The NWSL plans to add two more expansion teams in 2026, but where?
When commissioner Jessica Berman revealed the league’s plans, she did not offer any clue as to possible destinations. The two new teams in 2026 will bring the league total to 16, double the number of the inaugural season in 2013.
While the 2023 season features 12 teams, two are set to debut in 2024 in Utah and in the Bay Area. And the league reportedly has a deal in place for Boston for the 2026 round of expansion, as the Wall Street Journal reported in January.
So who are the other potential frontrunners for 2026? Just Women’s Sports takes a look, from Minnesota to Miami.
The Minnesota Aurora FC ownership group submitted a bid for expansion last time around and could be a contender once again. The USL W League club, founded in 2022, already has a large following – averaging 5,000 fans per game, which is better than some NWSL clubs – and in March announced a local television deal for home games.
It’s a community-owned club, however, and the lack of a significant financial backer stood in Aurora FC’s way in their first NWSL push. In a statement in December, club leaders acknowledged that “the timeline proved too short for us to secure the necessary investments to join a professional league for 2024.” Expansion fees for the Bay Area club set a record with a $53 million price tag, with the club planning a $125 million total investment. But that doesn’t mean Aurora FC couldn’t find those investments for a 2026 expansion.
One option could be Minnesota Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf. Aurora FC already play their home games at the Vikings’ practice facility, TCO Stadium. But there is one problem: the Wilfs already own the Orlando Pride (and MLS’s Orlando City) and would not be able to own two NWSL teams. So to make this happen, the Vikings owners would have to either move the Pride to Minnesota or sell their stake in the Orlando clubs.
Of course, the Aurora have options outside of the Vikings. Another possibility would be to join forces with MLS club Minnesota United FC (as well as owner Bill McGuire). If Aurora FC can solve their funding issue, they would be a no-brainer addition to the NWSL.
Home to MLS club Nashville SC and a brand-new stadium in GEODIS Park, Nashville could be a natural city for expansion as the facilities already exist. Already the city is home to the Nashville Rhythm, an amateur team that plays in the Women’s Premier Soccer League, and the NWSL could represent a natural evolution for the city.
“I think that it would be nice to see an NWSL team here,” U.S. women’s national team head coach Vlatko Andonovski said in February. “I think that there will be a good stadium, a good environment and it’s very obvious that Nashville supports soccer.”
Certainly Nashville has proved it can draw a women’s soccer crowd. The USWNT’s SheBelieves Cup match at GEODIS Park in February drew a crowd of 25,471. While the USWNT traditionally draw great numbers anyway, it proved Nashville as a contender for NWSL expansion.
“We’ve been here [in Nashville] a couple of times and obviously playing in a soccer-specific stadium is the best-case scenario, having 25,000 [fans] like this where the crowd is energetic and it’s fun,” USWNT forward Alex Morgan said. “The pitch is perfect. It was actually a great game for us. So hopefully there are more NWSL teams and Nashville would be a great candidate for that.”
THANK YOU, NASHVILLE! pic.twitter.com/BrC52TdVhU— U.S. Women's National Soccer Team (@USWNT) February 19, 2023
THANK YOU, NASHVILLE! pic.twitter.com/BrC52TdVhU
The City of Brotherly Love hosted this year’s NWSL draft, and while no formal bids from Philadelphia materialized in the 2024 round of expansion bids, that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be in the future.
Philadelphia has previously hosted a professional women’s soccer team in the WPS, and while it does not have an NWSL club, that doesn’t mean it’s not a soccer city. In August 2019, the USWNT drew 49,504 fans at Lincoln Financial Field, making it the most-attended USWNT friendly game in history.
But there could be some issues, as Philadelphia is within the market of NJ/NY Gotham FC. Already Gotham has played some matches at Subaru Park, home of the MLS’s Philadelphia Union.
Like Philadelphia, Atlanta is no stranger to women’s professional soccer. Home to the Atlanta Beat in the days of the WPS, there have been talks of an NWSL expansion team for a long time. Back in 2019, then-Atlanta United FC president Darren Eales noted that while the MLS club hadn’t considered adding a women’s team, it seemed inevitable.
“From our perspective, we haven’t considered a women’s team – yet,” he said. “As we look to the future, given the continued growth of the women’s game and women’s soccer, it clearly is going to be on our radar. It probably will be sooner rather than later.”
While Eales is no longer president of the club, his words hold merit if Atlanta had a strong case in the 2024 expansion round, as reported last May. Atlanta United FC leaders did not make any public promises, simply stating that they had “several productive conversations with the league.” But if those conversations progress as the league prepares to expand once again, Atlanta could land a team.
Another MLS ownership group with interest in an NWSL team, as reported last year, Austin FC brought a brand new stadium to their city when they launched in 2021. The USWNT played in Austin in 2021 and again this April, and the city has garnered rave reviews from USWNT players.
“When we walked in, my first words were, ‘Is Austin getting a women’s team?’” defender Midge Purce said back in 2021. “I think it looks amazing. I think that it would raise the standard all across the league. If that’s the epitome of what we’re reaching for, I’m really fine with that.”
And Purce isn’t the only one.
“I think Austin would be a great fit for the NWSL,” USWNT goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher said in 2022 during a training camp in Austin. “I think the facilities here are great, they’ve done a phenomenal job with the resources that they have. I would love to see a women’s team here someday. I think they would be an ideal location.”
The city has yet to strike iron on an NWSL expansion bid. And while the city has merits, a progressive league like the NWSL also has to consider women’s rights and the safety of its players, so the Texas legislature could present an issue.
Giddy up, Austin 🤠 pic.twitter.com/IrFt11Prpy— U.S. Women's National Soccer Team (@USWNT) April 3, 2023
Giddy up, Austin 🤠 pic.twitter.com/IrFt11Prpy
Miami might sound like an out-of-the-box expansion option, but it could just be a matter of time before the NWSL makes its move to the Florida city.
DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale could provide a home for a women’s pro soccer team, as it’s also home to MLS club Inter Miami FC. Miami is also no stranger to women’s soccer matches, having hosted the USWNT last November. And Inter Miami owner David Beckham has made known in the past that he would be open to women’s professional soccer coming to the area.
“At the moment, we have a blank canvas so we want to create a community with our club. It’s not just being a MLS team, which obviously we are. We want to be a global team,” Beckham said when announcing the launch of Inter Miami. “But we want to have other outlets and other reaches. And if that means we have a women’s academy and a women’s team, then that’s what we want to aim for.
“We are starting from the ground up. We are building a club and a community, so there’s many different things this team can do.”
While Inter Miami’s launch as an expansion team was a bit of a hot mess, one would hope that a NWSL expansion club could learn from past mistakes and bring another vibrant community and city into the league.