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What we know and what we don’t ahead of August 2024 launch – Equalizer Soccer



USL Super League 2024 teams map

Photo Copyright USL Super League

There will be two first-division professional women’s leagues in the United States beginning in August, when the USL Super League launches. The Super League’s place in the American soccer landscape was confirmed on Friday, when the league received official sanctioning from U.S. Soccer.

Earlier this week, USL Super League president Amanda Vandervort met journalists to discuss the league’s plans. There are still many questions, some of which will be answered in the coming weeks, Vandervort said. Here’s what we know — and what we don’t, yet — about the USL Super League.

What is the USL Super League?

The USL Super League is a new professional women’s soccer league that will launch in August with eight teams in its first season. Last week, it received official sanctioning from the U.S. Soccer Federation as a first-division league. The National Women’s Soccer League is already a first-division league in the United States that first kicked off in 2013.

So, it will compete with the NWSL? Why didn’t USL stick with second-division plans?

Yes and no regarding competition. Both leagues are first divisions, which is confusing for just about any global soccer fan used to a traditional pyramid. The USL Super League initially announced its intention to launch as a second-division league, but last year it changed course to become first division. The short answer to why is that the difference between standards for a first-division women’s league and a second-division women’s league aren’t prohibitive to the USL’s ownership groups, many of which already operate second-division men’s teams and have to meet similar requirements for those teams, anyway.

U.S. Soccer does not limit how many leagues can exist at each division. The federation explicitly avoids that following an antitrust lawsuit brought about by the NASL, after the the USL and NASL competed for business as second-division men’s leagues in the previous decade. The NASL accused U.S. Soccer and MLS of collaborating in antitrust practices meant to impede the NASL’s business.

U.S. Soccer sanctions leagues using requirements laid out in its Pro League Standards (PLS). If a league meets those requirements, it can be sanctioned; the USL Super League meets the requirements. Among them: eight teams in at least two time zones in season one, all stadiums must seat at least 5,000 people, and the majority owner of each team must own at least 35% and have an individual net worth of $15 million.

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Have the USL Super League and NWSL had any discussions? Are they rivals?

It is unclear if the USL and NWSL have had any formal discussions. They have only ever acknowledged each other through statements of general support about more opportunities for women’s professional development.

I asked Vandervort whether the two leagues have been in contact at all, and what conversations with U.S. Soccer have looked like about having two D-1 leagues.

“Let me start with U.S. Soccer: They’ve been incredibly supportive of the Super League,” Vandervort said. “Everything we’ve been working with them on about this Division 1 sanctioning, and what those standards are for the USL Super League — a big thank you to [U.S. Soccer president] Cindy Cone and [CEO] J.T. Batson and the entire board of U.S. Soccer for supporting our application and approving our sanctioning. That’s been really positive and a wonderful experience working with the federation.

“And the same with the NWSL. We’re excited about where they are in their growth and development and we’re excited to join the movement of women’s professional soccer. We’ve been really public about the opportunity to potentially have a U.S. Open Cup or create some sort of competition. But for us, it’s early days. We want to get the Super League off the ground in a successful manner and be focused on the things that we need to do right to fill our stadiums and drive our media deal and get the footprint and footing right for the Super League here in year one, because I think that’s going to launch us towards long-term — this is generational, the Super League, and we want to get it right from the beginning and being really focused on what we bring to the table and what the Super League is and how we operate. The things that make us unique, special and different, we’re really focused on getting those right.”

NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman is a member of the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors. Whether the Super League specifically would get a seat at that table is unclear. “Those are ongoing discussions,” Vandervort said.

The NWSL issued the following statement to The Equalizer upon news of the USL Super League’s sanctioning:

“We congratulate the USL in their efforts to launch a professional league. We know the work and investment required. 

“As we have seen from our record attendance, viewership, sponsorship revenue and expansion fees, the NWSL is growing at an exceptional pace, and we’re excited about our future.

“As the most competitive women’s league in the world, there are limited roster spots available in the NWSL. More opportunities to compete professionally is a good thing and we’re interested to see how a new league might contribute to the continued growth of our game.”

There are no unanimous opinions about the USL Super League among NWSL sources, but this much is clear: the contrast in how the leagues operate will force competition. In the long run, that could play out in several ways. Read more here.

What is unique about the USL Super League?

The big item of interest here is the calendar, a problem the NWSL has dealt with for a decade and one that has intensified recently — and will only get worse in coming years. As first reported by The Equalizer last year, NWSL leadership has discussed the idea of switching to a fall-to-spring calendar, although there has not been significant movement on the topic since.

The USL Super League will play a fall-to-spring schedule to align with the global calendar, which Vandervort & Co. feel will be advantageous in the international transfer market and for scheduling (all of which are lessons learned from the NWSL).

“I think it’s an incredible advantage, first so that our players can plan their international careers in combination with their club careers and not be fighting that battle about club and country throughout the summer months,” Vandervort said. “I think it also creates the opportunity… to have your top players in market for games on a more frequent basis, it creates a real energy around the fans and a real synergy between the fans and the players that I think we’re really going to draw on. This year-round competition allows players to compete in a competitive environment throughout the months when they’re not competing with their national team, too, so that their periodization is on track to be at peak performance when the Women’s World Cup comes around.”

There will be no college draft in the USL Super League, meaning all players are free agents as they would be globally. That stands in contrast with the NWSL’s American draft system, although the draft’s days in the NWSL could be numbered. As I’ve previously reported, trades involving future draft picks now include contingencies if said draft does not exist, a tangible sign that the elimination of the draft mechanism is being taken seriously.

USL teams also have established pipelines that NWSL teams still lack. There are 40 girls’ academy clubs on board for 2024 that are all directly connected to teams in either the USL W-League (amateur summer competition) or USL Super League, Vandervort said. The USL will also allow young players to compete in senior-team environments without sacrificing college eligibility by utilizing academy contracts, a concept already in place on the men’s side.

How many teams are there now?

The USL Super League will launch in August with eight teams: Brooklyn, N.Y.; Charlotte, N.C.; Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Lexington, Ky.; Spokane, Wash.; Tampa Bay, Fla.; Washington, D.C.

Six of those eight teams are in the Eastern Time Zone. “You might see those West Coast clubs coming east and playing a Wednesday-Saturday matchup,” Vandervort said. She acknowledged the current east-to-west imbalance as well as the number of cold-climate teams the league will have to factor into scheduling.

“Right now, it is absolutely stunning here in Tampa Bay [at USL headquarters], but I know there’s a [snow] storm going on up north,” Vandervort said. “So, we’re going to be navigating those other dynamics around our calendar and our schedule but right now with eight teams, I think we’ve got a great plan ahead of us.”

Vandervort did not speak in detail about what the winter break will look like, but she said “you can expect December and January” to be part of that.

What could this look like in a few years?

The USL Super League has disclosed eight additional markets that could launch in 2025 and beyond. They would “take the field upon completion of stadium projects and other important club development initiatives,” the league said in a release. Those markets are Chattanooga, Tenn.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Madison, Wisc.; Oakland, Calif.; Palm Beach, Fla.; Phoenix, Ariz., and Tucson, Ariz.

Phoenix and Tucson were originally announced as teams that would be part of the league’s launch in August. The Equalizer reached out to the USL Super League about why those teams are not launching in August and received the following statement from a league spokesperson:

“The pipeline of clubs excited to join the USL Super League in the future will see us bring professional women’s soccer to more communities than ever before. The timelines for their launches will naturally vary and shift as they continue to develop their stadium plans, club infrastructure, capital investment, and business strategies related to women’s soccer. We look forward to working with all of our ownership groups to ensure they are well-positioned to succeed on and off the field when they join the league.”

How big could the league become? And could there be more than just one division of the USL Super League, mimicking the two-tier professional model the USL utilizes on the men’s side? I asked Vandervort, who said:

“I don’t answer the question in terms of the total number; I answer it in terms of what’s right for the Super League,” Vandervort said. “ As we’re growing along with the growth of women’s soccer and bringing more professional women’s soccer closer to home in all these communities across the country, I think the question of how many is the right number will reveal itself as we grow and develop. I don’t have an answer to the exact number. In terms of the competition structure, that’s something that we’re working through, but we’re open as we build what’s right for the Super League and our entire ecosystem across the USL.”

Some of those prospective markets don’t scream ‘major league,’ but that is also a very American way of viewing things. (U.S. Soccer’s PLS requires 75% of the league’s markets to be in metropolitan areas of at least 750,000 people.)

“Fandom isn’t determined by the size of the city you live in,” Vandervort said. “That’s something that the USL really believes, that bringing soccer into these communities and providing professional women’s soccer in particular with the Super League, is something the fans are hungry for and they’ve just never had that opportunity.”

There is major interest in NWSL expansion, and right now that league is only committed to adding one more team for 2026 to join the incoming Boston team. Expansion beyond 16 teams seems likely given the economic benefits and interest, but there are more prospective investor groups looking for women’s soccer opportunities than there are places at the table in the NWSL, which will be charging more than the $53 million paid by Boston and Bay FC (kicking off next month). USL has not disclosed franchise fees, but they are certainly exponentially less than what NWSL is charging. That could create opportunities for hungry investor groups.

What caliber of player will be in this league?

Vandervort noted that the Super League will create over 150 additional roster spots and new job opportunities for professional players in the U.S.

“What an incredible time that we’re in that we’ve got more jobs for professional women’s soccer players than ever before,” she said.

The league is clearly looking to compete for players on the global market given its scheduling. There is an assumption that the Super League could draw the interest of NWSL depth players who desire more playing time, but that won’t become clear until at least the summer. Most answers on the player front won’t come for a while; several sources told The Equalizer that contracts won’t begin until summer, with some players agreeing to terms and finding short-term solutions for the spring.

Multiple sources noted that the USL Super League’s minimum salary, which is not yet finalized, could be around $35,000, which would largely mirror the NWSL’s salary floor. The NWSL minimum salary in 2024 is $37,856. Vandervort has previously spoken about the USL Super League offering competitive salaries comparable to the USL Championship, which is the second division on the men’s side.

This week, Vandervort stressed the USL Super League views its offering as a total package, including benefits like housing, not unlike how the NWSL now requires paid housing (or equivalent stipends) for players. She said the USL Super League has studied the NWSL’s collective bargaining agreement in depth, as well as other agreements globally. She was previously the chief women’s football officer at global players’ union FIFPRO, so she is well-versed in topics around unions and player welfare.

How can I watch the USL Super League?

To be determined. The USL recently signed a deal with CBS Sports to broadcast its men’s properties, but the Super League was notably left out of that.

“On the women’s side, we’re navigating that separately,” Vandervort said. “We know the USL Super League media rights have a high value, so we’re excited to be negotiating those rights separately.”

In November, the NWSL announced new media-rights deals with Amazon, CBS, ESPN and Scripps Sports worth $240 million over four years.

What’s next?

A lot. Only two of the eight teams have revealed branding. Several teams are racing to complete stadium projects. Several more still need to announce coaches and technical staff, who then need to find players. There is a schedule to be made and business partners to be announced.

“The first grouping of commercial partners” will be announced in the coming weeks, Vandervort said.

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North Carolina Courage’s Brianna Pinto embracing new role in 2024 – Equalizer Soccer




Gotham FC's Delanie Sheehan battles for a ball with North Carolina Courage's Brianna Pinto

Photo Copyright Rob Kinnan for USA TODAY Sports

CARY, N.C. — When the North Carolina Courage lined up for their opening match of the 2024 National Women’s Soccer League season, an interesting name filled the central striker’s role at kickoff: Brianna Pinto.

The 23-year-old had previously been a midfielder while a member of the Courage, albeit a versatile player who had been used in both defensive and attacking roles. But with North Carolina’s leading scorer from 2023 Kerolin sidelined with a torn ACL for the time being, as well as head coach Sean Nahas having a surplus of midfielders and a track history of playing players in various roles on the field, Pinto got the call as the No. 9, a move that paid immediate dividends.

Pinto drew a penalty to open the scoring in the season opener, a 5-1 romp over the Houston Dash, and notched her second start of the season back at WakeMed Soccer Park on March 30, with her first goal of 2024 in a gritty 1-0 win over Gotham FC.

“I think just being in a new role is obviously a learning moment. But I love playing the No. 9 just because I’m close to goal and there’s nothing more special than getting to score,” Pinto told reporters in the postgame press conference after the win over Gotham.

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Star in the making – Equalizer Soccer




Emeri Adames stands with her arms folded and a massive smile on her face. She is posing in front of gold drapery in the Reign's dark blue home kit with gold accents.

Photo Copyright Jane Gershovich for Seattle Reign FC

SEATTLE — As calendars turned to December, Emeri Adames was graduating high school and preparing for life playing college soccer at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The Dallas, Texas, native was not planning on going pro. She had committed to a Tarheels program that is consistently one of the best in the nation as one of the nation’s top recruits.

Seemingly out of nowhere, Seattle Reign came calling. Discussions began in late December and an invite to preseason soon followed. Adames still wasn’t set on going pro but, time training with the Reign changed everything.

“It was definitely a really hard decision. I have so much respect for UNC coaches, and I have such a good connection with them still, I talked to them. But it was just mainly this team,” Adames told The Equalizer.

It has been Adames’ goal ever since she was young to go pro but she didn’t think it would happen so soon.

“It wasn’t like I was just trying to go pro just to go pro,” Adames said. “I found my place and I found a great team that would support me and the staff that really wanted me to grow as a player and I saw their visions for me. And so I talked to my family and we had a lot of conversations and that’s what led me to this decision.”

The Reign were just as excited to sign Adames as she was to join the team. Speaking after Adames’ NWSL debut, in the regular season opener, head coach Laura Harvey admitted that “honestly, within two days [of preseason] I was like ‘we need to sign this kid, she is special.’”

Harvey was almost gleeful talking about Adames, forewarning media “You wait, this kid’s unbelievable.”

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What to keep and what to change from the SheBelieves Cup – Equalizer Soccer




The USWNT celebrates winning the SheBelieves Cup

Photo Copyright The Columbus Dispatch

On Tuesday night, the United States won its seventh SheBelieves Cup in nine years. This victory was secured in thrilling fashion – a full-time draw led to penalty kicks and featured goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher not only saving shots but also burying one of her own. But, as the post-match excitement died down, fans and followers immediately honed in on the predictable follow-up question to an international tournament: what could this mean for the Olympics? 

In short, a lot! This tournament saw some predictably solid play from Olympic roster shoo-ins like Lindsay Horan, whose abilities to consistently generate plays, draw fouls, and score goals looked as reliable as ever. Mallory Swanson returned from injury to the international stage for the first time in a year and has never looked faster or more eager for a goal. And joining her up front were Jaedyn Shaw and Sophia Smith, who more than earned their keep with goals throughout the tournament. 

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