It was a good year for women’s professional soccer.
A mostly spectacular World Cup was followed up with a compelling and fun NWSL season in the United States. The league saw an increase in attendance plus major corporate and broadcast partners coming on board. No one is talking about the league folding anymore. Instead, expansion has been confirmed for Louisville in 2021 and Sacramento might be joining them soon.
Elsewhere, the top European teams are increasingly laying claim that they deserve to be counted on the same level of the American league. The English WSL, in particular, is getting increasingly more attention, with the big men’s teams now starting to invest on the women’s side of the game. Even Manchester United is back in the mix, after several (shameful) years operating without a women’s program at all.
There’s a lot more work to happen before the women’s game is anywhere close to being treated with parity in relation to the men’s, but it appears that 2019 will prove to be a seminal year in the history of the women’s game.
Not all is perfect, however. Above, I called the World Cup “mostly” spectacular. In Canada, we know all too much about that “mostly” part. Canada’s performance at France was, to be polite, tepid. Yes, the Red and White got out of the group, but they did not come close to winning a game that they wouldn’t have been expected to heading in.
The Dutch, a team that Canada was well ahead of in the lead up to the 2015 World Cup showed that they were now miles ahead of the Canucks. It’s one thing for the European champions and eventual World Cup finalists to give you a beat down. Its another for a pedestrian Swedish team to suffocate you in the Round of 16.
Not good. And, not trending in the correct direction. A big reason for the lack of hope steams from the fact that the good news on the women’s side of the club game are pretty much non-existent in Canada. Other than the allocated spots that the CSA holds for the NWSL there are literally no guarantees for Canadian players. For a Canadian to get an opportunity they don’t simply have to be good enough. They have to be considerably better than the domestic options that exist at the club they are trying to break through with.
This has even been a problem with the allocated players in the NWSL. Even when the Canadian doesn’t take up an international spot, they still struggle to get time over American players that the clubs are often more inclined to play.
That issue led the Mexican federation to pull out of the NWSL partnership. The money it was investing just simply wasn’t paying off in the way that the Mexicans expected. So, they pulled it and, instead, started to work on supporting their own professional league – a league that has become quite popular already. It hasn’t helped Mexico in the national team – yet – but it has helped popularize the women’s game in a country that had previously been resistant to it.
Meanwhile in Canada…nothing. Or, very little, anyway. We continue to operate in the same way that we always have when the rest of the world evolves.
It’s worked to a point up to now. The back-to-back bronze medals are high water marks in the history of the sport in Canada, but it’s disingenuous to ignore the overall women’s soccer environment of the time that allowed Canada to punch above its weight in the sport. Those in the know knew that those times would not last and they, sadly, were right. If anything it’s happening even faster than the critics thought it would.
It’s time to follow the lead of the Mexicans and start to actively work towards
creating our own professional club solutions — not scraps from the American league, but rather something of our very own.
If we keep doing things the same way that we always have we’re going to be left even further behind and increasingly irrelevant in the world’s game.