The five most important things NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird said during her pre-draft press conference


The National Women’s Soccer League will hold its ninth annual draft on Wednesday and commissioner Lisa Baird provided some insight and news items regarding the current state and future of the league ahead of the big event including the introduction of Sacramento as the newest NWSL expansion and the reformed partnership between NWSL and U.S. Soccer.

The commissioner opened her press conference acknowledging the ways that recent events in the U.S. Capitol can’t help but intersect with sports:

“Before I get into my opening comments today, I would be very remiss if I did not acknowledge the disgraceful events in our nation’s capital last week, the riot was shocking and saddening, and it was antithetical to everything our country stands for. I fully recognize that sports is entertainment and for many an escape. But rest assured, our players in this league will remain fully engaged and committed to our country’s civic life, and I will continue to encourage our athletes to make their voices heard and be a force for good in this world.”

Baird also continued to field questions regarding the draft, the current rules implementations, and the potential shift in draft perspectives this year and beyond.

“Like everything in the last year, our 2021 draft won’t be traditional in the sense of everybody in one place, but we’re innovating and we’re using, utilizing technology to replicate the mechanics, as much as possible while ensuring we remain smart and safe.”

Here are the five most important things she said about the state of NWSL.

1. Managing partnership with U.S. Soccer has dissolved

Perhaps the biggest news item is the confirmation that the managing partnership between U.S. Soccer and NWSL has dissolved and will now be moving forward as an investment partnership.

The commissioner confirmed that the league’s relationship with USSF will change after a 10-year partnership as a founder and investor. Moving forward, USSF will still be involved within NWSL as mutual investment partners rather than a manager. Baird expressed confidence that USSF will continue its efforts to build and sustain the best women’s soccer league in the world, and that USSF will continue investing in the league in various capacities, increasing the league’s ability to advance not only on the field but also in areas like sports sciences and coaching.

2. Sacramento awarded 2022 expansion

Sacramento will be joining the league alongside Angel City FC in 2022, officially bringing the league to 12 teams. The news comes after NWSL Los Angeles owners unveiled their Angel City brand for 2022. The city has long been rumored to be the next NWSL destination, likely with a club having ties to USL side Sacramento Republic FC, which will join Major League Soccer in 2023.

And while Baird didn’t confirm who the ownership group backing the present bid was, she did mention that Ron Burkle and Matt Alvarez of SRFC are involved. 

But it is now hard fact that NWSL will have 12 clubs representing the league next year, which is an astonishing jump given that Racing Louisville FC and the newly rebranded Kansas City expansion team are two clubs making their debut for the league in 2021.

3. Retaining top talent and competing in global market

During the press conference, news broke that top prospect Catarina Macario had officially signed with French side Lyon. Much has been made about the 21-year-old Brazilian-born American’s decision to go pro, and that her first step was to skip NWSL. The league has faced questions about whether it could welcome that caliber of potential superstar in the same way that overseas clubs might.

Baird reaffirmed that the league is currently in its best position investing in training facilities and other resources that will continue to attract the biggest players from around the globe, and that its owners are continuing their commitment to provide those facilities along with direct compensation. The introduction of allocation money in 2020 is a stepping stone that the league wants to build on, but Baird says conversations have not been defined or finalized but that the work for a long term strategic plan to retain the best players has started and is ongoing.

4. Why the draft and NCAA collegiate system works

The league changed the rules to this year’s draft and commissioner Baird emphasized that those changes were made due to the strains the pandemic has placed. 

The American and European markets operate differently, with the American market maintaining a draft for collegiate players that doesn’t exist in other markets, but Baird remains steadfast that the league’s partnership with the NCAA is its most important and key to the league’s ability to be the most competitive in the world. The belief is that the commitment to the draft helps sustain the parity within NWSL and makes it stand out amongst other leagues in the world.

5. NWSL schedule news

The commissioner revealed that a finalized schedule will be forthcoming shortly with the draft scheduled for Wednesday, and preseason slated to begin on Feb. 1. This is on top of a previously announced schedule framework for the league, which placed the return of the Challenge Cup in the middle of April. The NWSL regular season is set to kick off at some point in May, and is expected to include expanded playoffs.





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