Just two months ago, every USWNT player was a part of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in the USA. Since then, six players, including Tobin Heath, Christen Press, Rose Lavelle, Sam Mewis, Emily Sonnett and Alex Morgan, have officially signed with European teams. There are rumours that more of the USWNT are talking about moving their career overseas.
Other big names, such as Challenge Cup MVP Rachel Daly and three-time NWSL Golden Boot winner Sam Kerr, have recently signed with the European leagues as well.
So why the sudden draw to Europe?
COVID-19 seems to be the main reason. According to sources who spoke to Yahoo Sports, there are a number of USWNT players who wouldn’t have expressed interest in playing overseas if it weren’t for COVID. USWNT players receive incentives from U.S. Soccer for playing in the NWSL, so typically a move to Europe isn’t worth it.
As an American league, the NWSL comes with many restrictions, including training in small bubbles and playing less games that are all packed into a short period of time. Many players not only prefer a safer country where numbers of cases and deaths are smaller, but also the opportunity to develop their skills and play more games, especially with the Olympics coming up.
Playing in Europe also gives players various opportunities they can’t access in the States. Unlike in the U.S. where teams play a single season to become the champions, in Europe teams are playing to qualify for a spot to play against the best teams in Europe in the UEFA Women’s Champions League (UWCL).
NWSL players are not tied to the league. Unlike MLS players who are on multi-year contracts, NWSL players have the freedom to leave whenever they want.
More on the USWNT players going overseas:
Mewis recently signed with Manchester City in the Women’s Super League for the “foreseeable future,” leaving the North Carolina Courage, which she signed with back in 2015.
Lavalle also signed with Manchester City, but is only on a one-year contract. Before signing to Manchester, Lavelle was a star player for the Washington Spirit but had just been traded to Seattle’s OL Reign.
Sonnett played the majority of her career with Portland Thorns FC, who drafted her at No. 1 overall in 2016. This year she was traded to the Orlando Pride, but never made an appearance with them as they had to withdraw from the Challenge Cup due to a COVID-19 case on their team. She signed with Swedish club Göteborg FC.
Heath played seven seasons with Portland Thorns FC before signing with Manchester United . Last year the 32-year old was shortlisted for the world player of the year.
Coming from the Utah Royals, Press will join Heath on Manchester United. She has previously played for Göteborg FC and Tyresö FF.
The Orlando Pride forward will join Heath, Press, Lavelle and Mewis in the Women’s Super League after signing a one-season contract with the Tottenham Hotspurs. She is a two-time World Cup champion and was third in voting for the 2019 world player of the year.
Featured photo: Rose Lavelle (left) and Sam Mewis (right) were the first USWNT players to sign overseas this year. Both will join Manchester City. (Photo taken by Meg Linehan, courtesy of The Athletic.)