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Gulati: USWNT in NWSL ‘extraordinarily important’

Sunil Gulati says it is critical for U.S. players to be in the NWSL.

PHILADELPHIA — Thursday brought buzz of the National Women’s Soccer League’s struggle to keep players from going to Europe. Several coaches admitted that the NWSL could not compete financially with top European clubs.

On Friday, during the NWSL College Draft, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and NWSL executive director Cheryl Bailey didn’t seem to share the concerns.

“That’s the first I’ve heard of it,” Gulati said. “Our players are under contract. Players move internationally, so if they move, that is part of the sport. But it’s going the other way right now, with players coming from the Champions League.”

That trend has been one under scrutiny of late, with U.S. players abroad — Christen Press, Yael Averbuch, Whitney Engen, Meghan Klingenberg and Amber Brooks — flocking back to the United States. Press, now a Chicago Red Stars, recently wrote about the pressures from the USSF for Americans to be playing in NWSL. Gulati explained why U.S. Soccer wants their players at home.

“It’s extraordinarily important for several reasons. It was actually part of our contractual agreement with the women’s national team that they would play in this league,” he said. “That’s important for the league, to have the best players playing in it. For Tom it makes the scheduling a lot easier – he met with them last week. And so the reason we made it a requirement that they’re here is for the league, but also because next year especially is because once we get into (World Cup) qualifying in the fall and beyond, then the schedule and everything will have to be fit around not just our program, but the Canadian program and the Mexican program as well.”

[MORE: Complete coverage of the NWSL College Draft]

There were murmurs of other federations joining the U.S., Canada and Mexico in the allocated player system, but Gulati said talks fell through for the 2014 season and the 2015 World Cup will decrease the availability of national team players. He would not confirm whether or not the federation in question was Brazil.

“It becomes harder for next year. We talked with one other federation – they looked at it quite seriously, they liked it and in the end they decided not to participate,” Gulati said. “But what you need is a federation that doesn’t have many of their pool players playing abroad and/or in a strong domestic league, and then and/or the funding. We had one with eight players that could make an impact – or nine now – but they decided not to since it’s not one that has not had as much resources on their program, necessarily, as we would.”

Western New York Flash coach Aaran Lines said he expects Australian players – Sam Kerr, for the Flash — in preseason training camp.

Gulati pointed to three recent indicators for optimism regarding the NWSL: The recent addition of the Houston Dash, backed by and MLS team; the hiring of Randy Waldrum as Dash coach, who left a secure job at Notre Dame and put faith in the league; and the addition of 2013 FIFA World Player of the Year and Germany goalkeeper Nadine Angerer on what was described as a fiscally responsible salary.

“I’m actually very cautious about this, but I have more faith in the stability of this league than any women’s league in any year over the course of the last 20 years.” keeping teams, adding teams, more teams interested.

Bailey said the league is hoping to have a schedule release in early February, and there should be formal announcements about national sponsors in the coming weeks.


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