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USWNT stars explain how the NWSL has changed for the better

OL Reign midfielder Rose Lavelle signs autographs for fans after a match at Lumen Field. (Stephen Brashear/USA TODAY Sports)

The NWSL is in its 11th year of existence, and a lot has changed for the league in that time.

Rose Lavelle and Emily Sonnett reflected on those changes in the most recent episode of Just Women’s Sports‘ “Snacks” podcast. Lavelle joined the league in 2017 as a member of the Boston Breakers, while Sonnett started in 2016 as a member of the Portland Thorns. Both are now teammates on the OL Reign and the U.S. women’s national team.

The first thing that came to mind for Sonnett in speaking about the improvements for NWSL players? The hotels. Lavelle offered a more pointed take, calling out the field conditions in her first season, when the Breakers played at Harvard University’s field.

“No disrespect, it was like concrete,” she said.

As Sonnett told “Snacks” co-hosts (and fellow NWSL players) Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams, players can now tell which clubs want to “make the jump” to compete. With the introduction of free agency, players and teams are able to align on their priorities. Each free agent is able to consider a team’s style of play and can join a club that best suits them or gives them a challenge.

“Now these clubs can be like, ‘We want to build a dynasty,’” Sonnett said. “And you see how much they want to put in and that makes the competitiveness of other owners to come in, and now you have to be competitive and I think that’s where it’s heading, just like Europe. For me to understand where the league’s going is really, really fun. … I think the process is going to be really good for the NWSL.”

The league also has separated from U.S. Soccer, which gives USWNT players more autonomy over where they want to play.

“You get to pick where you want to go. It’s not like before, where it’d be like national team players or internationals were designated to certain teams,” Lavelle said. “And so then maybe all of the league had the same style because there’s not the ability to go and, like, really pick and buy the players that you want.”