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Commissioner hire will shape the NWSL’s future, for better or worse

Photo Copyright Lewis Gettier for The Equalizer

There’s a tale nearly as old as Major League Soccer itself, one which provides context to the transformation of the league since it kicked off in 1996.

The year is 1999, and MLS is going through expected growing pains at a time when soccer is still — much more so than today — an outsider sport in the United States. In need of a vision for the future of the league and the sport professionally, MLS’ board of governors hires a top executive from the NFL to become the new commissioner of the top flight of men’s soccer’s in the United States.

Twenty years later, MLS has grown to then unthinkable heights under the leadership of Don Garber, who remains in charge today.

There are plenty of valid criticisms of MLS, and Garber’s legacy is for debating another day. Its relevance, however, is key to the National Women’s Soccer League’s current inflection point. The NWSL has been without a commissioner for three years. Amanda Duffy announced this week that she is stepping down as NWSL president as of Feb. 15. Who gets hired next to lead the top flight of women’s soccer in the U.S. will determine the long-term future of the league — for better or worse. The job description will be as important as the person who fills it. Will the commissioner have the power to act like one?

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