(This article has been updated to reflect information being reported since publication Friday)
The NWSL has yet to make the formal announcement, but reports from all over the women’s soccer community are reporting that the Boston Breakers have folded and will not play in 2018.
As recently as the 2018 NCAA draft one week ago, NWSL managing director of operations (and de facto interim commissioner) Amanda Duffy was quoted by Jeff Kassouf as saying that it was “business as usual” in Boston:
However, even as she said this, Duffy must have known that a deal to stabilize the team was falling through. Stephanie Yang at The Bent Musket has a good summary of what happened.
“This deal would have brought a new owner with deep pockets into the league and injected life into an NWSL brand that, despite its storied history in American women’s soccer, has never managed to quite keep up with the rest of the league. But when the deal fell through, as reported by Dan Lauletta, the league had to look for a last-minute purchaser who could step in and conceivably operate the team in 2018. That purchaser never surfaced.”
The final section of the article cites none other than Portland’s Merritt Paulson revealing that the Breakers’ ownership, Boston Elite Soccer LLC, had neither a stadium contract nor staff ready for 2018. This probably scuttled any alternative to folding the team, such as the suggestion that the U.S. Soccer Federation use a part of its 150-odd-million dollar surplus to operate the team until a new deal could be assembled.
The fate of the Breakers players is unknown. Most of the remaining teams have filled their 2018 rosters, so a dispersion draft is unlikely to find these players new homes unless the league is willing to boost the current roster cap to 22.
The fate of a women’s soccer team in downtown Boston is likewise in the air. In her article Yang noted that
“LStar’s (LStar Venture, the organization that backed out of the Breakers deal) purchase of the team would have been an experiment with seeing if further shifting the team’s fanbase to suburban families with cars could even out attendance and ticket sales. The team’s new location in Weymouth would have put them on the commuter rail, 12 miles south of Boston.”
For the NWSL, Boston’s implosion means a retreat to a nine-team league again, resuming the inconvenient schedule of a different club hanging about idle each matchday that we slogged through between the 2014 and 2016 expansions.
Does the Boston collapse bode a more serious ill for the league as a whole? Certainly a veteran fan of the WPS and WUSA might be excused for fearing that, given the two leagues seldom seemed to go so much as a single season without teams merging, folding, or moving. That instability was both a sign, and a cause, of the overall financial problems that finally doomed both leagues.
However, this case seems to me to be more of an signpost than a threat. The past two seasons suggest that we are likely to see clubs partnering with larger organizations, typically men’s soccer teams; Western New York going to the ownership of North Carolina FC as the Courage, and FCKC to partner with Real Salt Lake as the Royals. In Boston, the owners of the MLS New England Revolution were uninterested, but perhaps a new tenth NWSL club will form as a West Coast franchise partnered with LAFC.
But whatever the troubles of the past, and whatever the future holds, the present for Boston fans and for the Breakers is simply woe. A hard-luck club, certainly, but a old-school club going back to the Breakers of the original WUSA and a club whose badge has been worn by such great players as Angela Hucles, Kristine Lilly, and Kelly Smith. And now a club that, having fielded a professional team every season since 2007, will not step out onto the pitch this year.
Update 1/26, 11:00am: Dan Lauletta is reporting that there may be a group coming to the rescue: https://twitter.com/TheDanLauletta/status/956894579172741121
”So in AM #NWSL developments it appears a group has formed that wants to buy the Breakers (h/t @kkfla737 and @duresport ); also known for a while that Revolution are not interested. Sooo…”
So this may not be the last word. Or it may be. It seems that with the NWSL there’s no such thing as a sure thing.
Update 1/26 1:31pm: John Halloran and Dan Lauletta of The Equalizer have some more details of the Breakers’ plight that suggests things in Boston were 1) worse than they appeared and 2) pretty much what Paulson said.
“The league has pursued multiple groups to take over the troubled team dating back to last fall...(t)he Breakers were subsequently permitted to draft players but not execute any trades. The Breakers organization was also behind in payments to the league and multiple vendors, had not yet signed a stadium deal for the 2018 season, and was operating with a reduced staff.”
The good news is that per the article the league has postponed the club’s official obituary to some time in the future. What time - or whether that time will come - is still undetermined; the league replied “no comment” to the Equalizer reporters’ inquiry.
Update 1/27 7:00pm: Things aren’t looking good for the Breakers. Kartik Krishnaiyer - who provided the initial report of a potential rescue group - is now saying this effort has failed:
“Unfortunately I am advised that the effort to save
@BostonBreakers has fallen short.”
Dan Lauletta now has a column up at the Equalizer saying the same. And he points out several things about this that give it a more disturbing look than perhaps it deserves. The Breakers’ collapse is sickeningly similar to the 2010 failure of the LA Sol, the flagship franchise of WPS.
Argueably worse is the terrible job the NWSL has done managing this trainwreck. Duffy’s Sean Spicer moment on draft day is the most visible, but now we know what was actually happening that day the league come off looking worse. To allow a club that was effectively in receivership to draft, but not trade? As Lauletta points out...
“...the notion of conducting a draft in which one team is playing by different rules than the others is a massive breach of competitive integrity that should be reviewed and permanently eliminated from NWSL’s playbook.”
And to have done this while talking about expansion? That’s like discussing your renovation plans as the house is burning down behind you.
Not a good “look”.
Update 1/28, 12:00pm: The NWSL has announced that the Boston Breakers franchise has ceased operations. A dispersal draft will take place Tuesday, January 30th.
The weighted draw for the Dispersal Draft Order will be determined the morning of Monday, Jan. 29.
Players may opt-out of the draft by Noon ET on Monday, Jan. 29 to pursue opportunities outside of the NWSL and would not become discovery eligible to return to the league until after the end of the 2018 season. Teams will be allowed to trade their picks in the draft following the weighted draw until 1 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Jan. 30 following which a final Dispersal Draft order will be released.
For the 2018 season, NWSL roster size will remain unchanged, with a minimum of 18 players and a maximum of 20 players required for each club.
Despite this, Stephanie Yang reports that the league has made some changes to the roster rules to help out the players...
“...players under contract and draft picks will not count against the roster limit or the salary cap for 2018, and each team may add up to four players from the draft. If a team requires an international spot for a contracted or drafted player, they will receive the spot. Housing and auto expenses will not count against the Permitted Team Assistance Cap.”
...but that those changes are unlikely to help that much.
“Even though a player won’t count against the salary cap, they still must be paid, and so you can imagine some teams with less money available might not be able to take advantage of these ameliorating roster rules, and even though a team may add up to four players, probably no team will be able to actually do so.
We’ll also see how much room there actually is for dispersed players since teams have already spent most of the offseason planning their rosters, followed by a college draft to fill some of their needs. Where is a player like Abby Smith going to land? She is undoubtedly a starting goalkeeper, but teams have already made plans for their #1’s.”
Purely aside from the loss of the franchise, my response to this is much the same as Yang’s; the professional game is tough enough for a female player, and this just makes it that much tougher.