Anson Dorrance: It should be 'moral imperative to grow the game' so an NWSL player isn't making $16,000 (Part 2)

By Mike Woitalla

Anson Dorrance, who this season is aiming to win his 23rd national title with the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, also coached the USA to its first World Cup title 1991. Nearly 60 of his UNC players have played for the USA. Earlier this month, Sarina Wiegman, who was part of the UNC’s 1989 NCAA championship team along with Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly, coached the Netherlands to the 2017 European Championship title. In Part 2 of our interview we asked Dorrance about the NWSL’s success and challenges, and state of the U.S. women’s national team.

Interview: Part 1

SOCCER AMERICA: How do you feel about the NWSL, now in its fifth season?

ANSON DORRANCE: Right out of the gate, I want to laud to Sunil Gulati [U.S. Soccer president] and having him as our leader step in and basically create a league that can survive as a business plan. We’ve got to give Sunil full credit, because it’s an extraordinary league.

I really feel like this league is fabulous and getting better and better.

But there was a stretch where I was very disappointed in our national team players. They exploited the league in the wrong way, in that it was basically their paycheck, but didn’t really "play for club."

SA: In what sense?

ANSON DORRANCE: They certainly played for country, but not for club, and that really disappointed me, because I thought they could really promote the players around them and make it a better and better league.

I really disliked the arrogance some of the full national team players had for their NWSL clubs, it was actually angering. I could watch a player playing for her club and for the national team, and I’m seeing a completely different player.

Now we’re beyond that. Now what I’m seeing from them is the opposite.

And I credit the professionalism of the young women now who realize, “If I want to become a truly great player I can’t just go into the national team camp and tear it up. I need to tear it up in the league.” And that’s bringing us closer to where the men’s game is, which is where all of us aspire to be in terms of the level on the women’s side. More and more of the first-line full national team players are playing for club. That’s good, not just for the league but also for our full women’s national team.

I love the evolution of the women’s league, where it is, where it’s going, the coaches they have in the league.

SA: The coaches?

ANSON DORRANCE: If I’m anywhere near these coaches, Laura Harvey, or Paul Riley, Rory Dames, Mark Parsons, Jim Gabarra -- they’re fabulous. Anytime we play any of these teams, they’ve all got something to teach me. They’re willing to play us in the offseason. These are all fabulous coaches who are injected into the American women’s game in the most positive way. I learn a lot from watching their teams play and from talking to them.

I love having a pro team right here, North Carolina Courage, in our area, and I’m privileged that they let me do color commentary occasionally.

One of my assistants is a North Carolina Courage assistant and the information brought back from [head coach] Paul Riley into my environment is not only good for me and my staff, but great for my players.

SA: One of the issues in the news recently was the low salaries of NWSL players, the ones who aren't the allocated players, the national team stars whose salaries are paid by U.S. Soccer. Orlando Pride veteran Maddy Evans retired because she was making only $16,000. Maximum and minimum salaries are $41,700 and $15,000.

ANSON DORRANCE: We have to work on it. We have to develop the crowds.

How can a kid survive on $16,000 a year? The reason we’re paying her $16,000 a year in the NWSL is because we’re not attracting a large enough gate, because our game hasn’t been promoted enough, including at my level, and I take full responsibility.

Whatever happened in Portland [the Thorn averages nearly 17,000], whatever magic elixir occurred, I hope some sort of guru sits down with all the marketing people across the league and they try to steal the Portland formula.

All of us in the game have a moral imperative to attract people to women’s soccer. At UNC, we’ve hired a full-time person to market our women’s soccer program and we’re getting a new stadium, up in 2018.

We’re going to do some cross-promotional stuff with the pro team, share mailing lists. We’re going to try and share fans. We’re going to try and learn from them, and we’re going to try and help build their gate with our gate.

All of us have to jump in and contribute in some way.

With all the success of our national team, all the success of our league, we’re still promoting our game. We have not arrived. We should all have a moral imperative to grow the game so that salary is not $16,000.

Maddie Evans

SA: I assume you followed the Netherlands winning the 2017 European Championship, coached by Sarina Wiegman, who played for you at UNC on its 1989 national championship team?

ANSON DORRANCE: I loved it. They were excellent, playing through the lines, playing indirectly and directly. It was interesting to see the positive qualities of the Dutch men’s game seeping into their women’s game.

SA: How do you feel about the U.S. national team right now? Coach Jill Ellis’ team has lost three games this year, including for the first time ever against Australia?

ANSON DORRANCE: Those of us who have coached at that level understand the gig. The gig is to win world championships and Olympic gold medals.

All of these friendly games are basically preparation matches where you get to try out new players, new rosters, new ideas.

It’s also a way to let the veterans know there are footsteps and I want you to hear them.

Bring in a Rose Lavelle to challenge you so you’ve got to take care of business -- so you are committing to your club rather to just committing your country.

And the rest of the world is catching up. Australia is a heck of a team right now, and it’s not like it’s overnight.

The first half against Australia [a 3-1 U.S. win] in 2015 World Cup was not a U.S. domination. Even at last World Cup, they were good. Now they have a legitimate goalscorer [Samantha Kerr], who’s doing it our league.

We’ve got all kinds of challenges, so Jill’s got to continue to revamp her roster. She’s got to look at young kids, which is what she’s doing. And if you do that, you’re going to take some hits. But you have to look at it aggressively by bringing in these new players. The veterans have to know they have to fend of the youth and no one should be comfortable on the U.S. roster.

So I like a lot of things Jill’s doing.

14 comments about "Anson Dorrance: It should be 'moral imperative to grow the game' so an NWSL player isn't making $16,000 (Part 2)".
  1. R2 Dad, August 29, 2017 at 5:59 p.m.

    AD may "take full responsibility", but he's making $162,400/year, 10x what Evans made. So he can afford to "dislike the arrogance" all he wants.

  2. frank schoon, August 30, 2017 at 9:35 a.m.

    The way I look at is that soccer has been around for at least 50 years, and we have now more and more involved in soccer, our population has also grown more ethnically, especially hispanics. In other words , back in the days of the NASL of the 70's we didn't have a large enough a fan base.....WE HAVE ONE NOW , so there is no excuse of not being able to draw a crowd. If women soccer wants to draw a crowd then they need to play GOOD, EXCITING, HIGH LEVEL SOCCER...It is that simple!! And to draw on past laurels of beating everybody in the world was only because most other cultures in the world
    weren't ready to accept women soccer and unfortunately many still aren't. It has taken quite a few year for men's pro soccer to get to this point on the pro-level, salary wise and crowd acceptance wise and women expect too much too soon. They need to put an excellent product out on the field, in order to compete with the men that people will want to come out to the stadium to watch, and that is basically one of the main problems.

  3. Gary Allen, August 30, 2017 at 9:55 a.m.

    Interesting that Anson did not mention Randy Waldrum, one of the best and most accomplished coach in women's soccer today.

  4. Ben Myers, August 30, 2017 at 1:36 p.m.

    Although Dorrance has reservations about the stink USWNT members made about payment for playing on the team, it still remains that many women cannot eke out a decent living playing professional soccer in this country. Are the women arrogant? Nope. Just pointing out the serious lack of parity with USMNT, something that Sunil in all his magnificence has utterly failed to address. Hey, if I was paid $16000 a year, I would be complaining, too. And, yes, Sunil & Co have to work harder to promote the NWSL, draw greater crowds, and maybe even subsidize salaries of American women playing in NWSL using the pile of cash that USSF has stockpiled somewhere.

  5. frank schoon replied, August 30, 2017 at 1:54 p.m.

    Ben, "work to draw greater crowds??. If you have good product fans will show up, for there is a huge fanbase out there. About salary, I didn't hear any complaints from the men pro soccer side throughout the years during their growth about that they weren't earning much and should paid comparable the amount like basketball, baseball ,football players, which is simply laughable if they did. The pro soccer players have earned their keep because throughout all these years they have finally are drawing a crowds, which women are not doing. And to justify that the women need their salary raised comparable to the men is simply just laughable. The women are riding on the backs of what the men's accomplishments after all those years. Let the women first put a decent product on the field for fans to come out and watch. We don't need subsidizing, do it on MERIT

  6. Bob Ashpole, August 30, 2017 at 3:34 p.m.

    I agree that the game needs to grow better, better players and better play. But my purpose is not just to make money for professional soccer but to make the sport better for the sake of the sport itself and the participants. I agree with Frank that better soccer will draw more fans, but I caution that the sheer number of fans is not as important as the knowledge of the fans. Some fans like ugly thuggish football, as if it were a TV scripted wrestling match between villains and heroes. There are fans of spectacle and then there are fans of soccer. Not everyone will appreciate good play.

  7. frank schoon replied, August 30, 2017 at 3:53 p.m.

    BOB, knowledge of the fans is of the of course the ultimate. But even in Europe there are so many fans who don't see the "why's" and other intricate details . Who jump for joy seeing a goal but totally overlook the second man creating a space two prior moves leading up to the goal. I always wonder how can a fan enjoy watching a game while the guy next is blasting his tooter or beating drum constantly, although a rabid when has little understanding of what is really happening. I don't we will ever get intellectual fans as a majority in the seats but more of the emotional types...

  8. uffe gustafsson, August 30, 2017 at 8:14 p.m.

    I said it before and now again. Unless MLS start to invest in women's pro teams it won't happen.
    The stand alone league is not going to work in the long run. I like what he said that his college team and the pro team are working together but that's not the solution. College games don't bring in the crowds either. So what is the real solution, get TV coverage and I will watch games but how you get that I don't know.

  9. Michael Saunders, August 30, 2017 at 11:46 p.m.

    Agreed uffe gustafsson. The business model is not working as"planned" for the NWSL. Bottom line many of the teams in Europe do not draw that well either. Yet the UEFA teams have awakened to the reality of the growth potential of WoSo, and therefore many of the traditional Clubs are supporting WoSo accordingly. Certainly similar approach should be taken in the USA by the MLS teams. Yet that action needs to be coupled with investment to attract top quality players from around the world to play in the NWSL. I for one have been particularly disappointed at the play quality to date with rare exceptions.

  10. Ginger Peeler, August 31, 2017 at 12:49 a.m.

    When the previous women"s professional soccer league began, I was really excited and looked forward to the games, especially since one of the women had played competitively in the San Diego area at the same time my daughter did (although she chose to play on a boys' team, in the boys' competitive league, rather than on my daughter's girl's team). . I don't know who or what group was in charge of scheduling the games on tv, but nearly every women's professional league game was on at the same date and time as an MLS game with teams I followed. Nothing against the way the women played, but I chose to continue to follow my MLS teams. Since the first women's professional league folded, I've continued to watch the US Women's National Team, but I'm not really interested in the women's new professional league.

  11. Jay Wall, August 31, 2017 at 7:58 a.m.

    According to Statistia, in 2016, the wholesale dollar value of sales of soccer balls, uniforms and gear including shin guards, etc. in the United States was $558,000,000, more if you add in Canada. FIFA youth registrations show 48% of U.S. youth players are female so potential for sales of soccer products to female youth players, their parents and other family members could be worth as much as $240,000,000, more including Canada. Add to that the potential for sales of tickets to watch games in person, the sales of videos on female players and games, books on and about female players, etc. there should be enough potential to at least try to broadcast games on cable TV with a thin strip on the bottom of the screen promoting products for youth players with a simple URL to go online and to learn more and buy youth soccer gear, balls, videos, books and tickets to games. Add in pre-game, half time and end of game sales of products. And if most of the 2,000,000 young female players in the United States and Canada watched at least one women's game, adopted role models and goals, and spent an average of just $15 each over an entire YEAR, then at least $30,000,000 in products would be sold and if just $3,000,000 were to go to the salaries of female players and not league owners and US Soccer, then compensation improves and the women's game has the incentive to improve. That would give each of the 10 teams $300,000 to help cover their roster of players and it would increase the $16,000 a year to close to $28,000. Of course if more is sold the income share to players would be higher. >> 10 teams is 5 locations a weekend with games in the entire nation. Games need to be broadcast to best influence youth players and to grow the market.

  12. R2 Dad replied, September 2, 2017 at 12:34 a.m.

    I want to watch the USWNT AND NWSL on my laptop, for a reasonable pay-per-view or seasonal rate, much like I do for Fox Soccer Match Pass. Why isn't this happening?

  13. Ric Fonseca, September 2, 2017 at 9:33 p.m.

    I am somewhat "baffled" by Dorrance's statement about "moral imperative!" For someone who is making a six-figure salary, what is it $160,000, he can sure as tootin' can say anything he sure as heck wants. However, I'd not be so free with this quoted statement. Jeepers, I vividly remember when the ladies went to their first women's WC, I was so damned proud, that I made sure my young daughter was fully aware of the players, someone she could look up to and emulate. However, as the months and years came and went, and girls and women's soccer grew, and I got to know more and more just how the system was then manipulated for the benefit of one person, I soured on the whole kit and kaboodle, but never gave up, and our daughter didn't either as she was the only freshman to make her varsity team in high school. As for something akin to "moral imperative," I was gladdened when the ladies decided to take US Soccer to court, and felt then - and still do - that they are the ones that took on the "moral imperative" that Dorrance spouts freely, as I sure as heck did not see him lining up with them, though he got where he is through the sweat of their brows and hard work on the field. The women's pro circuit may not be as attractive as MLS, but I can sure as hell tell you to mark my words as it is over due and coming soon to our parks. Lastly, all I am saying is that the Soon to take the field, the Los Angeles Football Club will also field a women's Pro team, 'cause after all one of women's soccer pioneers is right on the forward line!!!

  14. F. Kirk Malloy, September 3, 2017 at 5:28 a.m.

    A fan of the wormen's game since 1997. Licensed and coached at youth level. Daughter played D1.
    Frank S is right, merit must rule. Women's game must atttract more viewers (and not just USWNT) if the league is to pay a living wage to all players.
    But how?
    1. Play to your strengths: quick, intelligent, technical, skillful soccer. All achievable. With the proper training and development, none should be at a disadvantage to the men's game. Stop advancing the purely "athletic" female players (read big, strong, fast without ball) in an attempt to emulate males. The game must compete with MLS for eyeballs, and sorry it will never be as "athletic" as men's game. Don't try. Be better, more technical, better movement, quicker passing, on ball technical. Some of the very best male players have those qualities. They're not bigger or stronger. Just better. Look for those talents and qualities in the women's game. The eyes will follow.
    2. Smaller, lighter ball. Sorry, dudes are stronger. They can drive and bend the men's ball harder and faster. Their game appears much faster - live and importantly on TV - and they can more easily use the full field wth longer, still accurate passes. Youth girls (and guys) play with a smaller ball up to a certain age. For the girls, stick with it throughout. Not a novel idea, been kicked around before. Yes, it's a bit of an admission up front, but in the long run, the women's speed of play will improve and with it viewership.
    3. Persist. The women's pro league needs another ten years to translation. MLS took decades to fill stadiums. Somehow the women's pro league must persist, even if it means some sacrifices by the current crop to get there.
    Great luck! I'll be watching.

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