NWSL coach: It's league's job, not U.S. Soccer's, to promote itself

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BOYDS, MD - JUNE 01: Utah Royals head coach Laura Harvey coaches during the National Womens Soccer League (NWSL) game between the Utah Royals FC and the Washington Spirit June 1, 2019 at Maureen Hendricks Field at Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, MD. (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Utah Royals head coach Laura Harvey thinks the NWSL missed an opportunity to better promote itself during the World Cup. (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The 2019 World Cup champions are returning to the pitch with their NWSL teams this weekend with more goals on their shoulders than the ones they’re putting in the net.

Yes, there’s the push for equal pay and treatment from U.S. Soccer Federation. But there’s also an immediate need to boost the country’s professional league and women’s soccer as a whole while eyes are still locked in on them.

Utah Royals coach Laura Harvey, whose squad plays the Portland Thorns on the Yahoo Sports app on Friday, lamented missed opportunities by the NWSL to do it during the tournament and said it falls on everyone to pitch in, not just the U.S. Soccer Federation, to fully promote the league.

Royals coach: It’s on us to promote NWSL

The NWSL is owned by the nine teams with financial support from the Canadian Soccer Association and the U.S. Soccer Federation, which pays the salaries for the league home to all 23 USWNT players. As is the case with most women’s sports, questions are asked of how much the governing body is doing to promote a product it’s sponsoring and from which it’s benefiting.

Harvey, who was a part of the NWSL’s founding as the head coach and general manager of Seattle Reign FC, sees it as more than that. In an interview with The Athletic’s Megan Linehan, she took the onus off of the federation and put it on every individual who is a part of the NWSL.

As a league—and I include everybody in that—players, coaches, staff, front office, owners, GMs, everyone, we have to grab this and move it where we want it. We can’t let U.S. Soccer do it. It’s not their job! It’s our job. It’s our job to do that.

She also alleged the league didn’t have a plan for riding the women’s soccer fandom during and after the tournament and balked at the unspoken expectation the USWNT players should do all the heavy lifting. Becky Sauerbrunn, a member of the USWNT who plays for Harvey, also told reporters in her welcome back press conference it falls on a combination of players and NWSL staffers.

“I think the responsibility falls on both. As players, we have platforms that the league doesn’t have quite yet, and it’s a responsibility for us to promote the league in the best way possible.

“We know the importance this league is for preparing the national team, but there are also so many players who don’t play for their national teams.”

Harvey said she wants to see the league “jump on this opportunity” because “it’s not going to happen by itself.” That includes the possibility of paying spokeswomen and making sure the USWNT stars are associated with their league teams when referenced.

How should the NWSL be promoting itself?

Harvey, the 2014 and 2015 NWSL coach of the year and 2011 coach of the year while with Arsenal, wasn’t all talk. Harvey, Royals forward Amy Rodriguez and midfielder Veronica Boquete served as soccer analysts on their local Fox channel during the tournament. The team had billboards around the city and posted on social, something it continues to push heavily.

“But the league is the driver,” she told The Athletic.

The Royals played Sky Blue FC in New Jersey for the first game back after the World Cup and had 400 people more in attendance than the Sky Blue have averaged in 2019, a small but significant sign.

NWSL ‘missed opportunities’ for USA, others

The Royals’ morning TV spots weren’t all about fueling American pride or analyzing the USWNT. The league is comprised of several big names beyond the Americans, including Australian superstar Sam Kerr (you remember her) of the Chicago Red Stars and Brazilian legend Marta, a five-time FIFA player of the year, of the Orlando Pride.

Six Royals players were at the tournament with only half — Kelley O’Hara, Becky Sauerbrunn and Christen Press — playing for the U.S. Rachel Corsi captained the Scotland team, Katie Bowen took the pitch for New Zealand and Desiree Scott played for Canada.

Harvey told The Athletic:

The greatest thing about this league is that there’s more than just Americans in it, and that’s been our selling point all along, and we missed that opportunity. (I) just think we missed opportunities and it’s because I don’t think we’re proactive. We react to everything last minute. The [victory parade] float is a great example. It’s a last-minute thing, we won on Sunday, the parade’s on Wednesday. Well, no one asked us [at the NWSL to be in it]. How have we not got players on it? I don’t get it.

USWNT stars such as Megan Rapinoe, who plays for Reign FC, and Alex Morgan, who is with the Pride, used various media platforms to urge fans to watch the NWSL.

Where to watch NWSL stars in USWNT?

The NWSL runs from April to October and streams live on Yahoo Sports. ESPN announced it will broadcast one NWSL game each weekend until the end of the season, totaling 14 games, in a tweet on July 4.

Each team has USWNT members on its squad and most are expected back this weekend.

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