The National Women's Soccer League will expand to Louisville beginning in the 2021 season, the league and Louisville City FC announced Tuesday in a joint statement.
Louisville City FC competes in the USL Championship, the second tier of the pyramid in men's professional soccer in this country. Operating in Louisville since 2015, playing at Louisville Slugger Field, Louisville City FC currently ranks among USL leaders in attendance. It is scheduled to move into a new soccer-specific downtown venue next year, where the as-yet-unnamed NWSL team will also play in 2021.
"As an owner, we jumped at the chance to join this exciting league," said John Neace, chairman of Soccer Holdings LLC, the group that operates Louisville City FC. "The athleticism in the NWSL is second to none while attendance is growing. This is a sound business decision as we complete the new soccer-only stadium and expand the entertainment district around it."
Barring any further additions or subtractions before 2021, Louisville's entry would return the NWSL membership ranks to 10 teams. Now in its seventh season, the league previously reached that high-water mark in the 2016 and 2017 seasons, before the dissolution of the Boston Breakers. The NWSL began operations in 2013 with eight teams.
The new addition continues the NWSL's move toward direct partnerships with teams in either MLS or the USL Championship. While original NWSL membership was largely comprised of independently operated teams, with the Chicago Red Stars, Reign FC, Sky Blue and Washington Spirit the remaining examples, every subsequent addition has been affiliated with a men's team and every relocated or dissolved team an independently operated one.
The Houston Dash, Orlando Pride and Utah Royals, all previous additions to the league, operate jointly with MLS teams. The reigning-champion North Carolina Courage operate jointly with the USL's North Carolina FC after previously operating independently in Rochester, New York, as the Western New York Flash.
The Portland Thorns were the lone founding member connected with an MLS team.
According to reports last week by Equalizer Soccer, the NWSL is also in discussion with an ownership group in Sacramento, recently awarded an MLS franchise, for an expansion NWSL team that could begin play as soon as 2020.