After about a week of speculation, it was announced Wednesday that Carli Lloyd — reigning World Champion with the U.S. women’s national team and recent recipient of FIFA’s The Best women’s player award — has signed for Manchester City Women in the FA WSL.
This makes Carli the latest in a growing line of U.S. women’s soccer stars to move to Europe, after Alex Morgan (Lyon), Crystal Dunn (Chelsea), and Heather O’Reilly (Arsenal). There’s still time remaining before the NWSL season starts for more to follow their leads, although as of yet there are no more current rumblings.
The exodus of U.S. players from America to Europe is not a generally new phenomenon — ex-U.S. men’s coach Jürgen Klinsmann had encouraged youth players to go abroad for development and had criticized national team stars’ decisions to return to MLS from the continent — but it is when it comes to the women’s game.
Of course, USWNT stars have played outside the United States before. Hope Solo had a year-long stint at Lyon in 2005; Tobin Heath and Megan Rapinoe spent time at PSG and Lyon, respectively, in 2013. However, Solo was abroad at a point when there was no current professional women’s league in the US. Heath joined the Portland Thorns in the summer of 2013 — the NWSL’s first year — immediately after PSG’s season ended, and Rapinoe did the same with the Seattle Reign and Lyon. Rapinoe also cut short a loan-back to Lyon the next year in order to compete with the Reign for the entire 2014 NWSL season.
The national league was their priority; even the age-old excuse of “wanting the Champions League” couldn’t take them away. They wanted to be a part of the new league’s development.
Much like Heath and Rapinoe’s original European contracts, these recent moves to Europe come with the promise that the stars will return to their respective NWSL clubs once the European seasons end.
But the priorities have shifted.
Carli Lloyd expressed a desire to “train with some of the world's best players.” Alex Morgan similarly said that her move is motivated by a desire to “push game to another level,” which the defending Women’s Champions League winners can certainly help her do.
She did admit that the uncertainty of the USWNT’s collective bargaining agreement was a factor as well.
Technically, all the national team players’ contracts with the league expired on December 31st, 2016, when the team’s CBA did. The two sides have not reached an agreement for a new one since.
It’s a shame that the quality of the league is not enough of a stay factor for some top U.S. players anymore. However, a league in just its fifth year is hard done to compete with ones offering such high quality as well as international competition. This is especially true with other issues like pay coming into play. Hopefully, with respect to both factors, this serves as a wakeup call for both the league and the federation.