National Women's Soccer League: A Primer
You know the names: the likes of Abby Wambach, Sydney Leroux, Hope Solo and Alex Morgan, the fiancee of the Dynamo's own Servando Carrasco. And soon you'll be able to see some of the biggest stars in women's soccer in Houston on a regular basis after today's announcement that the Houston Dash will begin play in 2014.
If you didn't follow the league closely this year, let's run through the basics.
The NWSL opened for business in 2013 with eight teams, four of which were members of its predecessor, Women's Professional Soccer. The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) administers the league. There is a salary cap. The USSF subsidizes the salaries of the top American players and the Canadian and Mexican federations do the same for their own elite talents. The 2014 NWSL College Draft will take place on January 17 in Philadelphia. There will also be an expansion draft, player allocations and discovery signings to build the Dash's 18-20-strong roster.
This year's competition lasted from April to August with each team playing 22 regular season games, eleven at home. The team with the best regular season record was awarded the NWSL Shield. The top four clubs advanced to the playoffs, with first playing fourth and second playing third in one-off semifinals.
The championship match was won by Portland Thorns, who beat Western New York Flash 2-0. As the finalist with the best regular season record, the Flash hosted the match. In 2014 the season will again run from April to August and each team will play each other three times for a total of 24 games each.
The Dynamo are the second MLS franchise to own and operate an NWSL club. The Portland Timbers run the Portland Thorns and the two share Jeld-Wen Field. The Thorns are the biggest draw in the NWSL, with an average crowd in 2013 of 13,320.
Though the capacity of BBVA Compass Stadium will be set at around 7,000 for games, it seats 22,039, making it the biggest arena in the league ahead of Portland's Jeld-Wen Field (20,438) and Sahlen's Stadium (13,768) in Western New York. A crowd of 15,643 saw the U.S. beat China 4-0 at BBVA Compass Stadium exactly twelve months ago.
Abby Wambach of the USWNT and Western New York Flash was named 2013 Female Athlete of the Year last month by the U.S. Soccer Federation. It was Wambach's sixth title. She was the 2012 FIFA Women's World Player of the Year and is on the 2013 shortlist with Brazil's Marta and Germany's Nadine Angerer. Wambach broke Mia Hamm's all-time international scoring record in June this year.
Lauren Holiday of Kansas City finished the season as top scorer with 12 goals, one ahead of Wambach and Leroux. Holiday also led the league in assists with nine, one more than Wambach.
Here's a rundown of the eight teams who'll face the Dash:
Home: Dilboy Stadium, Somerville, MA
2013: 5th in league
USWNT players: Kristie Mewis, Heather O'Reilly
Chicago Red Stars
Home: Benedictine University, Lisle, IL
2013: 6th in league
USWNT players: Shannon Boxx
FC Kansas City
Home: Shawnee Mission District Stadium, Overland Park, KS
2013: 2nd in league; lost playoff semi-final
USWNT players: Nicole Barnhart, Lauren Holiday, Amy Rodriguez, Becky Sauerbrunn
Portland Thorns FC
Home: Jeld-Wen Field, Portland, OR
2013: 3rd in league; won playoff final
USWNT players: Rachel Buehler, Alex Morgan
Seattle Reign FC
Home: Starfire Stadium, Tukwila, WA
2013: 7th in league
USWNT players: Stephanie Cox, Sydney Leroux, Megan Rapinoe, Hope Solo, Keelin Winters
Sky Blue FC
Home: Yurcak Field, Piscataway, NJ
2013: 4th in league; lost playoff semi-final
USWNT players: Jill Loyden, Christie Rampone
Home: Maryland SoccerPlex, Boyds, MD
2013: 8th in league
USWNT players: Ashlyn Harris, Christine Nairn
Western New York Flash
Home: Sahlen's Stadium, Rochester, NY
2013: 1st in league; lost playoff final
USWNT players: Adrianna Franch, Carli Lloyd, Abby Wambach