The 5th season of the National Women's Soccer League finally begins on Saturday after a tumultuous offseason. But the rocky winter doesn't mean that it can't be the league's best year yet.
A few months ago, the National Women’s Soccer League seemed like it might’ve been headed towards crisis.
With an exodus of three of the league’s best and most high-profile players, and the possibility of a strike over the USWNT’s CBA that could take away the rest of the national team players, the status of the league was very uncertain for a long time this offseason.
But then, things slowly began to turn around. At the beginning of February, NWSL announced a historic partnership with A&E; the network bought a majority stake in the league and committed to broadcasting one game per week on Lifetime (as opposed the previous deal with Fox, which broadcast just three all year). The league also announced that every match would be available for free online.
Then, the USWNT and US Soccer agreed on a new CBA, putting to rest once and for all the threat of a strike. Teams would be forging ahead to the new season as planned — and, if anything, the league looks in position to be better than ever before.
On the field, the absence of big names like Morgan and Lloyd does not mean there is an absence of star power — and star quality — overall. Besides plenty of other high-profile U.S. national teamers like Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns) and the return of Sydney Leroux (FC Kansas City), there is Canadian captain Christine Sinclair (Portland Thorns) and breakout U.S. youngster and Boston Breakers first-round draft pick Rose Lavelle — and that’s not even counting the key league players who aren’t international superstars, such as 2016’s Golden Boot and MVP award winning Lynn Williams of the Western New York Flash (and now the North Carolina Courage) as well as Kealia Ohai.
And, now, there’s also Marta.
In unquestionably the biggest player announcement in league history, the Brazilian superstar who’s been nominated for 11 FIFA Player of the Year — and who won the award five of those times — recently signed a two year deal with the Orlando Pride. Her contract comes with the option for a third year as well.
(Marta has in fact played in the U.S. once before. She spent the 2011 season with the Western New York Flash before Women’s Professional Soccer, the previous iteration of women’s soccer in America, folded the following year.)
This signing will not only improve the club — especially as they looked for someone to fill in for Morgan’s prowess while she spends the first half of the season in France — but the league as a whole. Playing with or against players of Marta’s quality can make every other player in the NWSL better.
And, it is especially comforting to see players of Marta’s stature coming in after so many great players have left, even if just on loan.
Hopefully we will get to see her play against the current FIFA World Player of the Year after Lloyd’s loan is up. And even if we don’t, it will be an exciting season anyway for the NWSL.