Report: Atlanta United eye one of three NWSL expansion slots

27 August 2019 | Clubs & Rightsholders
Report: Atlanta United eye one of three NWSL expansion slots
Major League Soccer’s (MLS) Atlanta United are one of three ownership groups looking to secure an expansion franchise in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), according to US media reports.

Merritt Paulson, who owns the NWSL’s Portland Thorns and sits on the league’s expansion committee, told an open forum with supporters last week that as many as three new teams could join the nine-team division by 2021.

“We’ve had multiple expansion groups in Portland for the last couple games,” said Paulson, who also owns MLS’s Portland Timbers. “We’ve got commitments from teams for 2020 and for 2021. We’re going to stabilise this league and we’re going to grow it.”

He added: “One of them’s an MLS team, one of them will be an MLS team, one of them’s a USL team. That’s probably more than I should have said.”

Paulson did not reveal the exact identity of the expansion groups, but the Equalizer Soccer website reports that he was referring to Atlanta United and United Soccer League (USL) teams Louisville City FC and Sacramento Republic FC.

While timelines for the North American women’s soccer league’s expansion are not set in stone, the NWSL would likely add one team in 2020 before bringing on two more in 2021 to reach 12 franchises, according to Equalizer Soccer. 

Atlanta United have been linked with entering the NWSL in the past, and club president Darren Eales told the Atlanta Business Chronicle in July that women’s soccer “clearly is going to be on our radar”, adding that a team could be coming to the city “sooner rather than later”.

An expansion would tie in with the ongoing popularity boost that the NWSL has enjoyed on the back of the US women’s national team’s (USWNT) second consecutive win at the Fifa Women’s World Cup.

Since then, the NWSL has announced a sponsorship deal with beer brand Budweiser and a global and domestic broadcast rights deal with ESPN. Attendances have also skyrocketed, with the Thorns setting an all-time NWSL record on 11th August when 25,218 fans turned out for their win against North Carolina Courage. 

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