That’s the number of pro women's soccer teams in America.
The US women have won three World Cups.
Four Olympic Golds.
Eight CONCACAF Gold Cups.
Ten Algarve Cups.
Have produced five FIFA World Players of the Year.
And have less professional teams than most towns have Starbucks.
For a country that produces so much talent, how is it possible we don’t have the most dynamic pro league in the world?
Currently our women’s game is in a dire position. The National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) is the third time the US has tried to start a women's professional league. The first two failed and the NWSL, by all accounts, is on the ropes.
We are for the third time on the cusp of having the #1 ranked women's team in the world who do not have a domestic league to play in.
Let that sink in for a moment.
It seems odd this could happen. Families, city governments and corporations invest hundreds of millions of dollars during girls youth playing days. Though far from ideal, we have an established collegiate system where our female players compete at a high level. Yet for the overwhelming majority, college is where the dream ends.
And that's not right.
Not for players.
Not for families.
Not for the game.
Recently, The Fight For American Soccer: The Story of FC Davis, was released.
The heart of the argument was the lack of opportunity being created by a closed system (no promotion/relegation).
Yet for all the chaos and corruption that takes place on the men's side, the women might have it worse, especially when it comes to opportunity.
From a purely “professional” standpoint, it's anything but.
At no point in time should a soccer player be called professional when making $15,750 a year. That's the NWSL minimum salary which players are currently signed under.
Shockingly, this number is up from 2013 when the league minimum was only $6,000 a year. How is someone supposed to live off of that?
The NWSL salary cap isn’t much better, with clubs only having $350,000 to pay an entire team. Figure out the math on that one. Then consider not all teams spend their allocated amount and it becomes even more cringe worthy.
Another glaring concern is how few markets the NWSL occupy. With only nine teams, so much of the country is left without a club to cheer for. This disenfranchises millions of female fans across the United States. California, home to more soccer players than anywhere in the country, doesn’t have a team.
Due to so few domestic teams operating in such a volatile landscape, the top US talent leaves the country for Europe to join what players call “real soccer leagues”.
With star power leaving and teams absent from so many major markets, games are only shown once a week...on the Lifetime Network.
Without TV contracts and major sponsorship which are critical to funding basic operations, some teams are working in “sweatshop” like conditions. From not being offered showers after games to training in facilities with no air flow and roofs caving in, what our female players have to endure is embarrassing and to some degree, illegal.
There is more, but the list of problems can go on forever.
To say the current system does not work for our female athletes would be a comical understatement.
But how did we get to this point?
What has gone wrong?
And how do we fix it?
The Vanishing Game
1999 was supposed to be the “breakout year” for women's soccer in America.
After our dramatic World Cup victory on home soil, interest in the women’s game was at an all-time high. Already possessing global superstars such as Kristine Lilly and Mia Hamm, the United States was set to house the top women's professional league in the world.
With so much momentum, there was no way a league could fail, right?
There are millions of quotes on mistakes.
If we put them all in a blender and it spit out a summary, it would be this: Learn from them.
20 years have passed since the US women grabbed the hearts of the American public and the United States has yet to create a sustainable women’s pro league.
Each time a league failed, it was for the same reason: Structure.
This structural problem was fueled by one issue: The sheer size of our country.