TUKWILA, Wash. — United States head coach Tom Sermanni has seen it all when it comes to the National Women’s Soccer League. Of course, in such a young league and with only eight cities, that hasn’t taken him long.
“It’s important to get around to all the grounds in the league and see how things are going. It’s good to be here at last,” Sermanni said in the press box of Starfire Stadium at halftime of the Washington Spirit’s 4-2 win over the hosting Seattle Reign on Thursday.
Because the NWSL is into just its fifth week of play, Sermanni’s scouting trips around the country haven’t yielded any unexpected returns yet. When the U.S. takes the field next month in a friendly against Canada and two against South Korea, no player who earned their spot solely based on league play will be on the roster.
“It’s very hard to make (judgments) unless somebody comes out and really does well. But I’ve seen a few players that have kind of caught my eye that I’ve maybe not known about or that haven’t been in the national team structure,” Sermanni said. “I think I can make better judgments on players in the second half of the season because that’s really the test. The test is about longevity and about consistency.”
That test also applies when looking at the league as a whole.
“It’s really important — not just for national team players, but for players to have a potential career after they finish their years in college, for players to keep playing soccer — to have strong clubs and to have another layer of development in the game,” he said, “but also to have a place where, particularly, young girls can come along and see the top players in the country play.”
For that to happen, the NWSL will have to be able to survive to an extent without its national team stars, he said. Although the June friendlies will overlap with league play, it is a chance for other players to make their case for both the national team and for becoming another household name.
“It’s important that we build strong clubs and we build a strong league with the support of the national team players, but not necessarily having them all the time,” Sermanni said. “They need to be able to do it without them as well.”
Coming to terms with competition from overseas leagues is another part of that process. Reign midfielder Megan Rapinoe won’t join her NWSL team until after Lyon, the team to which she is currently contracted, plays in the UEFA Champions League final on May 28. Similarly, Portland Thorns midfielder Tobin Heath won’t be available until her stint with Paris Saint-Germain is over.
“Players play all over the world in the men’s game, and they play all over the world now in the women’s game,” Sermanni said. “From a national team perspective and (Rapinoe’s) development, playing in Europe has its benefits as well. Hopefully, this league will get the benefit of her playing there so that when she comes back, she’ll really be in top shape, match-fitness-wise. Hopefully, playing in Europe is actually continuing to help her development.”
In the end, the NWSL doesn’t live in a vacuum. Despite the enormous support for the league in the U.S., other leagues won’t yield to it simply because it exists within American borders. Ideally, league officials will find a way to make the NWSL subsistent enough to make the best American players — and players from all over the world — want to play here.
However, at this point, the U.S. coach said that hope might be more fantasy than inevitability.
“Obviously, having every player in America is ideal,” Sermanni said. “But you don’t ever get the ideal world, unfortunately.”
Liviu Bird is the Cascadia regional editor for SoccerWire.com. He covers all levels of soccer — men’s and women’s, professional to youth — for the site.
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