. Soccer by year’s end. Budgets were still minuscule.

How is it, though, that 10 years later, there is such a lack of diversity and identity among team kits and brands? As many as half the NWSL’s 12 teams this season will wear black primary jerseys, even though for several of those clubs it is not a primary color in the crest (or jersey, historically). The result is a league that still feels very bland when it comes to team identities, something that is important in establishing local fandom and standing out on a national and global scale.

Nike and the NWSL are in a new phase of their partnership, one that has people around the league excited about the promise of greater kit customization and flexibility starting in 2024. Among the rules that are changing, as The Equalizer previously reported, is the loosening of the requirement to have a white alternate jersey.

Plain white jerseys have long been a problem for the NWSL. In theory, the rule change should mean more color in the league. The Orlando Pride have already said they will not be wearing a white jersey for the foreseeable future, beginning next year. But in an effort from teams to be cool and follow the trend (and yes, sell jerseys, which is important), black kits have become the new white: overdone and too often without reason.

The latest in this trend came last week, when the Washington Spirit unveiled an all-black primary along with a new black-and-white crest, replacing the red-white-and-blue color scheme the team has used since its inception. Owner Michele Kang told reporters that the change represents a “rebrand in progress” for the Spirit. The black and white is something of a transition.

The Equalizer has confirmed that 2024 NWSL kits have already been finalized with Nike and the league, according to multiple sources, so the Spirit at least internally know what they will look like next year. The process of alerting the NWSL of a potential rebrand, and then getting approval for the final change, takes time, as NJ/NY Gotham FC learned in its recent transformation from Sky Blue FC.

At the top level, beyond the kits, there is the entire brand identities of teams. This is the crest, the color palette, and yes, the ethos of the brand. Given the checkered history of the Spirit franchise — from preventing Megan Rapinoe from kneeling in 2016, to Richie Burke’s tenure as head coach and Steve Baldwin’s tumultuous exit as majority owner — it is understandable why Kang would want to move on from any association with the past. That was Gotham’s goal two years ago, to leave behind a Sky Blue name that was synonymous with failure and mistreatment of players. Logically, the Spirit franchise is also somewhat of an extension of the old Washington Freedom brand, which was eviscerated by its tragic rebrand to magicJack in late 2010. Some might view that as added baggage.

The Spirit, however, also represent one of the only three remaining original team brands from the NWSL’s launch in 2013, and the team is only two years removed from winning a championship.

American soccer has a major problem with its general willingness to erase the fleeting history it has in search of something fresh (“timeless,” the executives say). It is too often a thirsty quest that values change for the sake of it rather than change with meaning and purpose. Failed MLS rebrands in Chicago, Columbus and Montreal should be cautionary tales about this process.

This problem of disrespecting history is so pervasive that the current clubs of the league fail to even recognize three of the league’s nine past champions because of the legal technicalities of teams relocating. There were other losses for the league along the way.

Seattle Reign eventually changed OL Reign under its new French ownership, which brought with it a totally different look and color palette meant to match sister club Lyon. It kept the team in Seattle, which was an understandable but still slightly cringeworthy sacrifice for what was arguably the best original NWSL brand, combining the name and visual identity.

The current Spirit branding was created by former majority owner Bill Lynch, who felt “the name is the objective of inspiring, creating inspiration.” The crest is supposed to be shaped like a torch and the ball at the bottom is “fueling the spirit” of the team.

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So, sure, there could be a lot more meaning to the name. Maybe that makes it easier to start anew. Ten years in, however, is it worth starting from scratch? Surely there will be market research to back up the decision. Plenty of clubs globally, with decades more history, have gone through legal or financial trouble, bad ownership, relegation and losing streaks — all sorts of baggage. Plenty of them have also stuck with the same similar name and branding.

Most immediate for the Spirit is the move to black-and-white. If this were to stick long-term, it would be both unremarkable and unoriginal. Look at the recent rendering released by EA Sports, upon the positive news that the NWSL will be featured in the video game going forward, to see how the Spirit kit fits into the grand scheme of the league.

Four black kits are pictured, and Chicago and Orlando also wore black primary kits in 2022.

Angel City launched with black as a primary color, and sure, that made sense for the market. LAFC already wore black and was a quasi-brother team in the same stadium, and LA is a market where cool and sellable is a must. What the all-black kit lacks in design and personality, the pink-and-white alternate makes up for.

Gotham ditched its sky-blue colorway for mostly black in 2021 in a similar effort to be cool and modern in the country’s biggest market. Portland Thorns FC abandoned red years ago in favor of black branding on and off the field. The Orlando Pride shifted away from solid purple to a heavily black base in 2021 with the Ad Astra kit, and the Chicago Red Stars recently began to favor all-black kits over the traditional light blue. Add in the dark violet that Racing Louisville wears, and the disappointingly plain navy kits of San Diego Wave FC, and the NWSL desperately lacks a modicum of color variety, let alone strong kit design. That is a sad statement to make after some impressive previous kit drops from some teams, but it’s the reality of a copycat world. (If this rumored Portland alternative kit is real… well, I guess there’s something unique about it, at least!)

What comes next? Variety, hopefully. That is a bare minimum. Brand identities that have some kind of continuity year-over-year would be nice, too, rather than chasing fads.

The new phase of the Nike relationship is supposed to help with this on a kit front. All of this is also happening to the backdrop of the league hiring its first creative director, who is overseeing a rebrand of the entire NWSL.

One of commissioner Jessica Berman’s objectives this year is to establish a network of sharing best practices among clubs. If that initiative can overlap with input from creative director Maureen Raisch on a team level — to make sure that not only the league has the right branding, but that it trickles down to each individual team — that would be welcomed. Right now, there is too much of the same when it comes to team branding.

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FIFPRO representatives comment on the equalization of World Cup prize money – Equalizer Soccer




Photo Copyright Michael Chow for USA TODAY Sports

Last week, FIFA announced significant increases in investment in the Women’s World Cup, including an over 300 percent increase in prize money in 2023. In addition to the prize money, FIFA will also be paying roughly $31 million to each qualifying team and an additional $11 million will be used to reimburse clubs for player appearances in the tournament. In his closing remarks at the 73rd FIFA Congress in Rwanda, newly re-elected FIFA president Gianni Infantino also stated that he hoped to achieve equal pay by the next World Cup cycle.

Outside of financial benefits, FIFA also stated that the “number of delegates per team, the level of international and domestic travel for the tournament, accommodation standards and rooms, team base camps and facilities, amongst other services extended by FIFA to participating teams will be delivered to the same level as those delivered to the men last year, and into the future.”

These major developments are thanks to the tireless advocacy of women’s players from around the world and FIFPRO, the worldwide players’ union for international professional footballers. Last October, in what was the largest piece of collective action ever undertaken by women’s football players, FIFPRO, member unions, and 150 players from 25 women’s national teams sent a letter to FIFA calling for improved conditions and prize money. Since then FIFPRO has been negotiating on behalf of their members to make these changes a reality and, as the recent announcements from FIFA show, they’ve made some significant progress.

This Friday, FIFPRO’s Director of Global Policy & Strategic Relations Women’s Football Sarah Gregorius, and General Secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann spoke to reporters about these recent developments and what they were still working for in the future.

Bigger than prize money

Although the increase in prize money has gotten most of the attention, the equalization of conditions and the addition of preparation funds were just as important because they have such an impact on the material well-being of players.

Gregorius, who is also a former player for New Zealand and appeared in three World Cups, explains that there were marked disparities in pretty much every experiential aspect of playing in a Women’s or Men’s World Cup. For example, rooming and allocations were different. FIFA would pay for men to have single rooms while women were only given double rooms. When playing in an emotionally draining tournament, sharing a room with another person for four to six weeks straight impacts a player’s well-being and preparedness for competition.

There were also disparities in travel accommodations. FIFA would pay for men to have chartered or business class flights while women would only be offered commercial flights. Gregorius pointed out that flying business class also impacts players by allowing them the privacy of a business class lounge. A well-known player had told her that, during a previous World Cup, she was regularly recognized and approached or followed around the airport which was stressful.

Additionally, 2023 will be the first time teams will have their own home bases and training centers to work from. This is something that has been standard in the men’s tournament for some time.

In terms of preparation funds, these are especially important to the many players and federations that are still amateur or semi-pro explained Baer-Hoffmann. With the tournament expanding to 32 countries this year, there are numerous teams with no professional league or infrastructure in place to make sure players have had adequate time to get ready to play in the tournament. Preparation funds help professionalize players by giving them the support they need to focus exclusively on football and build up the experience they need to be competitive.

Equitable redistribution to players

Although these changes in funding and accommodation are major steps forward, there is still work to be done.

Most importantly, FIFPRO is still negotiating how funds will be redistributed to players. While some federations already have agreements in place with their players dictating what percentage of winnings get redistributed back to players, many do not. This leaves many players open to not receiving anything for their participation in the tournament. For this reason, Gregorius says that the distribution of funds is, in many ways, just as critical as closing the pay gap.

FIFPRO is currently negotiating for a minimum of 30 percent of winnings to be equally redistributed back to players. This would allow for the further professionalization of the women’s game and, by FIFPRO’s estimation, allow players to be able to better support themselves financially as footballers.

Baer-Hoffmann explains that standardizing a minimum redistribution to players along with set amounts for preparation funds helps players better negotiate future bargaining agreements with their member associations. If the players know exactly what their federations are receiving, they’re in a stronger place to negotiate fairer and more balanced contracts. This will, hopefully, lead to less of a need for extreme actions like strikes or refusal by certain players to participate in future tournaments.

The importance of professionalism

Ultimately, every development is a step towards FIFPRO’s primary overarching goal which is to professionalize the women’s game.

According to Baer-Hoffmann, professionalization is one of the greatest protections against systemic abuse in the sport. He points to the impact the National Women’s Soccer League’s players association and the recent collective bargaining agreement have had on tackling systemic abuse in the American professional league. Previously in the NWSL, dependency structures were created through a lack of free agency, poor pay, and unionization. Once the players unionized and established better conditions, they were empowered to demand changes that increased their safety and well-being.

By the same token, the equalization of the World Cup tournament can be a step towards creating a safer, more supportive infrastructure for players in member associations around the world. Money and protection almost always equal safer environments because it allows greater player autonomy.

There is still much work to be done in this area, however, says Baer-Hoffmann, who calls player safety the biggest threat to the integrity of the sport at this time. FIFPRO spends a great deal of effort in supporting players through legal battles or when they bring abuse charges against individuals in their federation or even when they need to be evacuated for their own safety. Baer-Hoffmann says that if people knew just how many player safety cases could be resolved with only a bit more investment into managing investigations or supporting victims, they’d be shocked. So even a relatively small change in how funds are allocated to players can be a massive game-changer.

It just makes sense

Both Gregorius and Baer-Hoffmann say that further work needs to be done, but they’re pleased with what the players have achieved already. The goal of their negotiations is to find common ground to work from and demonstrate how progress in these areas is mutually beneficial to federations, FIFA, and individual players.

FIFA simply realized that equalization now rather than later just makes sense, says Gregorius. Looking around the world and seeing how the upheavals in France, Canada, Spain, and, formerly, the United States, are grabbing headlines around the world is enough to prompt change. As the world’s governing federation, it’s simply a matter of seeing the public response and deciding which side of the fence they wish to be on. And, so far, FIFA has decided they’d rather take what is likely the easier route of accommodating players instead of battling an infinite number of future battles.

Baer-Hoffmann also gives a nod to FIFA saying it’s true that broadcasters are lowballing FIFA in terms of rights for the Women’s World Cup. It’s a problem, he says, if the same broadcasters who bash FIFA for not sharing equal prize money don’t “reach into their own pockets” to help fund this change. But with women’s soccer growing exponentially and with a very high-profile World Cup likely taking place in North America in 2026, it’s only a matter of time before the tournament becomes another major revenue generator for FIFA.

Ultimately, both Gregorius and Baer-Hoffmann credit the women’s players themselves for their efforts to bring about such a massive change in such a short amount of time. Says Baer-Hoffmann, “this generation of players have taken the biggest leap in the professionalization of the game” which will benefit players for generations to come.

It was, therefore, important to FIFPRO to make sure these changes happened quickly enough that many of the women who advocated for it can benefit from some of the changes, says Gregorius. At some point, she says, the fight for equality has to end. It can’t go on forever. But thanks to the efforts of this current generation of players, they are on track to achieve it – at least within the confines of the World Cup – in just a few years’ time.

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Previewing Current, Thorns – Equalizer Soccer




Photo: Kansas City Current

Arianna Cascone and Jeff Kassouf wrap up our NWSL season previews with the two teams who met in last year’s NWSL Championship: Kansas City Current and Portland Thorns FC. The Current added Debinha, and the Thorns will be led once again by reigning MVP Sophia Smith. How will both teams navigate through a Women’s World Cup summer as they try to make it to the final once again?

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11 major talking points ahead of the 2023 NWSL season – Equalizer Soccer




Photo Copyright Geoff Burke for USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 National Women’s Soccer League season kicks off on Saturday, and with it comes an amalgamation of excitement and question marks.

To get you ready for the year ahead — as the NWSL officially turns 10 years old on the field — we break down 11 big talking points to watch.

VAR: Video Assistant Referees join the fold

Saturday’s season kickoff will feature the debut of VAR (Video Assisted Referee) which will help further bring the NWSL into the modern era. What will this mean? At its best, it will mean awarding penalties for obvious handballs the referee misses, and the end of penalties called for phantom handballs (hello Becky Sauerbrunn on 2018 opening weekend). And at some point, a call that would have been incorrect that truly changes a game or season will be made right.

At worst, VAR will mean some lengthy delays, subdued celebrations, and some goals called back for offside based on the narrowest of margins. And at some point, there will be a VAR call that does not have universal agreement, even among experts.

One thing to get out of the way now is that with VAR comes delayed offside flags. The idea is sound, because you can call a goal back but you cannot reinstate a play once it gets blown dead. So, keep that in mind the first few times the flag looks like it came in very late.

The World Cup bump

It is indisputable that every World Cup has resulted in a bump to the domestic leagues here in the United States. That includes WPS and Major League Soccer. It will be difficult to match the excitement of the last two tournaments, especially with this one happening at awkward hours for Americans.

On the flip side, access to global women’s soccer has exploded since 2019, giving fans more emotional ties to players from all over the world. That should lessen the burden on the United States to win it in order to maximize the impact.

The league just launched an ad campaign highlighting all of the global stars who ply their trade in NWSL. That’s a good start for a league that during the last two World Cups appeared to be somewhere between unaware and unprepared for their respective aftermaths.

The World Cup bump will happen. The questions are: How big will it be? And what will the lasting impact look like?

Media rights

This was discussed in an earlier column, but at this point, there is no logical reason for NWSL to pull the trigger on a new media deal until after the World Cup. That’s when the property will be hottest, and when it will be most evident that putting on a really good television show goes a long way toward making your league into a big deal.

Nothing on this front will have a direct impact on the 2023 season, but you never know if the next deal will be the one that vaults the league to the next level. Taking into account some of the issues discussed yesterday, NWSL should be as wellpositioned as it has ever been to make at least a medium-sized splash.

What will 2024 look like?

We already know that Utah Royals FC will rejoin the league as an expansion club in 2024. A Bay Area club is expected to be announced soon. There is also a Boston bid expected to be accepted but likely for 2025 or beyond. There are pending sales in Chicago and Portland.

The Royals and the Bay Area group have no doubt been working toward 2024 launches for some time, but it is still getting tight for a formal announcement on the second in order to have proper time to be truly ready. This is an issue that plagued NWSL early but has been better with prior expansion clubs in Louisville, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

The new teams will also require a tweak to the schedule—an increase to 26 matches under the same double-round-robin format seems logical—and possibly even the creation of divisions for the first time. It is not vital that this be set up ahead of the end of 2023, but it would be nice if it was.

As for the Red Stars and Thorns, it won’t be a good look if either sale lingers through the World Cup and NWSL Championship, especially if one of the teams is in the championship match. Getting the right fit is more important than fast-tracking the process, but also—it needs to get done.

Can we focus on soccer?

New ownership in Chicago and Portland is part of NWSL trying to move past heinous abuse scandals that surfaced in 2021 and dogged the league through the early part of 2023 when sanctions were announced. It will never be “over” as moving on requires work and vigilance. But at some point, it would be nice if the top headlines centered on soccer.

In 2022, two head coaches and an assistant were suspended and then fired as a result of issues brought up by the NWSL/NWSL PA Joint Investigation. Another head coach resigned after the season despite an investigation turning up no specific wrongdoing. These transgressions paled in comparison to the ones turned up in 2021 but that is still one-quarter of the league’s head coaches at this time a year ago having been caught up in it. How many will there be in 2023? We can only hope the answer is zero.


Stats nerds like me in particular, love to focus on attendance. The league clearly feels this will be strong in 2023 with commissioner Jessica Berman touting in her press conference Monday that season-ticket sales have already surpassed 2022. And in case you forgot, 2022 ended with a bang when all four hosted playoff matches drew spectacular crowds ahead of a near-sellout at Audi Field for the NWSL Championship. (those numbers do not count for average attendance.)

For this year in particular there are a few spots worth watching. The most interesting to me is San Diego. The Wave were at 6,000-seat Torero Stadium until their final two games and a playoff match at Snapdragon Stadium. Those three games averaged more than 25,000. It will be interesting to see where the Wave land with a full season at Snapdragon.

Angel City burst on the scene and promptly unseated the Thorns as NWSL attendance queens. How they will do in year two will be fun to watch. As for the Thorns, they enter this season in a similar state of limbo with an ownership group the fans have rebelled against. How will that play out in 2023 and beyond?

NWSL Championship

I’ll keep saying it until it happens or the format changes, but I cannot believe the season is about to start and we don’t have a venue announced for the final. This really needs to start changing. As it stands, the league hasn’t actually formally committed to the predetermined format beyond this season, although Berman recently indicated it is likely to stay, calling the final the NWSL’s Super Bowl event. But truly making it such will require longer runways into the match and surrounding events.

If I had to bet on where I’ll be on Nov. 11, my money is on Los Angeles.  But don’t go booking any travel based on that, please.

Challenge Cup

The Challenge Cup has finally been put in its proper place on the calendar. The trick now is to convince fans of its importance, especially with so much of it happening while the World Cup players are absent. The format probably needs further tweaking, and bringing in teams from outside NWSL would be cool. For now though, we can look forward to April 19 when the fourth edition of the tournament will kick off.

What else do I need to know for 2023?

We have a few name changes for stadiums. Angel City now plays at BMO Stadium (was Banc of California) and the Dash now play at Shell Energy Stadium (was BBVA Stadium).

International viewers can now access matches through the league’s website, through a new arrangement with Endeavor Streaming. International distributors DAZN and Tigo will also distribute matches in select countries. There is no more Twitch.

On the pitch, NWSL teams quietly opened the door for underage players to train with clubs and sign contracts. For this season, Chloe Ricketts, 15, signed with the Washington Spirit and the Wave have agreed with Melanie Barcenas, also 15. Angel City also had U-18 trialists in camp.

Elsewhere, some new names may actually be familiar players. Mallory Swanson (nee Pugh) is on the top of that list. Others include Haley McCutcheon (nee Hanson), Mandy Haught (nee McGlynn) and Katie Lind (nee Naughton).

And another cool note is that four players are in range to reach 200 regular season matches played this season. Lauren Barnes (189) leads McCall Zerboni (188) but Merritt Mathias (183) and Jess McDonald (178) are next in line.

Who will win the Shield?

For the second straight season, the playoff race figures to be wide open. Extended World Cup absences make handicapping things more difficult than usual. But I am picking the Wave to rise to the top in their second season. There will be some holes for sure over the summer, especially in central defense and goal, and they will be relying on Alex Morgan to stay healthy over the course of a very long season. But they are well coached and should be able to build well on what they started in 2022. The Wave also had a solid rookie class last season and I’d expect those players to keep getting better.

Here’s how I’m predicting the table to finish up:

1. Wave – see above

2. Current – ambitious owners have put together a top side

3. Reign – for the Reign and Laura Harvey, it’s all about the playoffs

4. Thorns – how much will a full year of Crystal Dunn help?

5. Gotham – roster is too good for a repeat of last year…right?

6. Spirit – Rodman, Sanchez, Parsons restore some order for ’21 champs

7. Angel City – would not surprise me if they wind up in the playoffs

8. Louisville – heading in the right direction for sure

9. Dash – did not improve roster enough after breakthrough season

10. Pride – the play hard for Hines, but just not good enough

11. Red Stars – just took too many roster hits to expect any more

12. Courage – were porous defensively before losing Erceg and Pickett

Who will win everything else?

I’ll take the Wave to win the double by beating the Current in the NWSL Championship—at their rival’s home grounds in Los Angeles.

I’m taking a shot with Angel City to win the Challenge Cup, though. They are tough to play against and should be solid during World Cup absences.


MVP – Debinha
Defender of the Year – Naomi Girma
Goalkeeper of the Year – Phallon Tullis-Joyce
Coach of the Year – Juan Carlos Amoros
Rookie of the Year – Michelle Cooper

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