In the five years since the dissolution of the Boston Breakers, women’s professional soccer in New England has stalled. Elsewhere across the country, it has exploded.
The Portland Thorns and San Diego Wave, two of the preeminent National Women’s Soccer League teams, have led the charge, driving up attendance numbers into the tens of thousands and creating a rallying cry around the women’s game.
Now, it’s Boston’s turn once more.
Boston’s local female-led investor group is set to spend in excess of $100 million to bring the team to town, beginning a new chapter in Boston sports history.
Here’s everything you need to know about the NWSL and the history of professional women’s soccer in Boston.
History of the NWSL
What began as an eight-team league in 2012 will have doubled in size by 2026. The NWSL is currently home to 12 teams, with plans to expand to 14 in 2024, followed by the addition of two more teams — Boston and one other yet to be named — in 2026.
The original eight teams — the Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, FC Kansas City, Western New York Flash, Portland Thorns FC, Seattle Reign FC, Sky Blue FC, and the Washington Spirit — have changed over the years. FC Kansas City folded in 2017 and the Breakers did the same in 2018. The Flash relocated and rebranded in 2016, and Sky Blue FC changed its name to Gotham FC in 2021.
The league as a whole has changed, too.
The expansion fees three years ago for three new NWSL teams in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Kansas City topped out at $5 million. Los Angeles’ Angel City FC and its star-studded owners’ roster is now valued at $100 million.
In June 2022, the NWSL Players’ Association ratified a groundbreaking collective bargaining agreement that included new protections for athletes, facility standards, and a significant boost to the league’s minimum salary as well as step-ladder increases for players above the minimum.
The landmark contract runs through the 2026 season, the year Boston is set to begin play. Among the provisions is a minimum salary of $35,000 — a nearly 60% increase from the previous standard — with 4% yearly raises. When the NWSL began in 2013, the minimum salary was $6,000.
The contract also provides a guideline for life and health insurance policies and housing stipends. It also mandates that players have access to eight weeks of parental leave and up to six months of paid mental health leave, as well as provisions for safe playing fields and medical staff.
History of women’s professional soccer in Boston
Standing out in an already crowded Boston sports landscape proved too difficult for the Boston Breakers, the former women’s professional soccer team that played for assorted leagues and in four different stadiums between 2001 and 2018, when it dropped out of the NWSL.
The Breakers began in 2001 as a member of the short-lived Women’s United Soccer Association, which folded in 2003. The team was re-established in 2007, playing in the Women’s Professional Soccer and Women’s Premier Soccer League Elite — both of which are defunct — before joining the NWSL in late 2012. After five seasons without a playoff berth, the team folded in early 2018.
What’s different now?
This new Boston franchise will be backed by more money and a robust, female-led investment group, not to mention the booming popularity of women’s soccer on a global scale.
Coming off the Women’s World Cup, which set attendance and viewership records, the NWSL is similarly gaining popularity. With three weeks left in the season, league attendance has topped 1 million, also a record.
Los Angeles’ Angel City FC and its star-studded owners’ roster is now valued at $100 million after joining the league as an expansion team in 2023.
The San Diego Wave lead the NWSL in attendance in just their second season, and the reigning champion Thorns — one of the league’s original eight franchises — boost Portland’s claim as “Soccer City USA.”
While there’s no guarantee that Boston could similarly find immediate success, the investor group can observe plenty of examples of how to build a booming franchise from scratch.
Players to watch in the NWSL
A number of NWSL stars turned heads during the 2023 Women’s World Cup this summer. US women’s soccer team stars who also play in the NWSL include youngster Sophia Smith (Portland), breakout defender Naomi Girma (San Diego), New England native Alyssa Naeher (Chicago), Rose Lavelle (Seattle), and Alex Morgan (San Diego).
Other notable NWSL players who didn’t appear in this year’s World Cup include Christen Press (Angel City), Mallory Swanson (Chicago), and Becky Sauerbrunn (San Diego).
Marta (Orlando, Brazil) and Christine Sinclair (Portland, Canada) made history at this year’s World Cup by appearing in their sixth consecutive World Cups, a streak dating back to 2003. They are the only two players in the history of the World Cup to have played in six tournaments.
The NWSL’s expansion draft works similarly to the NHL’s expansion draft in that each existing team can protect nine players, while the expansion teams can select from the remaining players to fill out their rosters. Utah will pick first in the 2024 expansion draft.
Read more about the NWSL
- How viable is a National Women’s Soccer League team in Boston?
- Where is the NWSL successful? What could Boston learn from those cities?
- Investors propose $30 million plan to renovate White Stadium for expansion NWSL team
- Q&A: NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman on possible expansion to Boston, league success, and more