The United States Soccer Federation issued a statement today announcing the end of the NWSL Federation Player program, where the federation agreed to pay the NWSL salaries of US Women’s National Team players.
The U.S. Soccer Federation and the U.S. Women’s National Team have reached a deal to end the current allocation system and to extend the no-strike/no-lockout agreement under our current collective bargaining agreement through at least March 31, 2022. While we hope and believe that CBA negotiations will be completed much sooner than March 31, 2022, we wanted to ensure we had sufficient time to reach an agreement. Under today’s agreement, U.S. Soccer will no longer pay the salaries of any USWNT players to play professionally in the NWSL, which had been the case since the beginning of the league. Today’s agreement demonstrates that U.S. Soccer and the USWNT can and will continue to work together for the good of the game.
Part of the announcement was an agreement to extend the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) through the end of March next year as the player’s union and the federation continue negotiations. This applies ONLY to payments for the players while they played with the NWSL. From now on, the league will pay those players while the federation will pay the players for their national team play, as to be determined by the current contract negotiations. The player’s union itself issued a statement:
USWNTPA statement regarding MOU with USSF to extend current CBA and dissolve NWSL Allocation System. pic.twitter.com/31eGIumL6W— USWNT Players (@USWNTPlayers) December 13, 2021
The decision to stop paying club salaries is a big deal for all parties involved. The original decision to pay WNT players’ club salaries was motivated by a desire to prop-up the NWSL when it was first formed in 2012. However, it no longer fits the needs of the league, the players, or the federation.
As a reminder, this system was initially implemented with US, Canada, Mexico feds paying WNT player salaries as a way to help kickstart the league and subsidize costs. As league has evolved, allocation has become an outdated system that tugs players too much between NT and club.— Steph Yang | Horrible Soccer Goose (@thrace) December 13, 2021
On the NWSL’s side, this is a big move that will require the league to more fully support itself. With the federation paying for the national team players, each new club could have a few expensive but highly talented players without going bankrupt (as the previous Women’s Professional Soccer league had). However, over time, the league itself has been able to attract and afford other stars, like Brazilian legend Marta. This announcement comes with an expectation that the league will continue to be able to grow.
For the players, this marks a significant turning point. As outlined in Caitlin Murray’s book, The National Team, USSF’s payments to players essentially enabled many of them to have soccer careers in the first place. The federation player program (which has gone by several different names) represented a continuation of that basic promise of stability. However, that promise came with strings attached. For years, players essentially had to play in the NWSL if they wanted to be considered for the national team. That wasn’t so big of an issue a decade ago with relatively few big women’s clubs in Europe and a deep desire among many of the American players to create a working American program. However, over the years, with European clubs growing in stature and Americans more willing to play abroad, we began to increasingly see issues. Crystal Dunn has gone on the record saying that she felt she had to choose between staying in London and playing for Chelsea, or playing for the USWNT. We’ve seen similar issues with other players, including Lindsay Horan.
While we’ve seen players allowed to go abroad under Vlatko Andonovski (Catarina Macario plays for Lyon, Tobin Heath with Arsenal), this decision still represents a big shift for the players. With huge growth of the game in Europe, the biggest and most prestigious competition is now probably the UEFA Champion’s League, with clubs like Barcelona and Lyon. The NWSL still remains high quality and competitive, but this opens up more opportunities for more American players to play with more of the best players in the world. It also opens up competition for American players, potentially raising overall salaries.
Finally, there’s the federation to consider. No doubt, a big part of this decision was the USWNT’s players’ lawsuit (currently under appeal). A key component of the issue was how the WNT players were contracted with salaries, while the MNT players received appearance payments. From USSF’s perspective, cutting the club component of their pay makes it easier to craft contract agreements that avoid such lawsuits in the future. Beyond that, this fits into a pattern where we’ve seen USSF slowly back out of league-entanglements, in both the men’s and women’s games. First was the announcement that USSF would no longer manage the NWSL’s operations at the start of the year. Then came the announcement that USSF would no longer partner with SUM, MLS’s media arm, for national team broadcast rights. This third announcement extricating the federation from club salaries fits into that pattern.