First it was Houston and Orlando. Then Washington. Then Chicago, and later Seattle.
Subtle really, in that ‘blink and you miss it' sort of way. But, despite it being an ungodly time in the morning for a soccer game in the United States, halfway across the world these NWSL teams were being mentioned on a global livestream.
FC Rosengard mentioned losing Josee Belanger to newly formed Orlando Pride, as well as gaining striker/any-position-other-than-goalkeeper Ella Masar McLeod and goalkeeper Erin McLeod from Houston. KIF Orebro mentioned signing striker Melissa Tancredi for this season from the Chicago Red Stars, and losing Stephanie Labbe to the Washington Spirit. They even went as far as mentioning the Seattle Reign currently holds Mexican international Veronica Perez's rights, should she return to the NWSL.
Granted, it was in the midst of Swedish commentary which I don't understand in the slightest, but the words were clear.
So why does it matter that these teams were mentioned within the Swedish league's livestreams? It matters because, as anyone who has ever watched a women's soccer game on Fox Sports or ESPN can tell you, this is a mention that rarely happens within the United States.
For fans, it's almost a joke at this point. During U.S. Women's National Team games, we've been told Lindsey Horan skipped college to go pro in Europe a hundred times, but how many times have we heard she plays for the Portland Thorns? We've been reminded the best rightback in the world (yes Jill Ellis, I'm looking at you) Ali Krieger played for years in Germany, but how many times has the Washington Spirit been mentioned?
The same with Tobin Heath and her stint with Paris Saint-Germain (yet nothing about the Portland Thorns). I vaguely even remember a mention of Christen Press playing for the now-defunct Tyreso (alongside Krieger, Meghan Klingenberg, Whitney Engen and Ashlyn Harris), while the fact she currently played for the Chicago Red Stars was omitted entirely. And how many times have we have heard that FC Kansas City's Desiree Scott played for Notts County?
Sure, Carli Lloyd gets mentioned often (and rightfully so) for her World Cup hat trick and subsequent FIFA Women's Player of the Year Award last year...but really, would it kill the commentators to mention she plays for the Houston Dash? After she went down with a non-contact knee injury Saturday night against Orlando, news outlets were all but forced to mention the Dash. But should it take a rattling injury to a player in order for the club to be mentioned? One would think not.
The NWSL reached its fourth season this year, something that its predecessors had failed to do. It's common knowledge there are fans all across the world (fans who often seem to be more knowledgeable about the players than some of the commentators themselves). Now though, even the Supporters of FC Rosengard Group on Facebook has begun to post about the NWSL. After the Houston Dash lost to the Orlando Pride, the group posted about Belanger playing in front of 24,000+ fans, complete with pictures for their Swedish followers to view.
Again, why does this matter? It matters because soccer fans are nothing if not loyal. We get up at 6-AM on a Saturday morning to watch our European teams, or our National teams if there's a stream for an overseas game. For those who doubt, let me ask this: How many of you followed the McLeods from Chicago to Houston in 2014? Or knew of FC Rosengard before they signed for them?
The bottom line is, fans will follow their favorites from team to team, league to league. If you give them a stream, they will watch. But before they can watch, they have to know it exists.
NWSL clubs like to ignore their departed players. Rarely, if ever, will you hear a Damallsvenskan team mention when talking about former players who have left the club, yet the Australian W-League gets mentioned often. While I understand the focus of the NWSL itself is to market itself, and was rumored to be courting Australia into replacing Mexico as a supporting Federation, a simple mention of the other leagues could easily help to grow the game. It's free publicity and marketing.
After all, it's not like NWSL fans are going to stop going to games in the United States and instead go to games in Sweden if commentators mention a league outside of the United States.