Why NWSL Players are Leaving for the WSL

At the end of July, the National Women’s Soccer League concluded the NWSL Challenge Cup and awarded the trophy to the Houston Dash.

Almost immediately after the competition came to a close, players from all of the nine teams began to announce that they had been traded to a team in the FA WSL, the FA Women’s Super League in Europe: Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham, and more.

A player going on loan to a new team is normal and exciting for the soccer world. But this season, many NWSL fans have been worried about the sheer number of players leaving for the WSL, and the impact all the moves could have on the American league. But there are many reasons why a player in the NWSL would want to try something new in Europe, and none of those reasons have to make anyone worry about the future of the NWSL.

Less COVID-19 Restrictions

Arguably the biggest issue in the world since March has been COVID-19 and its global pandemic. The disease has caused businesses to shut down, sports to slow dramatically, and for daily life to be upended with all the canceled activities and the explosion of digital communications. COVID-19 is one of the biggest reasons so many soccer players from the NWSL are opting to play in Europe for some time.

In most European countries, including England, in which the games in the WSL will take place, rates of COVID transmission and deaths have slowed to a crawl. Soccer players may feel safer playing in Europe than they would be competing in the United States, and games and practices are happening more frequently in Europe because there are fewer restrictions. Players who are trying to get minutes and further their careers will need to go somewhere they will actually be able to play more.

No National Team Play on the Horizon

Because of COVID-19, most national team activity around the world was canceled. Playing national team games would put people from different countries in contact and would require travel, both things that could potentially spread COVID-19. The USWNT canceled games against Australia back in April, and other teams around the world followed suit. This lack of national team play opened up doors of opportunity for American players who previously felt they had to stay in the United States to be ready for national team camps.

Playing club soccer in the same country that games and training camps would be held in was more convenient for USWNT players. But now that it will likely be a while before the national team resumes play, several standouts are taking advantage of this fact. Alex Morgan is heading to Tottenham, Christen Press and Tobin Heath are playing for Manchester United, and Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle were traded to Manchester City. Later, when national team play does begin again, these players will likely travel back, but for now, they have the chance to play for a new team and with new people.

Opportunities to Learn European Styles

One more reason NWSL players are leaving for the WSL is quite normal, and one that has nothing to do with COVID-19. The American style of play is admittedly different from the European style of play, and many players want the opportunity to learn a new way of playing. Some of the best coaches and players in the world play in the WSL, and although the NWSL has players of high caliber, playing in Europe is a unique and fantastic experience. It isn’t just American players who are being traded to WSL teams, either.

Rachel Daly, from England, is going to play for West Ham, while Scottish international has been traded to Everton. Teams in the FA WSL are top tier, and hardly any player from any country would turn down the opportunity to play for any of them.

While it seems natural to worry about the future of the NWSL with so many players heading overseas, there really isn’t a lot to be concerned about. COVID-19 has changed a lot about sports, and teams in the WSL are more active than most in the NWSL. National team play has mostly been canceled, which gives USWNT players more freedom to play in Europe, an amazing experience no matter what team a person plays on.

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