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On next steps of reform, calendar decisions, media-rights deal, Utah – Equalizer Soccer



Photo Courtesy Utah Royals FC

With the March 25 first kick of the 2023 National Women’s Soccer League looming, The Equalizer quickly caught up with NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman around the official confirmation of the Utah Royals’ return for the 2024 season.

Beyond the topic of Utah — which you can read about in depth here — Berman provided updates on tangible next steps being taken in the league’s systemic reform, where discussions stand as the NWSL weighs its scheduling options (including exploring the idea of a fall-to-spring season), and what the next media-rights partner needs to offer to the league as its popularity grows.

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The joint investigation report detailing systemic abuse in the NWSL came out in December. There is still work to be done from that, and that release also offered an opportunity for the league to start moving forward. The new season is only two weeks away. What are you focused on right now?

We always talked about the three goals being fact-finding, corrective action and systemic reform. With the publication of the report being done, and the corrective action as the result of the investigation being done, we are laser-focused on systemic reform. That won’t be as disctrete as a one-time event. We are extremely aware that this is going to be an ongoing process, iterative, and we’ll learn as we go whether what we’re doing is having its intended impact. Most importantly, keeping lines of communication open with the union and players about how the changes we’re making are being received and what other areas we can focus on.

I can give a couple of examples. We launched our first ever league-wide training program, in person. We have a team of experts who are traveling to every single market before the start of the season to talk about our anti-harassment, anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation policy, and what the channels of communication are for reporting, and to make sure players know what their rights are. We’re also doing complimentary training for our coaches and for management so that they understand what’s expected of them.

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2023 NWSL Competition Guidelines Overview – Equalizer Soccer




On March 20, just a few days before the start of the National Women’s Soccer League season, the league sent out its 2023 competition guidelines, including it’s roster rules, deadline tables and much more.

NWSL rules are notoriously complicated and difficult to follow even for those whose job it is to know them, so our goal is to help you better understand some key elements.

The major milestones to watch out for are going to be the closure of the primary transfer window — when teams can still sign players — which will happen on Thursday, April 18. The secondary window runs from June 28 through July 25, overlapping the World Cup.

As a mechanism for adding players, the 45 day Injury/Illness List was added. Basically, if a player is expected to miss at least 45 days due to an injury, they can be added to the list and their team can sign a replacement player.

How does this differ from the season-ending injury (SEI) designation? With the SEI, teams are able to also have salary-cap relief, whereas they don’t with the 45-Day IL, so the added player must fit into the team’s salary cap. Also, if a player does recover before the 45 days is up on the latter, they are not allowed to return to the active roster until the 45 day period is up.

With a lot of players having SEI’s last year — usually due to a torn ACL — and showing up on final rosters today still having the SEI designation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that player will also miss this season. If a player receives the SEI designation, the team receives both roster and salary-cap relief and that stays until the player is cleared by the team physician. As long as a player had the designation before the start of the regular season, they can come off the list at any point in time. The minute they do, the money and roster-spot help disappear. So, teams have incentives to keep players designated as SEI, for now.

The caveat to this is what happens when someone has a SEI during the season, but then unexpectedly recovers quickly: If the team didn’t use roster or salary-cap relief, said player can rejoin the active roster at any time. However, there is a limit that only two players can use the unexpected recovery return in any given season.

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One other way teams can stay under the salary cap is the fact that performance bonuses for players — although paid out in the year they were achieved — count toward the next year’s salary cap. So, contracts can be structured in ways where if teams think they have more give in the next year’s cap, they can make the performance bonuses bigger in order to stay under for the current year.

In addition to the annual limit of allocation money, “teams that did not qualify for the postseason in a given league season may purchase an additional $100,000 in allocation money during the following calendar year.”

CBA offers new parental rights

The documents also gave some clarity around some of the parental rights that the new CBA affords. First, strides were made to improve the life of players post-pregnancy and make sure that they are supported while nursing:

Second, language clarifies that paid parental leave is also available for any player who adopts a child during the NWSL season and that they are entitled to either eight weeks of paid leave or the remaining term of the player’s contract, whichever is shorter, in addition to players who give birth to a child. The player will received 100 percent of their NWSL salary.

One other tidbit that differs a lot from other leagues is that trades may not be conditioned upon a player passing a physical examination or voided because they failed to do so, unless the trading team acts in bad faith regarding the details of a player’s medical condition.

The other calendar is the national team replacement player (NTRP) calendar, which highlights the FIFA windows in which NTRPs can be signed and when they must be released by. As a reminder, NTRP’s do not count against a team’s roster or salary cap unless they are kept past the highlighted red boxes.

For many teams with multiple players heading to the FIFA Women’s World Cup this summer, NTRPs are an important factor in continuing to win games during major tournaments.

Complete NWSL rules can be viewed here.

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San Diego wunderkind Melanie Barcenas signs with Wave, becomes youngest NWSL player – Equalizer Soccer




Two weeks after the youngest signing in National Women’s Soccer League history, there is a new player who can claim that feat.

San Diego Wave FC announced the signing of 15-year-old Melanie Barcenas, who played locally for the acclaimed San Diego Surf youth club. Barcenas, a midfielder, signed a three-year contract through the 2025.

“I’m very excited to sign my first professional contract with my hometown team, San Diego Wave,” Barcenas said. “It’s been a dream of mine to not just play in the NWSL but to have the opportunity to represent this city since the announcement of the Wave last year. I know I am young, but the team and coaching staff have been amazing, and I look forward to learning from them every day as I continue to develop.”

San Diego Wave head coach Casey Stoney previously preached the mantra, “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough,” when the team signed then 17-year-old Jaedyn Shaw last year. Shaw made an immediate impact, scoring three goals in her first three starts, including a pair of game-winners for the Wave in their expansion season.

“We are very happy that Melanie and her family have decided to entrust her hometown club as the place for her to begin her professional career,” Stoney said. “The coaches at San Diego Surf have been instrumental in helping her develop as a person and as a player for her entire youth career. We’re excited to maximize her potential through the coming years, while being patient and deliberate in advancing her development while ensuring she retains some routine and normalcy of being a teenager.”

Barcenas is over three months younger than Chloe Ricketts, the 15-year-old midfielder who the Washington Spirit signed to a contract earlier in March. Olivia Moultrie was the first 15-year-old to sign in the NWSL, in 2021, paving the way for the rule changes that have followed after settling a lawsuit with the NWSL outside of court.

Barcenas is part of the U.S. women’s national youth teams and was recently the youngest player called up to the U-17 roster for matches against England. Last year, she became the first high school player to sign a name, image and likeness (NIL) deal with Nike.

Shaw arrived in San Diego via the NWSL’s antiquated discovery rights process, but Barcenas signes with the Wave through the newly implemented U-18 entry mechanism, which allows teams to sign up to two players under the age of 18.

The Surf and Wave have also quickly formed a close relationship, including adjacent training grounds. While the NWSL does not have a formal homegrown rule, Barcenas is for all intents and purposes the first teenager to sign with her local NWSL game via this method. Alyssa Thompson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NWSL Draft, is a Los Angeles native and joined Angel City FC earlier this year via the draft mechanism.

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Kansas City Current, OL Reign, and Washington Spirit — American Soccer Analysis




By Nate Gilman

2022 was not the title defense the Washington Spirit would’ve hoped. Despite a promising start to the season, reaching the Challenge Cup final, very little went right during the regular season. The Spirit finished the regular season with 19 points, the second-fewest in the league.

And the team couldn’t even add a top draft talent like other similarly positioned teams because what became the second overall pick had been traded in 2020 as a part of the deal for Emily Sonnett. 

Even so, there’s optimism in Washington for 2023. Part of that starts with the underperformance of 2022. The Spirit finished the NWSL regular season with a -3.20 expected goals difference, the fifth worst in the league. This isn’t to say Washington was a good team in 2022 but there was certainly an element of bad luck. According to ASA’s xPoints, the Spirit’s advanced numbers were closer to that of a 28-point team, a lot closer to the playoff line than 2022’s final table indicated. 

And Mark Parsons returns to NWSL, and Washington, managing the team. Getting the most out of an unbalanced roster will be a challenge but banking on a multi-time NWSL Shield-winning coach seems like a pretty good place to start. 

Making Parsons’ job easier is the already existing offensive infrastructure already in place could, and maybe should, be one of the league’s most exciting, headlined by the trio of Ashley Hatch, Ashley Sanchez, and Trinity Rodman. Last season, the three combined to score 16 of the Spirit’s 25 goals and Sanchez and Rodman combined for seven of the team’s 16 assists. There’s a very good chance all three will be headed to the World Cup this summer and they should continue to thrive in the NWSL as well.

Hatch and Sanchez really deserve their own sections in this preview but space is limited and Rodman is the headliner.

Just How Good Can Trinity Rodman Be?

Trinity Rodman has been a revelation in her first two NWSL seasons. Despite playing zero minutes of college soccer, Rodman’s game immediately translated at the professional level. She’s all but a lock to be on the plane to the World Cup this summer and, at the very least, should figure to contribute off the bench. 

Trying to describe ball progression to someone who has never watched a soccer game? Have them watch Trinity Rodman for 10 minutes. She’s either moving the ball forward on the dribble or finding space to receive it. Per FBref, Rodman’s 87 progressive carries ranked 2nd in the league (trailing only Sophia Smith’s 88) and her 160 progressive passes received was 2nd most (again, only behind Smith’s 161). 

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