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Examining the fine line the NWSL walks between player control and losing talent

Photo Copyright Lewis Gettier for The Equalizer

In addition to being a defender with the Seattle Reign, Yael Averbuch is the president of the NWSL Player Association, a group formed last season to represent the interests of players that are not allocated by the United States and Canada.

That status makes her Q-and-A last week with Soccer America all the more compelling. Not only did Averbuch talk about the illness which, to date, has kept her from contributing to the Reign this season, but she also offered her views on myriad issues around the NWSL, from the status of the PA’s quest to unionize to the hope of upgrading standards in a number of areas across the league.

The tone of her answers was understanding and cooperative, reflecting a recognition of where the league is at. Despite situations like the now-departed Boston’s, this offseason, the league is in a relatively stable place, and while some markets face significant challenges, the expected addition of multiple teams this offseason speaks to the foundations the league has formed.

Many of those foundations were built on limiting costs, something that’s reflected not only in the team’s salary caps and players’ maximum salaries but also in players’ inability to freely move within the league. Throughout the history of U.S. sports leagues, free agency has been seen as something that runs counter to cost control. Instead of allowing clubs to compete for players against each other, thus risking an escalation of costs, leagues have instituted drafts, waivers, restricted free agency, allocation and discovery processes with the goal of limiting players’ options.

Averbuch wasn’t asked about any of those mechanisms, nor about free agency itself, but from the subtext of the interview, you can surmise that the NWSL PA has bigger fish to fry. Ensuring the current, minimum standards are met by all teams seems to be a more pressing concern. After that, other quality of live issues are bound to be prioritized over waging what, in other leagues, has always been a huge, contentious fight: Asking for more freedom.

Just because that fight isn’t coming, though, doesn’t mean the NWSL shouldn’t try to strike a balance. In fact, when you look around the league, you see a number of places where restrictions on player movement may be hurting the league. Though they may be helping diminish competition for players, and this curtailing cost, those regulations may also be depriving the league of some key talents. …

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