Five Storylines for the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup Part one
By: Tim Antoniewicz
The 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup kicks off in less than two weeks. In 2021, the NWSL made headlines for all the wrong reasons. However, 2022 hopes to be a fresh start. With an exciting tournament ahead, here are some of the biggest storylines.
The NWSLPA Signs a New CBA
In a monumental, down-to-the-wire move, the NWSLPA and NWSL Board of Governors agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). A CBA is a legal agreement between an employer and a group of employees that outlines required standards for working conditions including monetary compensation. This is the first CBA in the history of the NWSL and was long overdue.
While by definition a CBA is a compromise, this CBA turned out to be a major and deserved win for the players. Minimum salaries drastically increased with pre-planned yearly salary increases and standardized minimum living and working conditions. It includes a plan for future free agency and potential revenue sharing with players. The CBA covers fully paid leave for new parents and fully paid mental health leave. The deal includes 401(k) contributions and severance pay with 30 days of housing and health insurance for waived players. Matches will no longer be played on fields requiring converted dimensions such as baseball fields. Full details and the official document have not been released.
With CBA negotiations in the rear-view mirror, players can now focus on being players. They now have the support and resources they need to be world class athletes in a world class league, and we look forward to seeing that translate on the pitch.
Two Expansion Clubs Join the League
Last offseason, two new clubs joined the league. However, only one of those teams built a roster from scratch. This Challenge Cup, two brand new teams with brand new rosters will take the field for the first time. Their first match will also be against each other.
Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC represent the long-awaited return of women’s professional soccer to the state of California. The first fully professional women’s soccer league in the world, WUSA, had two California teams. The San Diego Spirit and San Jose CyberRays competed between 2001 and 2003 before the league folded. The LA Sol and FC Gold Pride later competed in parts of WPS between 2009 and 2011. Since the inception of the NWSL, there has never been a team in California. Considering the talent coming from the state and its raw population, this has been an obvious missed opportunity for the league.
Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC both offer reasons to excite fans. Angel City’s ownership group includes many celebrity names and previous USWNT members. Head Coach Freya Coombe, Sporting Director Eni Aluko, and marquee signing Christen Press look to lead the team on the field this season. The team will compete at Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Stadium before moving to their shared permanent home Banc of California Stadium in the heart of LA for the regular season. While making progressive moves such as profit sharing season ticket sales with its players, some questions still surround the club. Angel City sometimes appears more interested in building a brand than building a soccer team. Now that the season is here, look for the club to re-establish the team as its number one priority.
San Diego fans should also be excited for 2022. President Jill Ellis and Head Coach Casey Stoney bring immense domestic and international experience to the club. With players such as Alex Morgan, Kailen Sheridan, and Sofia Jakobsson, this club could surprise teams in 2022. The team will not play at its home this season. Construction for Snapdragon Stadium, which will be shared with other area sports teams, concludes this September. The league confirmed the club to originally play in Sacramento, but ownership controversially re-located the team to San Diego. With perhaps the better constructed roster of the two expansion sides, San Diego hopes to win over the allegiance of Californians.
No expansion team has ever qualified for the NWSL playoffs. Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC hope to break that trend. These clubs have all the ingredients for spicy matchups for years to come, and the SoCal sides could develop into a fun rivalry.
Unprecedented Player Movement this Offseason
Due to double expansion to desirable areas, impending CBA negotiations, and the end of US Soccer allocation, many players found new homes in 2022. While not quantified, the player movement this offseason felt unlike anything ever before. College draftees, international signings, and inter-club trade acquisitions all made headlines. Following these players during the Challenge Cup while they establish themselves on their new teams will be fascinating. Here is a chart of some of the major roster additions. Check out upcoming podcast and subscriber-only WoSo Show episodes for more detailed analysis.
Stefany Ferrer Van Ginkel
Chicago Red Stars
NJ/NY Gotham FC
Celia Jiménez Delgado
San Diego Wave FC