A little less than a year ago, I wrote a pretty annoyed screed directed towards the NWSL after Portland signed goalkeeper Adelaide Gay despite it seemingly running contrary to the stated roster rules. While the league eventually untangled the knot its vague declarations of what was and what wasn’t kosher in regards to team building produced, it didn’t come before fans and some in the media alike were tearing their hair out trying to wonder if the league was just making things up as it went along.
To an extent, the league has been much better with getting league information, specifically rules and regulations for the coming season, out to the public at-large. Roster rules, competition rules, and even media standards are all produced in great detail on the official league website, answering a good many question that were bound to pop up as the NWSL prepares to enter its second season of play.
At the same time though, information about preseason has lagged considerably. Unfathomably, there isn’t a master schedule of preseason matches that has been produced by the league. In particular, why hasn’t there been more promotion centrally by the league for both the Chicago and FC Kansas City match played in the suburbs of Saint Louis and the Portland Thorns’ trip to Arizona? Though the markets of Saint Louis and Phoenix probably aren’t en vogue with greater league ambitions of more partnerships with MLS clubs, what if greater league promotion of the exhibitions led to large crowds? Led to interest from potential owners with deep pockets? The clearest way forward in expansion at this point seems to be in expanding the league’s footprint both in the Midwest and on the West Coast. Franchises in Saint Louis and Phoenix may seem whimsical at first blush, but I’m not sure many pictured Houston being in the league at this time last year, nor a franchise of a pro league in Kansas City a few years ago. Opportunity lost?
But I digress. Information posted from the league on the official website has been scattershot at best, and it’s rather difficult to discern just how exactly the league is choosing what stories/releases to reproduce on the site. By my count, Sky Blue FC and WNY Flash were the only team with multiple stories on the preseason since players reported, while Boston, Houston, Portland, and FC Kansas City have no details about the preseason through stories on the official league site. Obviously, as anyone who’s been following twitter can attest to, Houston has been very active in accounting its preseason activity, while FC Kansas City was the first team to post a preseason roster last week. Boston and Portland have also been active in detailing some of their preseason activities, even through the veil of secrecy sitting on Providence Park right now (I’ll get to that in a bit).
Overall though, the inconsistency is grating. If the league is going to reproduce team releases on the official league site, do it for every team, with some semblance of consistency. If that proves to be too much of a burden (and it may well might be), why not just produce a daily post linking to the day’s official releases from teams and/or a few stories from beat reporters and blogs covering the league and/or teams?
And on to the main bone I have to pick. Rosters. Eagle eyed fans will notice quickly that A.) There aren’t any official preseason rosters to be found on the league’s official site (other than team releases reproduced there) and B.) The official team rosters haven’t been updated in ages. Through prodding and cajoling in some cases, eight of the nine teams released their initial preseason rosters last week, albeit usually a day or two after camp had officially opened.
The lone dissenter was Portland. Why I’m shocked, I don’t know, considering Paul Riley’s reputation during his time with the Independence with this sort of thing. Through communication with beat reporters covering the team, Riley was glad to praise some of his camp invitees without naming names. I can’t speak for everyone, but I also got the impression the club would be naming a twenty-five player roster on Monday as the deadline for first roster cuts passed.
Oops. Riley indicated today to the media that the club had indeed made their cuts and turned in a twenty-five player roster to the league office but that he still wasn’t about to make public the name of the camp invitees that were still with the team. Really? Can you imagine an NFL head coach, the creme de la creme of the paranoid in the profession, praising some of his undrafted free agents in camp but proceeding to not release the names of those players?
No, you can’t. Because the NFL as a league wouldn’t let it ever come to that. Operating with brutal efficiency and noted transparency, the NFL manages to report the comings and goings in player personnel in the offseason, preseason, and beyond regardless of how insignificant the transaction may seem. Insignificant yes, but there are hundreds of hardcore fans for each team combing through the micromanaging of every chess move, no matter how small. It promotes discussion, analysis, and banter, and is another cog in the money making machine that is the NFL.
Isn’t that type of manic devotee exactly the type of fan that leagues have been trying (and failing) to cultivate since the high dollar days of WUSA? It’s the type of fan that prefers tactical analysis, transaction logs and practice reports in lieu of puff pieces and flattery. And it’s exactly the type of fan the league needs to attract and keep engaged through one of the most painfully long offseasons in professional sport.
As I write this, despite the deadline for the first cut having passed, only four teams have posted their updated twenty-five player rosters. Portland hasn’t posted a preseason roster, period. Not to sound too hyperbolic, but this is not acceptable. I think a lot of people were willing to give the league the benefit of the doubt last year as far as getting information out there was concerned given how fast things had to come together.
But it’s year two. The league has had many months to get itself organized in anticipation of the preseason and season itself. The inconsistent and incomplete release of information to the media and a dedicated fanbase is getting tiresome. The league has a master list of preseason matches to be played. As per Paul Riley’s statement, the league has a complete list of twenty-five player rosters after the week’s first round of cuts. The teams have been afforded the opportunity to call their own shots as far as the timely release of information is concerned, but it’s growing increasingly clear that such trust is being abused by some. It’s time to take that power out of the clubs’ hands and for the NWSL to start operating like the major sporting league it clearly aspires to be.