Sacramento is set to become the latest National Women’s Soccer League expansion team, some nine months after a deal to finalize a 2020 expansion bid mysteriously stalled.
The Athletic first reported that the ownership group of Sacramento Republic FC, which currently plays in the USL Championship (men’s second division) and will move up to MLS in 2023, will enter the NWSL beginning in 2021, though that report was later amended to note the possibility that the team could begin play in 2022.
Sources have also indicated to The Equalizer that 2021 looks like the likely first season for Sacramento, which would see them join Racing Louisville FC as a new team next year to bring the NWSL to 11 teams.
A Sacramento team entering the NWSL in 2021 would likely play at Papa Murphy’s Park, an 11,500-seat stadium on the Cal Expo grounds. The club is building a new, soccer-first stadium near downtown Sacramento for the 2023 MLS season, a launch pushed back by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Equalizer reported in October 2019 that Sacramento was in advanced discussions to be awarded an expansion team, potentially for the 2020 season. Those talks stalled as fall became winter and the timeline became too tight, with neither Sacramento nor the NWSL ever providing much insight into why. The league eventually had to decide to move forward with its nine existing teams.
But the Sacramento group still maintained that they were interested in joining the NWSL. Billionaire Ron Burkle headlines the group, though The Athletic reports that co-owner Matt Alvarez is leading the NWSL efforts.
A Los Angeles expansion team was previously announced to begin play in the 2022 NWSL season. It is unclear whether the NWSL has raised expansion fees — at one point $1 million but, per sources in early 2019, rising to $2 million — following the successful NWSL Challenge Cup this summer and the significant buzz around the addition of Los Angeles.
The ongoing pandemic — which reduced the main NWSL season to a month-long tournament, in addition to some regional play expected to be announced for the fall — further makes for odd timing for Sacramento’s entry in 2021.
It is yet unclear what an expansion draft would look like with two teams participating.