U.S. women's soccer faces perhaps its most consequential year ever in 2022

On the field and off, 2022 shapes up as perhaps most consequential year in the history of U.S. women's soccer.

The NWSL is again slated to kick off in May after the preseason Challenge Cup, and the U.S. women's national team will play in the new Concacaf W Championship in July, but before that the attention will be on developments in a series of off-the-field matters that have made national and international headlines.

Here's a look at the six biggest storylines for U.S. women's soccer in 2022 ...

1. The Riley investigations. It would be a simplification to call the investigations being undertaken by U.S. Soccer and the NWSL just a look at the behavior of former NWSL coach Paul Riley and how his former employers responded, but the allegations about Riley raised in Meg Linehan's reporting in The Athletic and accusations of sexual coercion and misconduct made by two of his former players, Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim, were a turning point.

"The NWSL has failed us,” the NWSL Players Association said in a series of tweets about what it described as "basic and fundamental protections that ensure at work" and "systematic abuse." Farrelly described to The Athletic what has happened as "institutional betrayal." Within a day, NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird quit and Marla Messing was later installed as interim CEO.

In 2021, two other head coaches -- Racing Louisville's Christy Holly and Washington's Richie Burke -- were fired for cause, a third head coach -- OL Reign's Farid Benstiti -- resigned after allegations of abusive comments were made, a fourth -- longtime Chicago coach Rory Dames -- quit suddenly ahead of a report of abuse allegations, and Gotham FC general manager Alyse LaHue was dismissed for violations of the league’s new anti-harassment policy, allegations she denied.

The investigations are (re-)examining any instance of abuse since the league was formed, whether or not action was taken, and determining if anyone neglected to investigate concerns of abuse or overlooked known abuse in making hiring decisions.

Messing said the investigations could take as long as nine months, which would take them into the summer. How the NWSL and its clubs respond to the findings will go a long way toward determining the league's future.

2. Washington Spirit sale. Burke's controversial tenure as Washington Spirit head coach, which began in 2019, ended in August, but off-field issues have continued as two of the club's owners, controlling owner Steve Baldwin and Y. Michele Kang, have been at loggerheads.

Following an investigation into Burke and a toxic work culture for female employees within the Spirit, the NWSL banned Spirit representatives from participating in league governance matters.

Kang has offered $35 million to buy the Spirit, but Baldwin has entered into exclusive negotiations with a group headed by billionaire Todd Boehly to sell the club for $25 million. Baldwin, who bought the Spirit ahead of the 2019 season, does not appear to have any interest in selling to Kang.

The latest twist to the saga: A group of Washington Spirit investors has threatened legal action against Baldwin if he does not sell to Kang. (It's hard to imagine he'd be swayed by the threat of legal action if he is willing to leave millions of dollars on the table.)

Hopes for a resolution of the Spirit ownership by the end of the year have faded. Waiting in the corner to decide what to do about the sale are Baldwin's fellow owners around the league.

3. CBA talks. U.S. Soccer and the USWNT Players Association have agreed to end the allocation system used to place core players on the national team in the NWSL since the league's launch in 2013 and to extend the no-strike/no-lockout agreement under the current collective bargaining agreement that expires on Friday through at least March 31.

U.S. Soccer's position is that it wants to sit down with both the men's and women's national teams and negotiate what would be a historic agreement putting CBAs for the men and women under one structure -- and it wants an agreement that prioritizes equalizing FIFA prize money. Many federations have reached agreements with national teams to equalize per-game compensation, but finding ways to put FIFA prize money in one pot has proved elusive.

Women's soccer's labor issues don't end there, though. The NWSL recognized the NWSL Players Association in 2018, but there is still no CBA setting minimum pay for players and working conditions. The NWSLPA's #NoMoreSideHustles campaign has received a lot of attention but equally important is coming to terms with owners on such things as a formal grievance procedure for players to air their complaints they feel have been ignored.

With the end of current allocation system, USWNTPA's players will become NWSLPA members, giving the league's union new powerful voices often lacking in the past.

4. Morgan v. USSF appeal. The equal pay claim U.S. women's national team players filed against the federation enters its third year with oral arguments in their appeal scheduled to be heard by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on March 7 in Pasadena, California.

In May 2020, U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner granted a summary judgment to the federation on the equal pay claim but allowed a claim related to discriminatory working conditions to go forward. (The federation and women settled on this aspect of the suit, which related to such things as how the players traveled and were lodged.)

Experts for the women estimated damages to be more than $64 million -- plus $3 million in interest -- for their claim under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

If the Court of Appeals overrules the trial court’s ruling, the case would return to the District Court for trial. Absent a settlement, the case could drag on into 2023.

5. NWSL expansion. The NWSL will have a record 12 teams when plays begin in 2022, first with the Challenge Cup on March 19 and then the regular season following the Challenge Cup final on May 7.

It will mark the first time the NWSL has added two teams in a season -- and they aren't just any teams. Angel City FC with its all-star ownership group and the San Diego Wave whose president is former U.S. national team coach Jill Ellis give the NWSL its first presence in California.

ACFC has already sold 13,200 season tickets for its first season at 22,000-seat Banc of California Stadium, home of MLS's LAFC. The Wave will open at the University of San Diego's tiny Torero Stadium until San Diego State's 35,000-seat Snapdragon Stadium opens.

6. New-look USWNT. We'll know how much Vlatko Andonovski is willing to shake things up on the national team when he names his squad for the first camp of the year in January.

Carli Lloyd has retired, but how many other stars from the 2015 and 2019 Women's World Cup championship teams will be pushed out the door? The USA's 2-2-2 finish at the Olympics underscored the need for change. The promising results late in the year in Australia -- 3-0 win in Sydney and 1-1 tie in Newcastle -- suggest that a new generation is ready to be given a chance to take over.

Some players were backups in recent years or getting second looks. Yet others were WNT newbies. They add up to perhaps the deepest group of players ready to step in for a new World Cup cycle in the program's history.

Goalkeeper Casey Murphy, defenders Tierna Davidson, Alana Cook, Emily Fox and Sofia Huerta and midfielder Andi Sullivan were among the standouts against the Matildas, and they don't include all the attacking talent that didn't play Down Under: Sophia Smith (out due to concussion protocols) and Catarina Macario (minor groin strain) and Mal Pugh and NWSL rookie sensation Trinity Rodman (who both opted out of the trip).

14 comments about "U.S. women's soccer faces perhaps its most consequential year ever in 2022".
  1. Michael Saunders, December 29, 2021 at 10:09 a.m.

    Kudos to Paul Kennedy and staff for providing a cogent overview of the issues facing the WoSo in the United States.   

    I would add that the NWSL at this stage must also address the threat of the UEFA Leagues attracting US players to play overseas.  That said, salaries / compensation is not the only issue. 

    For the NWSL to re-establish itself as the most competitive league, it must continue to provide the benefits as the big clubs in Europe from training facilities, to soccer friendly stadia, etc.  The objective is simple:  Similar to the NBA & the NHL, the NWSL needs to be the "go-to"  league for players and coaches alike;  otherwise it will be relegated figuratively speaking to a development league.

  2. Peter Kurilecz replied, December 29, 2021 at 10:32 p.m.

    First of all the League needs to attract spectators

  3. R2 Dad replied, December 29, 2021 at 11:05 p.m.

    I think it's too late--the pull of the Champions League is too great already. NWSL is focused on internal issues and can't be bothered with the existential one.

  4. George Miller, December 29, 2021 at 2:11 p.m.

    As a lifelong fan, the ladies created their own failure
    they put their politics front and center and kept
    rubbing our noses in it. Everyone was a racist or a homophobe if we didn't think like they did. I used to cook forward to every game but I won't bother in the future

  5. Christopher Miller replied, December 30, 2021 at 12:24 a.m.

    You are absolutely correct sir.  If I want a lecture or moral advice, I'll go to a counsellor or church.  Don't need any help from any entertainer, whether an athlete, actor, etc.

    Combine that with the fact that the games are boooooooooooring and I can't watch.  Be it the geographic proximity or the cultural history or other, Europe is and will be the place to play for the foreseeable future.  Just like the god awful WNBA, whose players are rockstars in the Russian league, no one really cares about the womens leagues.

  6. Ric Fonseca, December 29, 2021 at 2:33 p.m.

    > Mr. Miller: You say the ladies "put their politics front and center.... and kept rubbing our noses in it...." is a statement that I've heard now for the past fifty years - as an active community service worker (Oakland's Economic Development Council in the early '60.s) and then as a college student activist through the late 60's and early '70s) capping my activism into the close of the last century (20th) activism I continue to lecture about it in my U.S. history college classes.  Simply stated, what the ladies of the NWSL have done is to re-ignite their concerns in light of anti-feminism ("racist" or a "homophobe" (sic) in our sport, a "happenstance" that has been rearing it's ugly face for as long as women began participating in sports.  As for me, I shall continue to be active and support their goals and objectives.... And this coming from a man of Mexican birth (U.S. naturalized, and veteran) and life-long soccer aficionado, who experienced much of what they've gone through and strongly support my daughter and grandaughter, both who love el jogo bonito!     

  7. John Soares replied, December 29, 2021 at 4:26 p.m.


  8. Wayne Norris replied, December 29, 2021 at 5:08 p.m.

    Ric, should US Soccer be on hook for the $36M FIFA WC bonus?

    if so where does that money come from?

  9. ARISTIDES SASTRE replied, December 29, 2021 at 10:24 p.m.

    Great job speaking truth Ric. Similar comments were made against civil rights activists in the 60s.

  10. Santiago 1314 replied, December 30, 2021 at 12:39 a.m.

    Ric, It will All be for Naught, Soon Enough.... How many Fans are there going to be for Women's Soccer, when the Male "Trans" start "Taking Over" the Game.???

  11. Bob Ashpole replied, December 30, 2021 at 1:03 a.m.

    Wayne, lets remember the history of this bitter litigation. USSF threw gasoline on the fire with their public statements in court filings. USSF replaced their president and then tried to take back their caustic attacks. One cannot, however, unsay what has been said.

    I have no sympathy for USSF. Instead of defusing the situation, they antagonized. Extremely unprofessional.

  12. Charles Allen, December 29, 2021 at 5:18 p.m.

    Andonovski must go!  Can't handle the stress at this level.  Ran into a good Swedish team and panicked.  Sat Morgan down at half when she fit and on fire for Orlando and active in the game.  She should have had time w Lloyd, not instead of.  When we got beat he blamed the mind set of the team!!!!  A team going into the game with a culture of winning!!!!  His panic and egregious rotations eroded the cohesiveness built up over years.  Then a tie v Australia and a loss to Canada. We should have won both games.  Then v Australia he panicked again when Aus was making a late comeback and with little time left, throws Morgan in and she gets injured.  Now it was Andonovski "third is good enough" instead of winning.  The following friendlies, "for evaluation" were ridiculous.  It was helter skelter.  Again he is destroying the cohesiveness and bonding of years of hard work.  You build a team by working new players in with veterans.  The vets can instruct and nurture the rookies.  He is looking for a quick fix and does'nt have patience and mettle to weather the storm

  13. Bob Ashpole replied, December 30, 2021 at 1:14 a.m.

    I agree with much of what you said, but not that Andonovski should be fired. USSF has let the successful team of Hendricks and Ellis go and replaced them with the management that lead the failed MNT program. Replacing the coach doesn't fix the root cause.

    Who is going to be a better coach?  

    If this were a chess match, Andonovski's problem is that he only thinks one move ahead. In comparison, Ellis was a chess master. No one managed tournaments better.

  14. Bob Ashpole, December 30, 2021 at 12:56 a.m.

    I see way too much politics here and no soccer. Where is a comparable SA article on MLS off field subjects? Aside from Ric and a few others there is a total lack of empathy. But that just par for the course. Nothing has changed since 1920.

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