international opinion

5 reasons I'd rather watch the Women's Champions League than the NWSL

1:20 PMGoalChatter

By Richard Murray |

Photo: UEFA Women's Champions League
When the North Carolina Courage defeated Olympique Lyonnais in the 2018 Women’s International
Champions Cup final, some opined the soccer in the NWSL is better than in UEFA, specifically the Women’s Champions League. Here are five reasons I disagreed.

1. Quality is getting better and better.
I remember when the Women’s Champions League was dominated by Frauen-Bundesliga side FFC Turbine Potsdam. At the time, French, English, Spanish, and Italian women’s football was underdeveloped. The Women’s Champions League grew to where all the top teams in UEFA are not only competing against each other, but also showcasing the growth in top clubs.

I recall when Chelsea Ladies did not have the quality from a Ji So-Yun. I remember when
Atlético Madrid Femenino was not captained by Amanda Sampedro, and when being the champions in Italy, like Brescia Calcio Femminile (acquired by AC Milan earlier this year) were, did not warrant a place in the tournament. 

The Champions League participants grow in competitive power every year. That means each successive champion has to overcome more. Any team can lose – OL lost to North Carolina Courage. But the glory of winning the title constantly pushes OL to grow, or it will become like FFC Frankfurt – a team whose past glories have begun to fade.

2. Competitive entry is harder.
The post-season playoffs in the NWSL determine the champion. But the challenge to enter the Women’s Champions League is harder. I am not speaking to the players, but rather the structure in the competitive environment. Imagine if the NWSL playoffs were played while the regular season commenced, using the prior season's standings to determine entry. Now imagine if this season’s final standings were used for next season’s playoffs. Is that not harder than the current setup in the NWSL?

3. Players’ choices don’t lie.
Former NBA star Rasheed Wallace once said, “Ball don't lie.” Neither do players’ choices. Most female players, coaches, and fans adore the environment in the U.S. They speak well to the country as a destination on or off the pitch. By contrast, the global player pool in the NWSL is not dominant while having every advantage to be. First, the NWSL is one league. Unlike the Women’s Champions League, which accepts champions from Frauen-Bundesliga, Division 1 Féminine, or other leagues in UEFA, the NWSL does not have a team pool as large. The NWSL clubs, all safe from relegation, offer any player a chance to play in one of the top three domestic media markets, absent from relegation fear.

But have most top players in UEFA, the Asian Football Confederation, or the Confederation of African Football clamored to play in the NWSL?  

I recall an interview where Carli Lloyd stated how she loved being in the training facilities at Manchester City. Similarly, English forward Lianne Sanderson marveled at the Juventus facilities. Both players, who featured in the top flight in the U.S., spoke to a sense that UEFA, specifically Champions League teams, is where a player needs to be. I can use Nadia Nadim, who left the very popular Portland Thorns to Manchester City WFC, as another example of players’ preferences. 

Women the world over like the community or money in the U.S., but the NWSL is not attracting enough high-quality players. Players’ choices don't lie.

4. MLS shows the future.
According to Sporting Intelligence, Major League Soccer “will imminently become one of the world’s top 10 soccer leagues by average revenue per team.” MLS is 24 years old. I expect the NWSL to grow financially the same way MLS did. I also expect the NWSL to stagnate the same way. MLS has not competitively grown because it was designed to mimic the NFL, the biggest sports league by revenue while the least competitive in internal athletics. The proof is MLS teams’ results in the CONCACAF Champions League. MLS never shook the dominance Liga MX has on the tournament, despite having significantly more revenue. 

The NWSL has no similar tournament to the CCL, nor can women's leagues elsewhere in
CONCACAF relate to the MLS scenario. But they share the same model (a closed league) and show signs of similar results.

5. Hype never convinced the informed.
Many fans, players, and coaches, both in and outside of England, suggest the English Premier League is the best league in the world. But revenue aside, the athletic results don’t always match the praise. The EPL may be farther ahead than any other soccer league in media outreach or manipulation to maintain a certain view. But the EPL is not the best league in UEFA based on results in the men's Champions League. Hype can be stronger than the truth, especially in modern media. But the truth is not undone when hype is present.

If you like women's soccer, tune in to the NWSL, especially the playoffs. And not because women are playing the beautiful game, but because the drama one may find lacking in the modern male game is definitely present. Case and point: The NWSL playoff between Portland Thorns and Seattle Reign on September 15 which the Thorns won 2-1. It was a fiery display from beginning to end, worth a
watch and replays. But I enjoyed and will continue to enjoy the Women’s Champions League more. 

Richard Murray’s work has appeared in The Botafogo Star. Read his blog at AALBC and follow him on Twitter at @thetenner10.

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