The longer isolation drags on, the less it seems likely there will be any kind of viable NWSL season, at least in the format to which fans have become accustomed. There’s been some suggestions about using a regional tournament format, where the league is divided into three and group winners plus a wild card advance to a playoff. But why stop there? The very best case scenario is that league is able to start up around June in closed-door games. But there still remains the problem of travel, and moving 20 to 25 people from state to state. The regional bracket model allows you to limit travel somewhat by having all the teams play at one stadium at a time, but let’s go further. To cut down on costs and travel while also putting a product on TV screens and getting some kind of sponsorship dollars, have everyone gather at one stadium, maybe in a potential market, and have them play a tournament. No Olympics this year? No problem - we’ve got nine teams duking it out at, let’s say, Dignity Health Sports Park in LA. How are we going to sandwich an odd number of teams into a format that requires evens? There are no rules anymore! Rules are fake!
Let’s go even further! Don’t want travel? Let’s just have all the teams pick some champions to do a series of tests and crown a winner. We say what’s real, and players forced to do a signature, technical, and showstopper bake in a tent is just as real as anything else.
Rules are fake, like we just said, so why constrict ourselves to the formal rules of soccer? Let’s take a totally different sporting event and make it soccer-esque! A decathlon features ten track and field events as varied as the 100 meters and the javelin. We can do that with soccer stuff, probably!
Let’s start with something NWSL players are all too familiar with. The infamous beep test, a preseason ritual in which players run...and run...and run until they opt out, is something every pro has gone through. USWNT beep test legend Kelley O’Hara would make Utah Royals FC an early favorite, but rest assured that every team has their share of players who have superhuman endurance.
Anyone that’s spent a ton of time on a soccer team has had a contest along these lines. The game starts off easily enough: every player has one shot from the top of the box to hit the crossbar. Those that succeed move back five yards and try again. We keep going until only one player can land their shot. Your training ground fanatics and technicians (say, Carli Lloyd, Marta, and Christine Sinclair) might be the betting favorites here, but keep an eye on deep-lying distributors like Dani Colaprico or Andi Sullivan.
Everyone needs to know how to spell, and NWSL has some very well-educated, erudite players. Spelling bees are the penalty kick shootout of the elementary school world, right? That’s a saying and definitely not something we’re just making up. Consider this a palette cleanser. Players like Becky Sauerbrunn and Midge Purce would give Portland and Sky Blue a major shot at taking the top spot in this round.
Another classic. It’s not the most applicable skill set to the real game, but every player worth their salt has tried to keep a ball off the ground for as long as possible. Most pros have hit totals in the thousands, so this event is as much an endurance test as it is a measure of a player’s control. If plain old left- and right- foot juggles end up being too easy, this might need to transition to HORSE rules, where competitors must land the same trick or get a letter.
Let’s not over-think this one: it’s fun and cool to watch players really get behind a long-range shot. Everyone loves a rocket, so this one’s simple: get a speed gun and who can really crush the ball. The catch is that the shot has to be on goal. If you miss wide or high, it doesn’t count. The soccer portions of this competition have to be at least sort of applicable to real soccer.
Soccer doesn’t have a natural slam dunk competition, but we can add an artistic element to our NWSL Decathlon by having players offer up their very best trick. Is it a series of flicks? Is it a theatrical shot that ricochets off a series of surfaces then into a small target? Is it both? It might be tempting to think of the Tobin Heaths of the world as a major contender, but don’t underestimate the players that have mastered presentation via social media mastery. Defending NWSL Most Online Player Yuki Nagasato could well shine here.
Everyone loves the Great British Bake Off, and just about every team in the league has a player that loves baking. This may also be a hotly contested event within each team, as baking has become an isolation hobby across the nation. Veteran bakers like Aubrey Bledsoe, Lauren Barnes, and Katie Stengel will have a great shot, but don’t be surprised if a baking newcomer turns out to be a natural.
100 yard dash
We’re straight up taking this from the regular decathlon. It’s also a classic talking point among fans and media: is Player A really faster than Player B? Well, now we can find out!
NWSL players love dogs. NWSL fans love dogs. Honestly, there should be some version of an NWSL dog show anyway, but until it’s a stand-alone event, it’s now in the NWSL Decathlon. Wilma Jean Wrinkles, Rio, and Dex are the front-runners here, but let’s be real: NWSL dogs are really all very good dogs.
Can cats enter? Look, this is already a dog show in a soccer league’s decathlon that is replacing a full soccer season, so why the hell not? Cats might not actually make good dogs, but we’ll let the judges decide.
Dribbling obstacle course
We’ve all seen players doing solo training, negotiating a maze of cones as quickly as possible. Let’s expand on that basic idea: what if we extend those cones out, add a few other obstacles — maybe a tunnel, a goal to have to lob the ball over, a moat to swing across, a little fire, etc. — and see who can get across the line with their ball first? This may be Heath’s event, but players like Rose Lavelle and Crystal Dunn could also be standouts.
What are some challenges you’d like to see players take on? Remember, there are NO rules anymore! Let us know in the comments.