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NWSL expansion: Mad dash from here to April

NWSL executive director Cheryl Bailey said the Houston Dash represent an extraordinary opportunity for the league. (Photo Copyright: Patricia Giobetti | http://www.printroom.com/pro/psgiobetti)

Houston was formally announced as the NWSL’s 9th franchise on Thursday, ending weeks of waiting and speculation as the ownership group looked at the finer points of adding a women’s team to their MLS squad, the Houston Dynamo.  The Dash will begin play at BBVA Compass Stadium in April where capacity will be downsized to around 7,000.

Now that the team has finally been announced—and has a name—here is a look at what we know and what we don’t know about the impending growth of NWSL.

2014/2015:  The main source of backlash against this move is that it contradicts U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati’s August comments that NWSL would expand slowly and that no new teams would be joining in 2014.

“We had originally been set with eight teams for this year and had decided that we weren’t going to expand,” Gulati said Thursday evening via conference call.  “But we had frankly what we considered an extraordinary opportunity with Houston and with the ownership group there in the city.  (It is) a group that we think can do everything that needs to happen in a very short period of time.  We’re very excited about having them join the league.”

Cheryl Bailey, the NWSL executive director who formally announced the club at BBVA Compass earlier in the day, added: “I think it’s pretty simple when you have a team like Houston that has an interest in joining NWSL and all the things that they can bring to this league.   The previous eight owners were all in favor of this.  We have coming into our league a team that is going to provide more stability to the league, has the infrastructure and fan support.  We would have been crazy not to have said, ‘Welcome to the league.’’

[MORE: Why long term benefits outweight short term concerns over expansion]

How will the roster be stocked? The Dash are immediately allowed to acquire up to four discovery players and they may be domestic or international.  That will be the only player movement allowed in the league until allocations are announced later this month or possibly the very beginning of January.  Teams may not trade or sign discovery players during this quiet period.

An expansion draft will not happen until after the allocation process and the national team coaches are still a week or so out from submitting their allocation lists.  It was not immediately clear if the respective federations will subsidize enough players to account for the new team.

Bailey did make clear that players already allocated would not be moved to other teams except by trades or if they are dropped from the allocation club.

Coach by Christmas? Chris Canetti, the president of the Dynamo and now Dash who has been the public face of the expansion bid, said he would like to hire a Dash coach before Christmas.  He said there have already been several inquiries about the job but he declined to go into details.  Canetti added that the coach would be responsible for player selection.

Schedule expands, season does not:  The addition of the Dash will push the NWSL schedule to 24 games, but the calendar will be status quo.  That means the 2014 season will begin the weekend of April 12-13 and conclude with a championship match on August 30.  While the number of midweek matches figures to increase it should not be an issue to squeeze 24 matches into 19 weeks.  Just don’t expect any 20-day periods of inactivity like the Spirit had last spring.

[MORE: It’s official:  Houston Dash to join NWSL for 2014 season]

College Draft:  The Equalizer learned earlier in the week that the Dash will draft between the non-playoff teams and playoff teams in the 1st round of the entry draft on January 17.  That would slide them in behind the Spirit-Red Stars-Red Stars-FC Kansas City (the top four after trades.)  Soccer by Ives further reported the Dash would hold the initial pick in Rounds 2 and 4.

Front offices shared/technical staffs split:  Houston Dynamo coach Dominic Kinnear was on hand for the announcement, but there will be no overlap between the technical staffs of the Dynamo and Dash.  The front office though will be entirely shared with the current group of Dynamo employees about to have their workload upped to accommodate the Dash.  Canetti said staffing was the biggest red flag in determining whether or not to go forward with the NWSL team.

Other Notes:

-Canetti said there is a chance some Dash matches will be broadcast on television.  Stay tuned for more details on this.

-Portland Thorns FC owner Merritt Paulson was instrumental in convincing Canetti and the Dynamo to jump on board with NWSL.  “I would say that the Portland Timbers/Thorns were a great inspiration to us,” Canetti said.  “We leaned on them a lot to learn about the business and setup.  In the process of exploring the business model, Merritt Paulson and Mike Golub were terrific.  I can say with absolute certainly that we wouldn’t be having this conversation today if it wasn’t for them and the support that they provided.”

-Canetti said the Dash’s goal will be to sell out the downsized capacity of 7,000 seats for each match.  That may seem lofty, but remember the Thorns were originally going to play a few games at Merlot Field until ticket demand insisted they play them all at JELD-WEN Field.

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