Is it Time for the National Women’s Soccer League to Expand into Canada?

As the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) nears a decade of operations, it may be time again to open up on the possibility of expanding into Canada. Canada – especially in its largest metropolises – is currently going crazy over the FIFA World Cup. Many fans are also awaiting the return of the three Canadian Major League Soccer clubs (who are currently playing in the USA due to the border closure).

The country’s appetite for soccer is continually growing. The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup was a massive success in Canada and is credited with increasing the popularity of the NWSL.

With Canada set to host some matches for the 2026 World Cup, it seems like a great time to expand professional soccer in Canadian cities. We know the league is adding two more teams in 2022 – one in San Diego and one in Los Angeles. However, after they join, they could look for Canadian cities to make bids for expansion.

Edmonton Is a Logical Choice for Expansion

Edmonton played host to many of the biggest matches during the 2015 FIFA World Cup. The game between Japan and England in the semi-finals drew a crowd of over 30,000 fans. The opening game of the tournament set a record for the largest crowd ever. The city is home to two great venues for soccer – Commonwealth Stadium and Clarke Stadium.

While Commonwealth Stadium hosted games for the World Cup, its capacity is considerably larger than Clarke Stadium. Clarke Stadium is in a great location and is already home to FC Edmonton (of the Canadian Premier League).

Edmonton’s population is continuing to grow. As it continues, demand for sports in the city will grow from only the Edmonton Oilers and the Edmonton Elks (the Canadian Football League team that plays at Commonwealth Stadium). Add in how much the people of the city enjoyed the Women’s World Cup, and it makes to grow the game in Edmonton.

Vancouver Drew the Biggest Crowds for the 2015 World Cup

Vancouver is another possibility for expansion. The coastal metropolis hosted 2015 World Cup games – including the Finals, which brought in a crowd of over 50,000. The city’s love for soccer is growing thanks to the Vancouver Whitecaps. While the Whitecaps have yet to have much success – people from Vancouver enjoy heading to the pitch to watch them live.

Vancouver could also quickly build a rivalry with Seattle and Portland. One of the best rivalries in the MLS is between Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver – who play for the Cascade Cup every year.

Weather-wise, Vancouver is the best city in Canada for soccer. It rarely drops below freezing and snows in the city even less frequently – meaning you can play soccer there year-round.

Toronto Could Be a Challenge

When thinking of an expansion, most will point to Toronto as the logical choice. However, Toronto by far has the most competition when it comes to sports. It is the only market in Canada with an MLB team and NBA team. It is also home to a professional rugby team, hosts the Honda Indy, home to the Rogers Cup (tennis) and frequently the closest big city to the LPGA and PGA Canadian Open.

It is sometimes harder to break into this market than people think. The competition for dollars can make it a challenge for new teams to get off to a profitable start. Toronto is overall an option, but there seem to be better ones out there. In fact, if you are looking at the biggest cities in central and eastern Canada, Ottawa could be a better choice.

When They Could Expand

Obviously, the priority right now is getting players back on the field and getting the future clubs running. That puts us looking at earliest 2023 – which is not a great year to expand as the NSWL has a condensed season due to the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

However, 2023 is a great year to announce clubs joining in 2024. People will be watching the tournament in Canada – getting to know the players and stars. They will learn who the best players are in the world and learn what players they could see if their city had an NWSL team.