Questions for NWSL Year 4: Is the league ready for more expansion?

orlando city expansion

Over the coming weeks, Stephanie Yang, new contributor to World Soccer Talk, will be tackling a series of major questions facing the National Women’s Soccer League as it approaches its third offseason. In her first installment, Stephanie analyzes the league’s expected partnership with Orlando City SC – potentially the third Major League Soccer franchise to venture into the NWSL.

The NWSL is not like the women’s soccer leagues came before it. It’s not just the structure of the league and the tight financial caps that distinguish it; it’s the very fact of its existence. No American women’s pro soccer league has made it out of the third season.

A week short of Oct. 1’s NWSL championship game, the league sits on the cusp of a fourth season, not only with all its founding teams still onboard but prepared to expand for the second time. The league will have 10 teams in 2016, with Major League Soccer franchise Orlando City SC starting a women’s side.

NWSL’s last expansion was with the Houston Dash in 2014, the league’s second year of operation. Coach Randy Waldrum has stated that, from inception to actually playing a game, the Dash, a partner of MLS’s Houston Dynamo, had about 90 days to pull everything together. That means rosters, staff, logistics – everything.

SEE MORE: Report: NWSL will expand to Orlando in 2016.

But the Dash are still in the league and have found a measure of success – if not on the field (having yet to make the playoffs) then with ticket sales, going from what was already the league’s second-highest league average attendance of 4,650 in 2014 to 6,413 in 2015, a 38% increase. This is in no small part due to the World Cup bump and the presence of final hero Carli Lloyd, who spent the league’s first two years with Western New York. The combination of increased attendance and the stability of an established MLS team’s infrastructure show that the league was both ready and able to handle an expansion.

Two years later, the league wants to expand again, begging the questions: Is it ready? Is it able?

Ability is the easier question to answer, since expansion is again going through an MLS team. While itself a new expansion team in MLS, Orlando has had robust attendance in its inaugural season with an average of 31,987 so far, second highest in the league. With that infrastructure comes facilities, a front office, staff, training resources, community resources, sales and marketing know-how and all the little things that go into a running a pro sports team.

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