Why Women Soccer Stars Play in Europe

Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon

When she was 8 years old, Alex Morgan wrote on a note to her mom that she wanted to play professional soccer. But her dreams didn’t stop after becoming a standout forward in the U.S. It went much further as she headed out last season to play in Europe, another dream of hers, but one that faced much backlash from fans. However, what fans may forget is the prestige and unique experience that comes with playing fútbol away from America.

While the USWNT tirelessly fights to be the best in the world time and time again, The U.S still struggles to pay women’s soccer any mind, not for a lack of effort on the sports part. So when the opportunity comes to play in Europe, many pro players jump on it for several reasons.

There is nothing like playing in Europe for most American players. While soccer fans in America do tend to be die-hard fans, the stadiums remain at partial capacity at any given game especially for the NWSL. While the MLS averages around 25,000 per game, NWSL averages around 5,000 per game with the Portland Thorns hosting a record attendance to end the 2017 season with a sold out stadium of 21,144.

Meanwhile in Europe, soccer stadiums are packed with 20,000 fans. What would be a packed a stadium in the USA for a big game ends up being an every game occurrence for many European teams. With fans who love the sport as much as the players, it’s an experience unlike any American player would experience.

The big crowds, however, allow European teams to offer a better salary for its players than the NWSL. In 2017, the league raised the minimum salary for players to around $15,000, doubling the minimum salary from 2016. In the U.S. many pro players’ salaries are below the poverty line. It still scraps the bottom of the barrel compared to Europe. Overseas, players can see up to double their salary in the NWSL with a minimum salary of roughly $36,000 with a cap of around $90,000, making it hard to refuse the opportunity.

But the atmosphere and money isn’t the only draw for the American standouts.

While soccer is a fairly basic game without much play calling and no timeouts, the style varies drastically from team to team and country to country. Some, like the British, choose a long ball play that pushes the ball over the defenses’ heads. While others, like many South American teams and Spain, play a more technical style with quick passes that result in a defensive break down.

The U.S isn’t known so much for its ball handling as much as it is for its aggressive style of play. While every team in the states has its own style, none match the technicality of a European team. As players split their time between The U.S and Europe, they expand the capabilities of their skills and become better players at home.

The bright side for players in the NWSL is they’re able to split their time between home and the Europe by spending their off season training in Europe. Players are always seeking whatever opportunities will make them a better player. For some, there is even that hope to become the best player in the world.

The draw of Europe seems exceedingly powerful for players with higher pay and bigger crowds. Every year more and more players head over for a various amounts of time. While U.S. soccer fans are avid for their teams and the players, it cannot compare to the European League. The sport is intertwined into the very fabric of its society.


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