Friday Newsletter: Let's Break Some Women's Soccer News
Which cities are showing real interest in starting NWSL expansion teams? Is the U.S. going to bid on hosting the 2027 women's World Cup? And is the WWC every two years dead? Plus the Mailbag.
The assignment came from my editor on Monday. Get some new information to help answer these questions on women’s soccer:
• Is the United States going to bid on hosting the 2027 women’s World Cup?
• Is the idea to make the women’s World Cup a once-every-two-years event still alive? Or is it as dead as it is on the men’s side?
• Which cities are showing real interest in starting NWSL expansion teams?
Oh, who am I kidding? My assigning editor is me, which is the great thing about owning my site. But this guy is a demanding boss, so he kept on me all week as I made calls to various sources. The good news is we have some new information and context!
Let’s break it down:
IS THE U.S. GOING TO BID ON HOSTING WOMEN’S WORLD CUP 2027?
We already knew that the U.S. was going to bid to host either the 2027 or 2031 women’s World Cup tournaments. In an interview three months ago, U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone told me: “We’re doing some work in-house now looking at the ‘27 and the ‘31 World Cup. We'll definitely be bidding on at least one of those, if not both, so stay tuned. FIFA hasn't even opened the bidding yet for the ‘27 World Cup, so we have a little bit of time here.”
Several sources with knowledge of the situation told me this week that U.S. Soccer would prefer to host the 2031 women’s World Cup over the 2027 event, but the federation won’t hesitate to bid for 2027 if the USSF determines that would be a useful strategic play. The U.S. is already co-hosting the men’s World Cup in 2026 and the Summer Olympics in 2028, and opinion is split over whether inserting the hosting of the women’s World Cup in 2027 would be trying to do too much.
“I think we’ll bid for both [2027 and 2031] in hopes to get one,” one source told me, “with 2031 being more likely.”
Just this week, we learned the U.S. will be hosting the men’s Rugby World Cup—the world’s fourth-largest sporting event—in 2031. Even with that news, I’m told U.S. Soccer still prefers 2031 as the year to host the women’s World Cup. (The U.S. is also the confirmed host for the 2033 women’s Rugby World Cup.)
In terms of the 2031 men’s Rugby World Cup, organizers do have an interest in using NFL stadiums, just as U.S. Soccer does for the women’s World Cup. But that brings about the question of which months the Rugby World Cup will take place in. The RWC typically happens between mid-September and the end of October. But that would compete with the NFL and college football, so might other months be proposed? And would they compete with a 2031 women’s World Cup here?
The official statement I got from U.S. Soccer this week is this: “At the moment, we are considering bidding for the 2027 Women’s World Cup or the 2031 Women’s World Cup. We haven’t received information on the bidding process for either tournament from FIFA, but once we find out the specific details we will be able to make a final decision.”
That brings up a running theme of late: Waiting for FIFA to get its act together on planning for big tournaments. Reps from the U.S. World Cup ‘26 bid cities told me they’ve been feeling significant fatigue over how long FIFA has dragged out the bidding process. Remember, FIFA is doing away with local organizing committees (LOCs) for World Cups starting with 2026 in an effort to hold onto even more revenue from the tournaments. But so far, FIFA has scored an own-goal on logistics and hasn’t hired enough people to do the job right.
It’s fascinating that World Rugby, that sport’s governing body, is already naming hosts for its 2031 and ‘33 World Cups while FIFA hasn’t gotten anywhere yet on even starting the bid process for the 2027 women’s World Cup. For perspective: The deadline for bids to host the 2019 women’s World Cup was five years out from the tournament, and hosting rights (to France) were awarded four years before the event. We’re now five years out from the ‘27 women’s World Cup, and FIFA has communicated zilch to potential bidders.
The only confirmed bid so far for the 2027 women’s World Cup is a combined effort from Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.
IS THE IDEA TO MAKE THE WOMEN’S WORLD CUP A ONCE-EVERY-TWO-YEARS EVENT STILL ALIVE?
A month ago came the word that FIFA’s Arsene Wenger-led quest to turn the men’s World Cup into a once-every-two-years event and generate twice as much revenue was dead. But we haven’t heard anything definitive yet on the push by FIFA to make the women’s World Cup once every two years, with Jill Ellis playing the Wenger role leading a FIFA committee.
This week a source with knowledge of the situation told me: “It’s still alive on the women’s side,” adding that a definitive answer is “many months away.”
The NWSL board of governors recently voted against the women’s World Cup being every two years, and sources tell me Parlow Cone, the U.S. Soccer president, is against it as well.
Proponents of staging the women’s World Cup every two years argue that the women’s game is different from the men’s game and that FIFA can drive top-down growth of the women’s game globally—including in countries that haven’t supported women’s soccer—by organizing the showpiece event more often. Detractors argue that having a women’s World Cup every two years would dilute the importance of the World Cup, harm the growing club game and stifle international women’s tournaments at the continental level.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s right-hand man, deputy secretary general Mattias Grafström, was spotted attending the Angel City NWSL opener in Los Angeles with Jill Ellis (before he attended the CCL final in Seattle a few days later).
WHICH CITIES ARE SHOWING REAL INTEREST IN STARTING NWSL EXPANSION TEAMS?
You might remember my interview in mid-March with new NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman, in which I asked her about NWSL expansion interest. “I have personally been contacted by more than seven potential investor groups,” she told me, “who are all bizarrely and insanely qualified to be owners in any major professional sports league. These are top-quality owners. So I think it’s going to be a very hard decision on our side, but a good problem to have.”
This week sources with knowledge of the situation told me which cities have the strongest bids for NWSL expansion. They are the MLS owners in Atlanta, Austin, Cincinnati, Salt Lake and Toronto and non-MLS owners in Columbus and the San Francisco Bay Area (the last two of which would likely use the MLS stadiums in Columbus and San Jose).
NWSL expansion is most likely set for 2024, though one source told me not to write off 2023 as a possibility.
When I asked one source on the possibility of adding a second NWSL team in the New York City area, the response was: “We’ve got to make Gotham viable first.” One big issue is the amount of money being paid to play in MLS stadiums. “Gotham has to partner with Red Bull,” the source told me, “and Seattle [OL Reign] is paying out the wazoo for Lumen Field.”
OPENING THE MAILBAG
What happens to Jesse Marsch if Leeds goes down?
Well, Marsch signed a three-year contract when he joined Leeds at the end of February. My first reaction to that was that it could have been a two-year deal but wasn’t for a reason. In other words, everyone (including Marsch) knew when he took the job that Leeds could go down, so a three-year deal was everyone saying that they were going to be together for the longer haul even if Leeds went down. It’s always possible that a coach can get fired whenever, but a longer contract like that makes it more unlikely.
As we near the end of the Premier League season, which teams’ performance has surprised you the most, both favorably and unfavorably?
On the favorable side: Brighton. Graham Potter is a terrific coach, and I enjoyed watching his team make a jump from last season. On the unfavorable side: Everton. Leeds has also been very disappointing, but that has more to do with injuries than Everton does, so I’ll go with the Toffees, which Rafa Benítez gutted in addition to leading them to poor play on the field.
The best non-MLS team left in the Open Cup?
The best USL v MLS looming matchup?
Louisville City, undefeated in 10 USL Championship league games, is the best remaining non-MLS team in the Open Cup, which is down to the Round of 16. And I think both Louisville City (hosting Nashville) and Sacramento (hosting San Jose) have real chances to take down MLS teams in the next round.
What do you think has made some U.S. cities better "soccer towns" and some less so? As a Boston-area resident, I think I'm resigned to never getting a WC qualifier and now (according to you) possibly not even a WC group stage match.
If the Krafts ever get their act together and build a soccer stadium in Boston, that would take care of both making it a better soccer town and getting World Cup qualifiers to come there. But I’ve grown tired of waiting and don’t think it will ever happen. Building new MLS soccer stadiums has been huge for so many cities to grow their soccer cultures, but I also notice cities like Seattle, Atlanta and Portland that haven’t built new stadiums just for soccer and yet still have vibrant, thriving soccer cultures.
With Erling Haaland going to Man City, what move(s) can other Premier League teams (i.e. Liverpool) make to stay at the same level competitively? The world's top young striker is basically the only thing Pep has been missing with City. I know we can't just write other teams off, but this puts City so far over the top.
Haaland is amazing, obviously, and will be a big help for City in one of its few not-world-class spots on the field, but I’m not quite as doom-and-gloom as you are about what that means for, say, Liverpool. For several years now under Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool hasn’t had the same financial resources as City and has still kept pace with smart, strategic purchases that rarely miss and one of the world’s top coaches. But, as we saw last season, Liverpool is more susceptible to big problems if certain players get injured.
Read your piece on the Barcelona women's juggernaut of a club. Their record is mind-boggling and not possible to imagine in the NWSL due to rules about parity. My question is whether it's healthier in the long run to create the women's version of super teams in Europe? Or is the American version of salary cap and parity preferable. The measurement of course would be the competitiveness of the respective women's national teams. My uninformed bias is that more competition is always better...steel whets steel, so to speak.
It’s a great question and for me one of the biggest talking points ahead of the 2023 women’s World Cup. How much better will the Spain team be than the one we saw give the U.S. trouble before losing in the Round of 16 in 2019? Will the Spain team start performing with the dominance that so many of its players have shown at Barcelona? We haven’t seen these things yet, and until they happen I’m inclined to agree with you on the greater competitive forces that are shaping the USWNT at the club level.
Have a good weekend!
You know, I read this news about FIFA delaying opening bidding for the 27 WWC and the 26 host cities, and then there was the EA-FIFA split this week… and it just makes me wonder if Gianni Infantino is any good at being president. His job is to run a competent organization. It sure seems like he’s so focused on seeking new revenue that he’s not maintaining the revenue streams already in place.
NWSL and the European leagues should establish a 32 team club world cup including club teams from all the other federations ASAP. They should get the tournament established before FIFA realizes it is a potential money maker and inserts itself in order to collect a share of the proceeds. FIFA has done next to nothing for the womens game, what makes anyone think this is going to change.