As the National Women’s Soccer League culminates its second season Sunday with FC Kansas City visiting the Seattle Reign for the title, the nine-team operation is already planning ahead for a third year fraught with scheduling issues.
The Women’s World Cup next summer in Canada falls in the middle of the NWSL season. With clubs heavily dependent on U.S. and Canadian national team players for their appeal, NWSL officials have decided to break for two weeks during the group stage and cut the number of league games by four to 20 apiece.
The season will begin in April and conclude with the championship game in late September, four weeks later than this year. The league will also schedule more games on weekends, when attendance is higher. Only the Portland Thorns (13,362) and Houston Dash (4,650) average more than 5,000 spectators per game overall. Next year each club will play 16 of their 20 matches on weekends. This season the Washington Spirit, for instance, played eight of 24 on weekdays (plus one on Memorial Day, a Monday).
The NWSL is underwritten by the U.S., Canadian and Mexican federations, which cover the salaries of national team players competing in the league. Assuming the Americans and Mexicans qualify for the World Cup, joining host Canada, those players will miss seven or eight NWSL matches, the league said. They will enter national team training camps ahead of the NWSL season, play in three or four league games, then regroup for the World Cup.
The 24-nation tournament will run June 6 to July 5 in six Canadian cities. The group stage ends June 17. Both the United States and Canada are expected to advance deep into the tournament. The NWSL also features notable players from England, Germany and Australia. England and Australia have qualified and Germany is expected to do so. It is unclear how many of their national team players will commit to the NWSL during a World Cup year.
This Sunday’s NWSL final, featuring the top seeds in the four-team playoffs, will kick off at 3 p.m. on ESPN2.