Alex Morgan of NWSL's Orlando Pride and the USWNT
Orlando Pride and US Women’s National Team forward Alex Morgan
PLAYERS & TEAM EARNINGS

Haley Rosen of Just Women’s Sports on What’s at Stake in the 2021 NWSL Season

The star Stanford midfielder turned sports media CEO speaks on the players’ first CBA battle and who’s got the most to prove in the race for the title — and a roster spot in the Olympics.

Earlier this month, the ninth competition year of the National Women’s Soccer League kicked off with the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup. The kickoff tournament will crown a champion on May 8, exactly one week before the start of the 24-game regular season.

For the league’s superstar women, however, the new campaign is about far more than wins, losses, and draws. NWSL players are engaged in negotiations over the league’s first-ever collective bargaining agreement, and the thinnest of margins could decide who makes the final rosters for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. With that in mind, we turned to a true expert to help set the scene: Haley Rosen, founder and CEO of Just Women’s Sports.

A former First Team All-Pac-12 midfielder and national champion at Stanford, Rosen created JWS to celebrate and amplify the accomplishments of female athletes in a media environment that far too often denies them visibility.

Here’s our conversation, which was conducted via email and lightly edited for clarity.

SAM DUNN: What are the major wins you’d like to see NWSL players secure during the current CBA negotiations with the league?

HALEY ROSEN: The league needs to focus on the working conditions of players who aren’t a part of their national teams’ programs. Historically, the gap in treatment between your average NWSL player and someone on the US women’s national team has been severe.

My hope is that the CBA creates a baseline around compensation, health care, and travel which will allow every player to make soccer their primary (and ideally, their only) priority. As it is now, too many non-national team players have to support themselves with a second job.

SD: That’s a unique detail — NWSL players from the US and Canada national team pools still get paid through their national federations rather than by the franchises themselves. Does the league still need this dynamic?

HR: I think it was necessary to help keep big-name players in the league without putting a financial strain on the clubs. With that said, the league has already loosened the rules on this, and as the NWSL grows, I expect most national teamers will sign directly with their clubs.

This will give clubs more power while also giving players an incentive to focus on their domestic careers just as much as they do their international commitments. Overall, I’m happy the NWSL is being proactive on this.

SD: With COVID disrupting the 2020 NWSL season and preventing a champion from being crowned, which teams are entering the 2021 campaign with a chip on their shoulders?

HR: North Carolina will be on a mission to prove they’re still contenders after losing a trio of world-class players a year ago. And even though they won the Challenge Cup last year, I still expect Houston to play with a huge chip on their shoulder, as they’ll be out to prove 2020 wasn’t a fluke. 

SD: The Olympics are a major subplot to the season as well. Among US Women’s National Team players in the NWSL, who has the most to prove in order to secure a spot in Tokyo? Should fans expect Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe once again?

HR: Rapinoe has likely locked in her spot. She sat out most of 2020, but has looked sharp so far in 2021. Carli Lloyd might be the biggest question mark on the roster. She’s been written off so many times before, only to come up big when it counts.

I really think it’s going to come down to who is playing the best this summer. So far, [USWNT coach] Vlatko [Andonovski] has given no indication as to whether he favors youth or experience. He knows he has an excess of talent, so my guess is he’ll wait to see who’s hitting their stride come June. 

SD: For fans just getting into club WoSo, who’s an up-and-coming NWSL player (or two) to keep an eye on this year with a chance to become a household name sooner rather than later?

HR: Washington’s Trinity Rodman has certainly made a quick name for herself, scoring in her first NWSL game and assisting the game-winner in her second. She’s just 18, so we should keep expectations in check, but it’s hard not to get excited about the potential she has already flashed. 

Another player to look out for is Portland’s Sophia Smith, the No. 1 pick in last year’s draft. Andonovski has included her in most of his national team camps, and once the older generation of forwards retires, I expect she’ll step in as a regular.

She’s not currently in the NWSL, but a player to really watch is Catarina Macario, who has a shot to represent the US in Tokyo this summer. Her future potential is downright scary.

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