Around the World in Women's Soccer: The Vrouwen Eredivisie
Around the World in Women's Soccer is a series that explores women's soccer in other countries. Each country will get two stories: The first will explore the country's national team, while the second will explore the country's domestic league.
The Netherlands took the women's soccer world by storm when it won the Women's European Championship in 2017. Since then, Dutch players have become some of the most well-known stars on the club and international level. The national team made it to the Women's World Cup final in 2019 and will be a contender for the Olympic gold this summer in Tokyo (assuming that the games take place).
But what about women's football at the club level in the Netherlands?
The Vrouwen Eredivisie was organized by the Royal Dutch Football Association beginning in 2007. The league played until 2012, when the Belgian and Dutch leagues decided to combine and form the BeNe League. The BeNe League was dissolved after three seasons, and the Eredivisie restarted in 2015.
There are eight clubs currently in the Eredivisie. There isn't one club that totally dominates historically; FC Twente has three titles and Ajax has two. AZ Alkmaar, a now-defunct club, also won three titles in the first three seasons of Eredivisie. PSV, home to starting national team goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal, was leading the title race in the 2019-2020 season in March 2020. But the league had to be suspended, and then cancelled, due to COVID-19 restrictions, so no one was awarded the 2019-2020 title. Ajax leads the current title race nine games into the 2020-2021 season, with PSV two points behind.
The current format features eight teams playing each other twice, once at home and once on the road. After that, the top four clubs play in a championship playoff, and the bottom four teams play in a placement playoff to determine where they will finish in the standings. Teams play each other twice in the playoffs. While there is no promotion or relegation currently in the Eredivisie, the champion and the runner-up qualify for the UEFA Women's Champions League.
Eleven players on the most recent Dutch national team roster play their club football in the Eredivisie. Many of the big stars, such as Lieke Martens and Vivianne Miedema, have chosen to play their club football in other European countries. But 21 of the 23 players on the 2019 Women's World Cup roster began their careers in the Eredivisie. And more national team players are deciding to stay local, like van Veenendal and Sherida Spitse.
Currently, 21-year-old Joëlle Smits is dominating the golden boot race in the Eredivisie. She plays for PSV and leads the league with 13 goals in nine games. She has three caps for the national team but missed out on the most recent round of friendlies due to fitness issues. She has won two Eredivisie titles but will be moving on to play for VfL Wolfsburg in the Frauen Bundesliga next season.
The growth of the women's league is a major goal of the Dutch FA. While the association is excited about the prospect of current national team players coming back to play in their home league, the goal is to "create new stars," according to Kirsten van de Ven, manager of women's football at the Dutch FA. Millions of people were exposed to the power of women's football when the country won the 2017 Women's Euros. Eighty percent of the country interacted with some form of World Cup content during the 2019 tournament, but now that has to translate into support and investment at the club level.
"There's a lot of talent in the league that people don't know yet," van de Ven said. "We want people to get to know them by making the league visible. We are not hoping that all the players can come back. We just want to show the country how much talent we actually have on our pitches."