NWSL. It's a ball. (Shane Lardinois)
NWSL. It's a ball.

NWSL to FA WSL Loans: The Complexities and Uncertainty for Players Seeking Regular Competition during a Pandemic

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ith the National Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup now a thing of the past and several European leagues and the UEFA Champions League set to resume in the coming weeks, all eyes are now on NWSL players moving from the United States to Europe.

With World Cup-winning Sam Mewis confirmed to Manchester City in one of the biggest FA Women’s Super League transfers the league has seen, the expectation is more players will follow in the weeks ahead as no further competitive NWSL matches have yet to be confirmed.

While national team camps are set to resume next month on both continents, it is only Europe where there appears to be options for U.S.-based players seeking regular football matches for the next few months.

Mewis’s deal is a permanent transfer that will see the midfielder stay in Manchester for at least a year, but others are seeking short-term loans with the view of returning to the U.S. for the start of the 2021 season.

Sources have told OGM the NWSL is still exploring the possibility of another tournament before the end of the year, but it appears those matches are likely to be a series of competitive friendlies split between teams in the eastern half of the country and those in the west,  potentially for the end of September or beginning of October.

On returning to competition in 2020, the NWSL provided the following statement:

“We continue to explore options for additional meaningful competition in the 2020 season. Consultation with the NWSLPA and the NWSL Medical Task Force is underway, keeping the health and safety of our players a top priority. Any future competition schedule would need to conform to each team market’s specific public health restrictions and guidelines.”

The uncertainty leaves players looking for moves abroad or risk not playing competitively until the 2021 NWSL season. With budgets around Europe adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, however, many may be left without moves even if they go looking for one.

For the privileged few who are courted by teams abroad, the deals can be complex, whether it be dealing with clubs, the NWSL, or the U.S. Soccer Federation.

A certain number of U.S. Women’s National Team players are contracted with the U.S. Soccer Federation and allocated to their NWSL clubs — similar to the way in which the Football Association’s Central Contracts work. Therefore, most of Manchester City’s negotiations for Mewis would have gone through USSF, as they would for Rose Lavelle, who the club is still in negotiations with.

Contrary to any rumors that USSF is trying to stop Lavelle going abroad, a source familiar with the situation said the federation will not stop Lavelle or any other player from going abroad and any delay in the deal would not be down to the federation’s side.

While there are no current restrictions on the number of contracted USWNT players who can play abroad in 2020, that number will be limited to three in 2021 as laid out in the collective bargaining agreement between the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association and USSF. Per the CBA, a minimum of 16 players will be on contracts with USSF in 2021.

FA Complications

For those players not regularly called into the USWNT squad, there are further complications when it comes to moving to the FA WSL.

The FA requires players from outside the European Union to have played in 75 percent of their senior national team’s competitive matches during the two-year period prior to their work visa application, a rule that doesn’t exist in other major leagues in countries such as France, Germany, or Spain.

For instance, Alanna Kennedy and Emily van Egmond, both of the NWSL’s Orlando Pride and rumored to be heading to Tottenham and West Ham respectively, would qualify through their national team appearances with Australia.

But the likes of Adrianna Franch, Kristie Mewis, Danielle Colaprico, and many more cannot play in England unless they have U.K./E.U. heritage. Thus, the FA’s requirement leaves the FA WSL out as a potential destination for many NWSL players from the U.S.

Others, such as U.K. duo Jess Fishlock and Rachel Daly, have both played in the league before and were born in the U.K. Daly has options both in the FA WSL and in leagues around Europe and is yet to make a decision on her future, while sources suggest Welsh international Fishlock is set to play in the league for the first time in eight years on a short-term deal with Reading.

Loans are likely to stretch no further than December 31 for those whose NWSL contracts expire this year, but could go as far as February 28 for those with another year on their contracts. Nevertheless, the majority will be wanted back by their clubs in time for NWSL preseason.

Even those players seeking short-term loans face complications. Prior to the start of the NWSL Challenge Cup, the NWSL Players Association negotiated full salaries through 2020 for players even if they opted out of competing in the tournament.

That means NWSL players will be paid in full for the remainder of the year even if there are no further NWSL matches. As to whether players who head abroad on loan would forgo part of their wages, the NWSL issued the following statement:

“We established an agreement with the NWSLPA prior to the tournament that no matter what, whether players participated in the Challenge Cup or not, their contracts would be paid in full through the year. We do not share details on how loan agreements are broken down between the two clubs.”

It is therefore between the clubs to come to a financial agreement about how much each side pays for non-allocated players’ wages while on loan.

College Season and Draft Questions Marks

Even for younger players, there are question marks. For those nearing the end of their college careers and hoping to enter the NWSL College Draft early next year, several conferences have moved the start of the season to spring, calling into question how, if at all, a January College Draft might take place.

This has an impact on several England youngsters including North Carolina trio Alessia Russo, Lotte Wubben-Moy, and Lois Joel, while Ruby Grant, who was set to join the Tarheels this year, will remain in England until the new year at the earliest.

The uncertainty surrounding the college season could also impact the likes of Anna Patten, Mollie Rouse, Lucy Parker, and Zoe Cross, with sources telling OGM they could all now be looking for moves back to England or around Europe rather than entering the draft next year.


[dropcap]A[/dropcap]ll NWSL clubs will be following these developments closely, including expansion team Racing Louisville FC, which is set to announce their first head coach this week. Finalizing plans beyond that, including draft plans and what their squad may look like, remains just as uncertain as does when the NWSL will resume in 2021.