Women's soccer stars are calling for NWSL free agency as league expansion threatens to disperse players across the country

Ashlyn Harris.
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  • The NWSL is hosting an expansion draft as two new franchises enter the league.

  • Players across the league are at risk of landing in new markets without notice or proper resources.

  • Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger, and Julie Foudy spoke to Insider about the need for NWSL free agency.

The National Women's Soccer League has been the world's premier destination for professional women's soccer players since its founding in 2012 — attracting top talent from across the globe and playing host to the fiercest club-level competition on the planet.

But as the NWSL embarks on its 10th season — and prepares to add two new teams for its 2022 campaign — the league lags behind in a crucial category: player empowerment.

NWSL players from the Portland Thorns and Houston Dash pause their game and huddle in the center circle to protest the league and honor survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of a former coach.
NWSL players huddle up during a game between the Portland Thorns and Houston Dash.AP Photo/Steve Dipaola

The NWSL's players have yet to agree with the league on a Collective Bargaining Agreement, so they have no control of which franchise they play for or when or where they'll be traded. And with the NWSL's maximum salary sitting at just $52,500 per year — with the majority of rostered athletes earning less than a living wage and some making as little as $22,000 annually — players have virtually no leverage over the teams who employ them.

Most players have no authority over the trajectory of their careers, and none of the power belongs to those competing on the field.

"I don't think it's a survivable, viable model," Angel City FC co-owner and USWNT great Julie Foudy told Insider. "I just think it's asking way too much of [the players] and that we've done that for too long."

Julie Foudy.
Julie Foudy is a founding owner of Angel City FC.Angel City FC

Never has NWSL players' lack of autonomy felt more pressing than this offseason. With the addition of San Diego Wave FC and Los Angeles' Angel City FC into the league, an expansion draft is set to redistribute players to allow the new teams to fill out their rosters.

But as a result, existing NWSL teams have frantically dispersed their players across the country with virtually no notice and, in many cases, absolutely no say.

"I mean, look at the situation as it is right now," Foudy said. "You have a lot of players who don't know where they're going, when they're going, what that entails last minute, and you're asking them to do that for $22,000 a year. How long are you gonna keep players interested in doing that?"

Crystal Dunn and Quinn NWSL.
OL Reign's Quinn (right) looks to contain Portland Thorns star Crystal Dunn.Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Even some of women's soccer's most famous stars haven't been spared from the chaos. In the last few weeks alone, US Women's national team players Alex Morgan, Abby Dahlkemper, Sam Mewis, Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger, and Julie Ertz have all been traded to new NWSL teams.

And while those athletes almost certainly have more financial flexibility and career sway than the average NWSL player, even they recognize the need for change.

"These players should feel like they're happy where they are and feel like they can survive where they are in terms of money," Harris — who was traded to NJ/NY Gotham FC alongside her wife, Ali Krieger, in early December — told Insider. "Not everyone's on the same contracts, so when you talk about an LA coming in, or you talk about a San Diego or New York, financially, it's probably a pretty tough market to be in."

"So if [players are] not happy and they're not getting what they want, they should have the freedom to pick and choose where they want to go," she added.

Ali Krieger, Alex Morgan, and Marta.
NWSL star Ali Krieger (center) kneels beside former Orlando Pride teammates Alex Morgan (right) and Marta.Jeremy Reper/ISI Photos/Getty Images

What Harris is describing, and what Foudy said is "absolutely" the NWSL's long-term solution, is free agency: the ability for each player to choose which team they suit up for after a certain tenure in the league.

In the WNBA, that span is five seasons. In MLS, too, players must spend five years in the league before entertaining offers from new teams.

"The realistic part about women's soccer [in the US] is it's not where necessarily we want it to be financially, but we're moving in the right direction," Harris said. "So if you don't have that financial stability and backing, the least you can do is put people in markets that they are happy in, they feel safe in, [or] they have family or partners in."

"I mean, when you're talking about men's sports, or if you're talking about NFL or anything, and you're talking about these multi-million dollar contracts, it's like, hell yeah, man! I'll go right now, pack my stuff, you know?" she continued. "But it's different with women's sports at this time. Until we get there, I think that free agency is important."

Ali Krieger.
Krieger.Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images

Despite not knowing "how far away" the league is from actually implementing free agency, Harris noted that she's "hopeful" and "always trying to throw that in there a little bit" while discussing the future of the NWSL.

Her better half, meanwhile, exudes quiet confidence on the matter.

"We know it's on the table," Krieger said matter-of-factly. "It's just a matter of timing for the league to make that decision."

Read the original article on Insider