The Utah Royals will return to the NWSL as an expansion team in 2024, and they’ll do so with a top-of-the-line training facility.

The Royals have unveiled plans for a multi-million dollar upgrade to their training facility, which is scheduled to be completed in time for the upcoming season. They will be expanding and remodeling the Zions Bank Real Academy, expanding the training site to 12,260 square feet.

“The new and expanded training site emanates from the already existing Zions Bank Real Academy in Herriman, Utah, a 42-acre campus which includes five natural-grass outdoor fields, two full-size indoor fields, as well as the 5,000-seat capacity Zions Bank Stadium,” the team said in an announcement.

Head coach Amy Rodriguez noted that the “player’s holistic view was very carefully looked at and thought about every detail within this facility.” Among the additions will be spaces for childcare and for nursing mothers. There will also be a new locker room, new training equipment and a dedicated hydrotherapy room.

The training center first opened in 2018, and it has served as the training site for multiple clubs and leagues. The Royals will join MLS club Real Salt Lake at Zions Bank Real Academy, but they will have their own NWSL-specific space, unlike the previous iteration of the team.

“We never had a dedicated, I would even argue, an equal space,” said Rodriguez, who served as captain of the Royals during her NWSL career.

While Rodriguez appreciated her time with the previous version of the Utah club, which folded in 2020, she is thrilled to see the red-carpet treatment for the new Royals.

“I experienced the Royals in its first iteration, and I thought it was great originally, but this blows things out of the water,” Rodriguez said during a news conference Thursday. “I just feel so fortunate to be a part of this time where we are pushing boundaries. It’s setting standards for women in sport and women’s soccer in America.”

The NWSL is adding four teams in the next three seasons. Yet while the expansion may seem rapid, it’s actually a measured pace, according to commissioner Jessica Berman.

Speaking on the latest episode of Just Women’s Sports‘ “Snacks” podcast, Berman talked about the plans for expansion, which include new teams in Utah and the San Francisco Bay Area in 2024 and in Boston and one additional city in 2026. That comes on top of the San Diego Wave and Angel City FC, which joined the NWSL in 2022.

The 12-team league is sensitive to concerns about expanding too quickly, and that is the reason why just four teams are slated for the next few seasons, Berman said.

“I think one of the reasons we’re only expanding by two teams in 2024, and two teams in 2026, is because of that concern,” she said. “Like, if we didn’t have that concern, we would just do it now.”

Berman also revealed that the league recently had a meeting about expansion with “preliminary interests.” So even though the league isn’t currently in an expansion process beyond 2026, they’re still “very actively circling the hoop.”

“We could expand easily for 2024, not to 14 teams, but easily to 20,” she said. “Teams if we felt like the business could absorb it, if we thought it was strategic, if we felt like there was the right player pool to support it most importantly, because we have to make sure the quality of the game stays at the top. But we’re not doing that. There’s a reason we’re not doing that. And it’s because of the concerns of growing too quickly.”

One trend alongside the league’s expansion has been an increase in valuation of existing teams, and therefore in the buy-in price for expansion teams. A new broadcast deal could bring those valuations even higher, while Angel City FC is reportedly the highest-valued women’s club in sports.

“Everyone who’s investing, even teams that are not experiencing the incredible growth that Angel City is, is demonstrating … that $53 million is what they should pay for an NWSL team,” Berman said. “The rest of our owners, especially the ones who have been in it, have been at it for a while — they didn’t come to lose. They now see a world that is materially different in upside than what they thought was possible.”

And now, she says, the job is to ensure that both existing teams and those entering the league are competing not just on the field but off it. Currently the league is working on creating a department to help share best business practices around the league.

“There’s always, in every league, a top third and a middle third and a bottom third. That just exists in every league,” she said. “It’s our job to keep the top third raising the bar and bring up the bottom third, in all of the key areas from a business and player experience perspective. They want to compete, they just need a path to get there.

“We are uniquely positioned to facilitate that sharing. Our teams don’t compete in business — they compete on the pitch, but they don’t compete in business. So, we should be embracing the opportunity to make sure all of our clubs, like it is the true rising tide, lifts all boats. That is what we are doing.”

As it has grown over the last decade, the NWSL hasn’t had much reason to associate success with any one particular part of the country. In a league still too small for conferences, clubs that excelled in the early years came from all corners, with storied organizations like North Carolina, Seattle, Portland and Chicago frequently making appearances in the postseason. Parity-based entry rules and national team allocation provided clubs with opportunities to remain competitive without always having to pitch themselves to players, who became used to their summer homes differing from their preferred places to live year-round.

But with 2023 marking the final year of the 12-team NWSL, and perhaps the last of the Challenge Cup divided into a regional group stage, the axis of the league appears to be tipping in one direction: West. Aggressive expansion in California and the onset of NWSL free agency have mixed with the historical excellence of founding clubs in the region and put the rest of the league on notice.

The 2023 postseason could also extend the most successful year for the region to date. All four of the Challenge Cup Western Division teams — Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Diego — will feature in the NWSL’s six-team playoffs, with at least one team from the group guaranteed to advance to the Championship (which will, of course, be played in San Diego).

Correlation and causation might be difficult to parse, but with further Western expansion on the horizon, it appears that the best NWSL coast might be the West Coast, at least for the time being.

California dreamin’

While Portland and Seattle have always been known as perennial contenders, the introduction of California clubs has seemed to ignite what was already a hotbed of soccer fandom and talent. Pulling from both the local and free agency market, the San Diego Wave have garnered unprecedented success as an expansion side, making the playoffs in their inaugural year and winning the Shield in their second.

From the beginning, San Diego was able to draw in homegrown stars like Alex Morgan and Abby Dahlkemper while also becoming a destination for other free agents looking for a fresh start. Their gritty and defensive style of play has been clear from their first season, personified in the immediate success of 2022 top draft pick Naomi Girma.

Angel City has taken a slightly longer route, having been something of a little sister on the pitch to their SoCal rivals since both clubs entered the league in 2022. But their recent surge indicates they might be beginning to catch up. Los Angeles was similarly able to appeal to L.A. natives Sydney Leroux and Christen Press, who has missed the majority of the club’s two seasons due to injury. There’s also young local talent like Alyssa Thompson, who went pro early to join her hometown team as a No. 1 draft pick.

Now under the leadership of interim manager Becki Tweed, Angel City has started to meet some of the big expectations they set for themselves, beginning with the team’s first playoff appearance in 2023.

Both clubs have had material advantages in the free agency race, including a desirable location and the strength of youth soccer in the area. But also key to their success are the dedicated fan bases they’ve cultivated in just a few years’ time. San Diego averaged over 20,000 fans a game in 2023, as only the second club to ever reach that attendance milestone (Portland, another Western team, was the first). Angel City’s season ticket holder base has been incredibly strong since their first game at BMO Stadium, and they seem at times to be held back by the capacity of their venue.

The story of the California clubs and their impressive ownership groups got fans in seats, but winning is what keeps people around. With Bay Area expansion side Bay FC entering the NWSL in 2024, California sides will continue to present a new opportunity and draw from the region’s rich women’s soccer history at both the college and professional levels.

The Portland Thorns and OL Reign have laid the foundation for NWSL fandom on the West Coast. (Stephen Brashear/USA TODAY Sports)

Old meets new

With the two California teams’ ascension into the postseason, the 2023 playoffs present an exciting opportunity to watch new ambitions meet old expectations. OL Reign have played in two NWSL Championships, and are known as one of the steadiest clubs on the pitch in league history. But they haven’t won a playoff game since 2016, and they’ll have to get through Angel City to have a shot at a long-elusive championship title. The winner of Friday’s matchup between the Reign and Angel City will then have to take on San Diego for the honor of staying in town to play the final.

Much has been made about Seattle’s “OG” trio of Megan Rapinoe, Lauren Barnes and Jess Fishlock in the context of Rapinoe’s looming retirement. OL Reign might relish the opportunity to teach a much newer club what it takes to survive the NWSL postseason. Angel City will likewise want to render Seattle’s season a disappointment and usher in a new era for both teams.

San Diego will have their sights on winning a double after clinching the first trophy in club history, but reigning champions Portland will equally be eager to return to the final. After a quarterfinal bye, their semifinal matchup will be against one of two Eastern teams ready to crash the party in Gotham FC or the North Carolina Courage.

The only NWSL club to have earned three stars over their crest, the Thorns present something of a team in transition. They’ve weathered the prolonged sale of the club with a hyper-talented roster and a somewhat inexperienced coaching staff. They have the firepower to go back-to-back but sometimes appear to rely too much on the style of play that served them better in 2022. They have definitive wins over the Reign in 2023, but their record against the California sides is rockier.

We could see an all-Western final in November, which would feel like an accurate representation of the powerhouses in the NWSL this year. No matter what, the 2023 playoffs will be a coastal affair, and with the intention of growing to 16 teams in 2026, regional ties are beginning to form. It’s all good for the league, especially in a new era of player choice and freedom.

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.

NWSL expansion club Bay FC has hired Albertin Montoya as its inaugural head coach, the club announced Wednesday.

The league officially announced the franchise in April. Bay FC will begin play in 2024, joining the returning Utah Royals.

A longtime resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, Montoya, 48, served as interim head coach of the Washington Spirit in 2022. On Monday, he told The Athletic that his stint in 2022 gave him “the bug for the professional game again.”

“The Bay Area has been such a great area with professional sports, and how can we not have a women’s team here in Northern California?” Montoya said. “And now that the opportunity is there, I’m just honored, and it’s just a privilege, that the organization is trusting me (with this role).”

In a team statement, Montoya added that he is “honored to be a part of the foundation upon which our team’s history will be built.”

Bay FC general manager Lucy Rushton told ESPN that she had narrowed down to a list of about 40 candidates. But when traveling around the league to research best practices, Montoya’s name kept coming up in conversation.

“Every time I say I’d go to Kansas City or I’d go to Washington Spirit or wherever it was, I’d go and people would ask me about Albertin,” Rushton said. “‘Are you looking for a head coach? I mean, haven’t you got Albertin Montoya there?’ I swear everybody knows Albertin, and so it was ironic to continually find myself in these places where people were telling me to make this guy the head coach.”

Rushton added that playing style and identity will be key as the team moves into its first season, so she saw Montoya’s history of developing players as a definite plus. In addition to his time with the Spirit, Montoya coached the U.S. U-17 women’s national team from 2011-12. He also founded the Montoya Soccer Academy and Mountain View Los Altos Soccer Club.

He has lived in Northern California nearly his entire life, growing up in Mountain View and playing professionally in the area in the 1990s. He also served as co-head coach of the California Storm of the Women’s Premier Soccer League.

“I’ve been around for quite some time, so I know the players that are around the league that have the Bay Area ties,” Montoya said. “And if things come together the way we see it, we’d like to bring in some of the local talent that’s playing in other places around the league, and maybe do more of a Bay Area team. But we’ll see.”

Ahead of the 2023 Challenge Cup final, the NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman called the year of 2023 an “inflection point for women’s soccer” — and she discussed the ways in which the league is looking to capitalize on the moment.

Expansion plans for 2026

The NWSL plans to add two more teams for the 2026 season, Berman confirmed to reporters Friday. She first shared the timeline for the next round of expansion in May, and that remains the goal.

Boston has been tabbed as an expansion destination, the Wall Street Journal reported in January, though the NWSL has not confirmed its selection. Berman declined to comment Friday, only saying the league hopes to share more details “soon.”

The NWSL expanded to 12 teams in 2022, when California-based clubs Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC joined the league. The newcomers proved wildly successful in their inaugural seasons, as Los Angeles-based Angel City averaged more than 19,000 fans per game and San Diego reached the playoff semifinals (and set the postseason attendance record to boot).

New media rights deals

The NWSL expects to announce its next broadcast deals during the 2023 postseason, Berman said. Increased viewership for the 2023 season — by 20% on CBS and by 50% on Paramount+ — is giving the league a boost during the negotiations, according to the commissioner.

“We’re very bullish and hopeful we will end up with deals that will make our fans super excited and will allow us to continue the growth of the league,” she said.

The league’s current broadcast rights deal expires at the end of the current season.

Record attendance marks

With four matches left in the regular season, the NWSL has set a new attendance record, surpassed the 1 million mark for 2023. The league also surpassed 1 million fans in 2022.

The record total of 1,060,978 includes the first 18 weeks of the regular season but not the Challenge Cup tournament. Across the league, 11 regular-season matches have seen more than 20,000 fans, compared to just four matches last season.

With an average of 20,194 fans per home match, the San Diego Wave are on pace to set an NWSL record. San Diego also will host the NWSL Championship at 32,000-seat Snapdragon Stadium.

“We expect the building to be sold out,” Berman said.

A new possible city for NWSL expansion has just hit the market.

An investor group, which calls itself For Denver FC, announced Tuesday its intent to bring women’s professional soccer to the city. Denver is one of few major cities in America without a professional women’s sports franchise, yet the area is home to five major men’s sports teams — including an MLS club in the Colorado Rapids.

Jordan Angeli, a Colorado native and former NWSL player, is spearheading the effort alongside Ben Hubbard and Tom Dunmore.

“As a former professional player and Lakewood product, I grew up dreaming of one day playing professional soccer at home in Colorado,” Angeli said in a release. “Our state consistently produces some of the best women’s soccer talent in the world. We can create a club that thrives from this pipeline and offers some of the best players in the world the opportunity to play in their home state in front of a devoted fan base and passionate women’s soccer community.”

The name is a placeholder, with FC standing for “For Colorado.” And while the group hasn’t decided on a target league for the team – be it the NWSL or the USL – it did note in its release that the group will be submitting a bid to join a Division One professional league by the end of 2023.

The goal would be to begin play in 2026. For Denver FC is seeking additional investors and are looking at stadium and training facility sites.

“This is an idea whose time has come,” said Hubbard, who is the founder and CEO of a Denver-based insurance company and former Obama administration official. “This is about soccer, but so much more. We’re excited to engage fans, families, civic leaders and investors in laying the foundation for a community asset that will be a powerful force for good in Denver and beyond.”

The USL announced its intention to launch a Division One women’s league earlier this year to compete with the NWSL. Meanwhile, the NWSL announced in May that it expects to add two expansion teams in 2026. While Boston has emerged as a front-runner, so has Minnesota, which is home to Aurora FC – a USL W League club that already has vast fan support. Only a significant financial backer and a short timeline stood in the way of the team’s first NWSL push.

Other possible cities for NWSL expansion include Nashville and Austin, although if the pieces are put together quickly, Denver could become a front-runner itself. A number of USWNT stars are from the state, including Mallory Swanson, Lindsey Horan and Sophia Smith, and there could be an appetite for women’s professional soccer in the city.

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.”


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.


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.

The NWSL expects to add two expansion teams in the 2026 season.

The league already has announced two additional teams set to join the league in 2024, in Utah and in the San Francisco Bay Area. Two more are in the pipeline, commissioner Jessica Berman said Tuesday on Washington Post Live.

We do expect for the 2026 season to add two more teams,” Berman said. “That process will began later this calendar year, and through the process we ran in 2022 for this round of expansion, we have an incredible amount of interest from qualified investors.”

Boston has been tabbed as an expansion destination, the Wall Street Journal reported in January, though the NWSL has not confirmed its selection.

The Boston Breakers franchise previously called the city home for the first five NWSL seasons but folded after the 2017 season. A Breakers revival has precedence; the Utah Royals are making their return in 2024 after folding in 2020, and Kansas City introduced the Current in 2021 after FC Kansas City folded in 2017.

The NWSL has grown from an eight-team league at its founding in 2013 to a 12-team league. With the introduction of four additional teams by 2026, the league would double its original number.

The 2022 season featured two new teams, both in California: Angel City FC and San Diego Wave FC. The newcomers proved wildly successful in their inaugural seasons, as Los Angeles-based Angel City averaged more than 19,000 fans per game and San Diego reached the playoff semifinals (and set the postseason attendance record to boot).

As the league has expanded, franchise values have increased, with the Bay Area ownership group paying $53 million to buy the franchise rights. (The Utah team paid a fixed reactivation fee of between $2 million and $5 million.)

“Even though our valuations have increased in a meaningful way to $53 million with the team we sold to the Bay Area, we’re still really early in our process in terms of our growth and where we think this league is going to be in three to five to 10 years,” Berman said.

A stadium in Boston is set to be renovated and could serve as the home of a new NWSL team, the Boston Globe reports.

White Stadium, situated in Franklin Park, seats 10,000 people in one of the largest open spaces in the city. The City of Boston announced on Tuesday a request for proposals that would allow a private entity to lease and fund the renovation of one half of the stadium. The city would then fund the construction of the other half, as well as training and fitness areas, physical therapy facilities, locker rooms, community space and offices for the Boston Public Schools Athletics’ Department.

“That would be an incredible opportunity for Boston Public Schools and the opportunities for young people to see, up close, the city add another championship team and to see athletes at that level with women’s soccer taking off around the world,” Mayor Michelle Wu told the Boston Globe.

One group, called “Boston Unity,” has been attempting to bring a NWSL team to the city since the league revealed its expansion plans last year. While the NWSL recently announced expansion teams in the Bay Area and Utah, Boston has been rumored to be among the final groups for a new team.

They’ve since struggled to find a viable stadium to play in, but that’s one hurdle that could soon be solved.

“White Stadium is one of Boston’s most important community resources, and we’re excited by the prospect of having it serve as the home for Boston’s future NWSL club,” said Jennifer Epstein, controlling owner of the investment group behind Boston Unity.

The city’s proposal has a list of requirements for the winning bid, among which is a 10-year lease agreement from the city. Annual rent would cost at least $400,000. The winner must also prioritize availability for BPS students and the Franklin Park community.