After a rather long and at times awkward courtship attempt on social media by Olympique Lyon’s owner and Alex Morgan, it may actually come to reality. The USWNT and Orlando Pride striker is currently in France to have a medical and could sign with the French team.
On the surface, this move doesn’t make sense for Morgan. For one, NWSL did all they could to get Morgan to Orlando because her husband, Servando Carrasco, plays for Orlando City SC in MLS so both can play in the same city. And while Lyon is one of the best club teams in Europe, women going from the United States to Europe doesn’t have as much effect as men going from MLS to the big European leagues.
But while this may be confusing on the surface, maybe it’s part of a larger plan for the entire USWNT and for Morgan herself. The USWNT is currently negotiating with U.S. Soccer for a new CBA where female players feel they are being paid less than their male counterparts. Once the Olympics ended and their next big tournament three years away, it would appear U.S. Soccer got the leverage to hold out on a possible strike by the players. But this could put the leverage right back to the women.
The players on the U.S. Women’s National Team are in a unique situation unlike any other sports labor negotiation. Unlike the “big four” American sports where the players already play in the top league in the world that they cannot go to another league to play, the USWNT players are some of the best in the world at their sport and have the ability to go elsewhere to play and earn a living. Lyon is one of the places in Europe with top facilities and pay well for their women’s team.
This may make U.S. Soccer’s position weaker. Morgan isn’t the only person thinking of heading to Europe. Hope Solo (currently suspended from the USWNT) and Crystal Dunn are some notable players with European plans. With the unknown reality of a strike approaching, it’s probably smart to have a backup plan in case it actually happens.
This is all dependent on each player’s contract situation with NWSL but if they are able to go to Europe, that makes the players’ position stronger in that they can go elsewhere and NWSL loses out on star players who they can market. While some places like Seattle, Portland and Orlando can survive, other teams may suffer an attendance drop that can result in even more revenue losses. The last thing either side wants is to have the strongest running women’s soccer league lose even more money and be in danger of going under due to a prolonged strike. But if NWSL goes under (and I highly doubt it will at this point), U.S. Soccer stands more to lose than the USWNT players because it would hurt soccer development in the United States without a domestic league.
And the way it looks, if Morgan were to sign with Lyon, it would be a short term deal and then she would return to Orlando in the summer. This could be contingent on whether or not a CBA can be signed and the NWSL season isn’t delayed. If all goes well, Morgan plays in France for six months, only misses the first couple months of the NWSL season and gets to play more games to strengthen up after a few years of constant injuries. If the players strike and the NWSL season is delayed, Morgan is already in France and can just simply re-sign with Lyon. Either way, players like Morgan are showing they have alternate plans to prepare for a strike and that should concern U.S. Soccer.