Angel City FC co-owner Julie Foudy reacts to the NWSL expansion club’s trade with Chicago for Sarah Gorden and the rights to USWNT star Julie Ertz. (1:03)
The U.S. Soccer Federation and the union for the U.S. national women’s soccer team have agreed to a short-term deal that will keep players from going on strike but offer them new freedom of movement in their club careers.
The memorandum of understanding, or MOU, agreed to by U.S. Soccer and the USWNT Players Association, will delay the expiration of the team’s current contract to March 31, extending no-strike and no-lockout clauses.
But it will also remove provisions that required USWNT players to play in the National Women’s Soccer League, the domestic league originally founded by U.S. Soccer. The USWNT’s current CBA, which was scheduled to expire on Dec. 31, had placed a cap on the number of top-tier USWNT players allowed to sign with clubs outside of the NWSL.
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In 2021, that limit was three, meaning only three USWNT players under contract with U.S. Soccer could sign with clubs in Europe and the rest were required to play in the NWSL. In turn, U.S. Soccer paid the players’ NWSL salaries up to a maximum of $77,500.
Now that those limits are gone starting with the 2022 season, USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski will no longer go through the process of years past in selecting which players he wanted the federation to pay to play in the NWSL. In the past, the NWSL used to announce the list of U.S. Soccer player allocations in January, and next month will be the first January since the NWSL’s inception without such an announcement.
The MOU formalizes a direction that both USWNT players and NWSL clubs were moving toward already as federation allocations lost their appeal. As NWSL clubs have deepened their pockets with new owners, they have been able to match and even exceed the NWSL salaries that U.S. Soccer has offered. In January, for instance, USWNT stars Crystal Dunn and Lindsey Horan both opted to sign directly with the Portland Thorns for three-year deals, bypassing U.S. Soccer for that reason. Last week, the Chicago Red Stars announced it had signed all of its USWNT players directly.
In addition to preventing players from signing in Europe, federation allocation status for USWNT players sometimes had the unintended consequence of boxing in players within the NWSL. One high-profile example was that of Christen Press, who sought assurances from U.S. Soccer that she would be traded from the Chicago Red Stars to one of her preferred teams in 2018. Instead, she was traded to a team she didn’t want to play for, the Houston Dash, and due to her allocation status, which meant the Dash didn’t have to pay her salary, the Dash were unwilling to give up their rights to sign her.
U.S. Soccer founded the NWSL in 2012, and managed the league directly until this year.
Notably, now that all USWNT players will sign contracts with their NWSL clubs instead of with U.S. Soccer, they can all formally join the NWSL Players Association, the fledgling union that is in the midst of its first-ever CBA negotiations with the NWSL. That means USWNT players can play a more direct role in pushing for changes within the league.
Sources say USWNT players were hoping for a CBA with the NWSL to be in place before the MOU took effect, but negotiations between the league and the NWSLPA have not yet produced a deal.
The league has been embroiled in its share of controversies, particularly this year as five male coaches — representing half of the league’s teams — were fired or stepped down amid allegations of inappropriate behavior. The MOU expanding USWNT players’ club options is not a response to these problems, however. Sources told ESPN as far back as 2019 that players were pushing in the next CBA to be able to sign directly with any club they wanted without U.S. Soccer’s involvement.
The USWNT Players Association and U.S. Soccer are in the midst of negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, but since November have been hashing out the terms of the MOU as a stop-gap measure before the CBA expires this month, according to sources close to the talks.
U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone said last week that she hopes a full new CBA will be in place by early 2022.

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