The National Women’s Soccer League had their 2016 season preview teleconference on Wednesday afternoon with moderator Patrick Donnelly, NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush, FC Kansas City head coach Vlatko Andonovski, FCKC and USWNT star defender Becky Sauerbrunn, Orlando Pride head coach Tom Sermanni, and Pride midfielder Becky Edwards. The group discussed the future of the league, the upcoming season, and answered important questions that media had for them.
For opening statements, commissioner Plush mentioned that he is very excited to see what FCKC has up their sleeve as they make a campaign towards a three-pete championship season before adding that he has a ton of pride with the NWSL heading into their fourth season, "[There is] so much more to come and to do that we are looking forward to...I’m incredibly excited about where we are." Plush announced that the NWSL has renewed their partnership with Fox Sports for the regular season and semi-finals, but added that he would discuss that more as the contract unfolded over the next few days.
Andonovski made note of the obvious challenges that FCKC is going to have to overcome with the dramatic change to the roster. "That’s what makes it exciting," Andonovki said before adding that he feels the team must work harder than they ever have this season. Sauerbrunn then added to the opening statements by saying that the "personnel might have changed, but [FCKC] has a great philosophy when it comes to soccer." Sauerbrunn expressed her confidence in the new roster and their ability to add their own sort of flair to the table.
In their respective half of the teleconference, Sermanni and Edwards were also able to make their own opening statements before being asked questions. Sermanni talked about the preseason, how it went by quickly, but it "went well." He also mentioned that the impact has been a little more different due to the fact that "[Orlando Pride is] a brand new team." Edwards also made note of the short preseason and said that the team has had to "do the best to pull together a new team," but "from a players standpoint" she was very happy with the progress made in the offseason and where they are currently.
After each half’s opening statements, the line was open for media to ask any questions and I have some takeaways from the questions and answers:
Complaint against USSF is completely separate from the NWSL:
Quite a few questions were asked about USSF, the CAB, and a possible boycott of the Olympics and how that might also effect the NWSL aimed at Sauerbrunn. Sauerbrunn stressed continuously that the complaint is "strictly with USSF" and diverted the conversation right back to being excited for the NWSL season. A question was thrown back in response from Equalizer Sports asking if it mattered to her or the team that USSF is who pays the NWSL. Sauerbrunn was quick to let it be known that the team hasn’t even discussed it and that they are simply excited for the start of the new season. Even Plush was asked about the impact on the league because of the complaint against USSF to which he responded that the league is by no means partied with what is going on. "[We want to] stay focused on what we’re in control of and [the NWSL] is not going to get caught up in what they don’t have control in."
Expect to see more matches that are televised:
After mentioning in his opening statement that the NWSL has decided to expand their contract with Fox Sports, the media was quick to ask Plush to clarify. There really wasn’t much elaboration on this since Plush wanted to be able to see the plans with Fox Sports unfold "more broadly and completely...within the next day," but Plush did mention that the NWSL is constantly looking for ways to expand their product. Later, Sermanni was asked by Alicia Delgado if he thought this extended contract with Fox Sports meant the Orlando Pride would be broadcasted and Sermanni’s answer was short and sweet: "No idea." Donnelly stepped in and assured the media that all the games were to be available on the NWSL’s YouTube platform.
The NWSL plans to be around for a long, long time and even plans to increase salaries with each new season:
Of course the media wanted to know the future of the NWSL after a women’s league had folded so many times before, so they asked the hard questions of the commissioner. Where is the league headed? Is the league finally out of "survival mode"? Are the salaries going to continue to rise with the new seasons? Plus was very patient and assured everyone that while he does want to see growth in more areas and bring in more sponsors, he believes that growth in the NWSL and a future mindset is the most important thing. Plush believes that it has never been about being in survival mode, but always about expanding. Plush mentioned that he would like to expand two teams at a time because that’s what would make the most sense with league schedules and that there has been a "variety of cities who have expressed interest including the MLS, but also other entities." Plush is confident that salaries will continue to rise as the league grows even though there is a lot of work still to be done at the lower-end of the pay scale. He also plans to "reduce costs for coaching courses for players [in the NWSL]." One of the biggest things he stressed in regards to gains for the league was the fact that he wanted to "create more opportunities for young girls" since soccer is the biggest sport in the world and we have some of the best players right in our backyards. "We have earned the right to expect more of ourselves," Plush said "we are relevant and plan to stay the best in the world by not being complacent."
The NWSL’s quality is top notch... or headed there:
Like wanting to know the future because of past women’s leagues folding, many wanted to know what the quality of play was and how the NWSL differed from the failed attempts. Andonovski had a brilliant answer in the way that sometimes only he can by saying "The quality has always gotten better. Anywhere we go it is always a competition... we have to bring our best and do out best to win. That’s what makes [the NWSL] the best. Edwards believes that going into the fourth season of the NWSL is a very cool thing to see since she was part of one of the leagues that earlier folded. Edwards believes that the league has "sustainability" headed into the future and will continue strong.
The Orlando Pride will make waves...at least in attendance:
Whether the baby of the league can start from the bottom and climb the ladder all the way to a championship title in their inaugural season or not, the Floridian fans are faithful to their state and will be a huge impact for the NWSL during this expansion season. Edwards has said that the reception from Orlando has been incredible, the owners have been incredible, and it has truly just been "really something special." Comparing her time just in preseason with the Pride to other times that she has played she said it has been most like playing for Portland in 2013 and made remarks that the league is very professional, special, and treats the women similar to how the MLS treat the men.
Unfortunately after four straight journalists dialed in for questions were answered with technical issues, the teleconference was forced to end early, but I think out of all the questions asked and all of the answers given the important questions have all been answered before the start of the 2016 season. For now, we wait for Saturday to see just what our favorite teams have to offer us for entertainment.