There might soon be two competing top-flight women’s leagues, as the new USL Super League has announced it intends to apply for Division One status when it debuts in eight cities in August 2024. The league will compete on the same level as the National Women’s Soccer League, making it the first time American soccer sees dueling first-division domestic leagues.
The USL Super League is differentiating itself from NWSL (and the men’s top domestic league, MLS) in a big way by pledging to stick to the international calendar. The league will start the season in August and end it in June, while both building in a “winter break” and committing to recognize international call-up windows. This new league also looks set to create a relatively clear pathway for players to go from the youth to professional game, as the Super League will align with the USL’s existing women’s pre-professional W League, which currently has 65 teams.
It must be said that it’s not a done deal that the USL Super League will get Division One certification from US Soccer. ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle spoke to USL Super League president Amanda Vandervort, who struck a confident tone about the league receiving the stamp of approval that would put it on par with the NWSL, telling ESPN “We’re confident that we will achieve those standards and we’re excited to receive the Division I sanctioning.” Division One status has been a controversial issue in the past in American soccer, with the now-defunct North American Soccer League suing the US soccer federation in part over past decisions to not designate the NASL as Division One.
The first eight teams to compete in the inaugural USL Super League season are set to be based in Charlotte, NC, Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX, Lexington, KY, Phoenix, AZ, Spokane, WA, Tampa Bay, FL, Tucson, AZ, and Washington, DC. The league’s website lists Chattanooga, TN, Indianapolis, IN, Jacksonville, FL, Madison, WS, and Oakland, CA as the markets next eyed for subsequent expansion, pending completion of necessary stadium projects. Of some local interest, former New York Jets quarterback/New York Mets wannabe baseball player Tim Tebow is part of the ownership group trying to bring that team to Jacksonville, FL.
Speaking of local interest, any talk of expansion in the women’s game should now also be of interest to followers of both New York City FC and Gotham FC. NYCFC and City Football Group executives have been consistently outspoken and enthusiastic about the desire to launch an affiliated women’s team in New York City. NYCFC in fact just surveyed its season ticket holders to measure their interest in the team’s new Willets Point stadium also hosting a new women’s club.
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It still remains completely unclear how a new women’s team would actually come to exist in New York City. NWSL expansion is accelerating, with the league’s expansion fee rising above $50 million as it welcomes a new club to California’s Bay Area, while also eyeing a potential move into Boston. That said, there are still geographic restrictions in place, with Jenna Tonelli of The Local W reports that NWSL teams must be at least 75 miles apart.
That geographic limitation would seem to rule out NWSL expansion as an avenue for a hypothetical “NYCFC Women,” as Gotham FC only just recently moved to Harrison, New Jersey’s Red Bull Arena, which is definitely within that 75-mile radius. If a new NWSL side is a non-starter, might that open the door on the possibility of a New York City team joining the new USL Super League? There appears to already be some precedent: Despite the Washington Spirit firmly entrenched in the NWSL, the USL Super League lists Washington, DC as one of the initial markets it’s playing in next August.
We contacted USL for comment on any potential New York-based ownership groups pursuing a team in the new Super League, and also asked NYCFC if they have held any talks with the USL regarding its new women’s league, and will update this story accordingly.
Regardless of how it ultimately plays out with NYCFC’s efforts to break into women’s soccer, the women’s professional game is undeniably in a growth phase in the U.S. Women’s teams are set to be well represented across the country once this new league gets up and running, and the USL Super League’s future expansion plans and rumors might be worth monitoring for those who hope to see a pro women’s team arrive in New York City proper.