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Minnesota, Bay Area groups among NWSL expansion contenders

(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The deadline to submit bids for NWSL expansion arrived Friday, and Minnesota and the San Francisco Bay Area are among the contenders.

Former U.S. women’s national team stars Brandi Chastain, Aly Wagner, Leslie Osborne and Danielle Slaton have joined forces to try and bring the NWSL to the Bay Area, with the hashtag #nwsltothebay cropping up on social media.

The second confirmed bid to emerge late in the search comes from Minnesota Aurora FC, a USL W League formed in 2022. The club announced in late October the desire to join either the NWSL or the USL Super League, and the Aurora will submit an official NWSL bid by Friday, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman told the Wall Street Journal that she expects 5 to 10 “meaningful bids” for the expansion spots. Prospective clubs must have an owner with the means and commitment to support a team, a strong market for fans, and a venue that meets the standards for professional soccer.

Berman expects to select two of the bids by the end of 2022 for expansion in 2024.

In addition to the Bay Area and Minnesota teams, several other cities have expressed interest in joining the league. Several MLS teams, including Atlanta, Austin and Toronto, have expressed interest in joining the league with an NWSL partner-team, as reported by Grant Wahl in May.

One expected location for expansion is Utah, a place already familiar with women’s professional soccer.

Utah Royals FC was part of the NWSL from 2017 to 2020, when the club ceased operations. Players were transferred to Kansas City, and the Current joined the league in 2021.

David Blitzer, a senior executive at the private equity firm Blackstone, and Ryan Smith, the executive chairman and co-founder of an experience management company called Qualtrics, partnered up and purchased the MLS club Real Salt Lake earlier this year. The two have said on numerous occasions that they are seeking to bring the NWSL back to Salt Lake.

Blitzer said in January that part of his ownership plan was to bring back the Royals, and he stated that it was a matter of “when, not if” the team reestablished itself in the NWSL.

Utah is expected to receive a bid, ESPN reported in June, meaning one other location will be selected along with the Royals for 2024 expansion.