While many of the top female soccer players in the world are competing in the 2019 FIFA World Cup in France this summer, the National Women's Soccer League, the women's professional soccer league in the United States, plays on. The NWSL was founded in 2012, as a successor to Women's Professional Soccer (2007-2012), which was itself the successor to Women's United Soccer Association (2001-2003). While the NWSL has experienced the growing pains associated with new professional sports leagues, it is thriving and provides a venue for the world's top talent and up-and-coming U.S. players.
Rachel Hill, a forward for the Orlando Pride, is one of those U.S. players. Hill joined the Pride in 2016 after graduating from the University of Connecticut where she was an All-American and All-Conference player. Upon entering the league, Hill was very much aware of the progress that women's professional soccer had made in the United States. "As a whole, the league has taken significant steps forward," Hill says. While the NWSL itself has made progress, that progress is not equal among all clubs. Since the NWSL's inception, players have voiced concerns on topics such as pay, playing and training conditions and travel schedules.
Operationally, the NWSL benefits from the support of the U.S. Soccer Federation and the Canadian Soccer Federation, each of which pays the salaries of their allocated national team players. Individual NWSL clubs also benefit from their affiliation with clubs from Major League Soccer, the top men's professional league in the U.S. The Pride is affiliated with MLS' Orlando City FC, which according to Hill, provides certain benefits that not all NWSL clubs experience. "From my experience here, [the owners] do a great job," Hill says. "What the men's team gets they try to give the same to the women's team." From Hill's experience, players at all clubs, don't have it so well. "At other clubs in the league, the standards are not up to par, whatsoever," Hill says.
In November 2018, the NWSL officially recognized the NWSL Players Association as the exclusive bargaining representative of NWSL players. The NWSLPA is an independent labor union run by and for current and future NWSL players. To Hill, the league's recognition of the NWSLPA is another step in the right direction, as it provides a forum for players to express concerns on issues on and off the field. "It is definitely something that is great to have in place," says Hill. "[The NWSLPA representatives] made a point to go around and see every team before the season started and filled us in on the direction they are trying to go in."
While NWSL salaries have increased, many players do not earn enough from their NWSL salaries alone to focus solely on their professional soccer careers. The NWSL runs from March to October, factoring in pre-season and the post-season, which leaves approximately four months during which players must generate additional revenue while training for the upcoming season. Some NWSL players have chosen to spend those four months playing in Australia’s W-League. The W-League was founded in 2008 and currently has nine teams and offers the perfect supplement to the NWSL season. The W-League runs from November to February and provides NWSL players with a second season in a calendar year. The W-League has become a destination for young American players, including Hill. "I honestly didn't think I'd be able to get a spot, so I was pretty lucky that it fell into place," says Hill about how competitive it is secure a spot on a W-League roster. The W-League provides NWSL players with an additional salary for the year and the ability to remain in a competitive team environment. "For me especially, it was so helpful because I wasn't getting full games in my first two years [in the NWSL] at all," says Hill. "For me to get full games in and be consistently playing was huge."
Hill and the Pride began their regular season on April 14th and will play through the duration of the World Cup. Many NWSL teams, including the Pride, are playing with depleted rosters during the World Cup because they have lost players to national team duty. Nevertheless, you can catch Hill and her teammates at their next match on June 22nd, when they play Sky Blue FC in New Jersey. If you miss Hill during her NWSL season, you may be able to catch playing for the Perth Glory during the up-coming Australian summer.
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Photo credit: Orlando Pride