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NWSL expansion brings women’s professional soccer back to Boston

Let’s go back to Jan. 25, 2018 in Boston. The Boston Breakers, after finishing ninth in the ten-team NWSL standings, have hit a wall. The Kraft family seems to have zero interest in purchasing the team to operate as a sister club of the New England Revolution, and real estate developers in the area are skittish at the uncertainty of investing in women’s soccer. With all factors considered, owner Michael Stoller announced that the team would be folding, as formerly rostered players were entered into a “dispersal draft.” National team star Rose Lavelle instantly found a home with the Washington Spirit, while current USWNT rising star Margaret “Midge” Purce ended up going to the Portland Thorns after only one season with the Breakers, officially being listed as their final draft pick.

All hope seemed lost for women’s professional soccer in the city after 2018, though. Even with the massive success the city’s NWHL team, the Boston Pride, had been able to generate, the buzz seemed completely nonexistent in regard to women’s sports.

Fast forward to today, and a professional women’s soccer team finally appears to be returning to Boston. A column in the Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, have reported that three locales — Boston, the Bay Area and Utah — will all be awarded NWSL teams in the coming years. The report continues to note that the Bay Area and Utah teams will join the league in 2024, with Boston’s franchise set to launch shortly thereafter. Both Boston and the Bay Area groups will pay $50 million each in order to register; however, Utah’s group negotiated a deal with the league following the 2020 dissolution of the Utah Royals for a lesser price.

While the NWSL has not confirmed or denied any of the statements, league commissioner Jessica Berman spoke last month explaining the longevity that a process like this takes and that it would be some time before they could share information. 

“What I can say is that I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities we have in front of us,” Berman said, almost certainly confirming the likelihood that the league will be expanding to 15 teams, with more yet to have even been announced. 

With the concept of a Breakers return now in the works, some large and important questions remain very much in the foreground. For starters, finding a home for this team to play in the city is harder than finding the right amount of guacamole in a Chipotle burrito. The team played their games across three sites during their initial run at Harvard Stadium in Allston, Dilboy Stadium in Somerville and Jordan Field back in Allston. Dilboy is far too small to host a professional sports team nowadays, and with the track and surrounding resources currently open and servicing the public, I can’t imagine Somerville residents would be the happiest about having to give those resources up again. With Harvard utilizing the fields on a regular basis now, boasting an expanded athletics program, finding time for an NWSL team to train and play will be extremely difficult. 

In essence, this leaves the group with two options. The team can either travel to the South Shore and share a home base with the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium, or enter an agreement with the Revolution to construct a brand-new soccer-specific stadium in the Boston suburbs. Areas such as the Mystic Power Station across the street from Encore Boston Harbor have been rumored to be on Robert Kraft’s radar, and being able to get the most use possible out of his new field is something that would be of paramount importance to the group.

Other than geographic issues, capturing public interest is going to be exceptionally difficult in a sports-saturated city such as Boston. Luckily for the NWSL, their season runs nearly parallel to both Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball, helping to fill the gap in long summer months left by the NBA, NFL and NHL. With the way Chaim Bloom has been handling things in the front office at Fenway, it wouldn’t surprise me if a couple of spiteful fans traded in Monster Seats for the capo stand at a Boston-based NWSL game in the near future. Time is the only thing that can measure the success of this new endeavor, but if executed properly the NWSL will have a home in Boston for as long as it exists.

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