United Women’s Soccer Rises from the Ashes of the W-League
The USL W-League set the standard for elite women’s amateur (and occasionally professional) soccer since its founding in 1995. So it was a great disappointment when the league – after losing teams for several years – folded last November. That left the Women’s Premier Soccer League as the only second-tier league in the United States, and the WPSL, while vast (103 teams this year), has a reputation more for allowing any team in that can afford the dues than maintaining high standards.
Into the breach stepped a number of teams frustrated with the situation, led by the New England Mutiny, who had already expressed dissatisfaction with the WPSL in a late-season press release.
The new league had been in the works for 2017, but with the folding of the W-League, startup was moved to 2016. “The teams wanted to stay organized,” said Mutiny owner and league founder Joe Ferrara, “so we stepped it up a bit, got everyone together, lightning-quick, but it came together, and we’re looking forward to improve every year. We’re a group of owners who got together to maintain these high standards, and we’re excited for this upcoming season. Although we’re a brand-new league, there are very many well-established franchises who have been in the game a long, long time.”
I noted that what seemed to doom the W-League were the travel requirements, with the Washington Spirit Reserves, as part of the Southeastern Conference, having to travel as far afield as Dayton, Ohio, and Atlanta, Georgia, just to play teams in their own division. “The important thing is the intention of the teams that we have, not so much expanding as rapidly as possible but doing it geographically smart. We understand the geographic challenges of having a team at this level, so what we’re looking at is having clusters of geographic regions. We’ll grow it slowly but surely with quality organizations.”
Currently the league has eleven teams. In the East Conference, there are six teams from Massachusetts (the Mutiny) to southern Pennsylvania (the Lancaster Inferno). The five-team West Conference is more far-flung with teams in California, Utah, Colorado, and Texas, but at least those teams are more used to traveling.
As Ferrara notes, most of the teams are well-established. The Mutiny were born as the W-League Springfield Sirens, then became one of the first set of WPSL east coast teams back in 2003. The Long Island Rough Riders and New York Magic have been W-League mainstays for years. The Houston Aces and Real Salt Lake Women have been core WPSL teams for years, and the Colorado Pride faced the Spirit Reserves in last year’s W-League final.
The abrupt formation of the league last December left little time for teams to decide between joining them or taking the safer route and going with the WPSL. It would not be much of a surprise if, following a successful first season, many other teams seeking a higher level of operations and competition joined the league.
Sunday, May 22: New England Mutiny 3, Lancaster Inferno 2
It was a gray, rainy evening, but other than that you couldn’t ask for a much better showpiece for the league than this match. The Mutiny came out on top, but only after multiple lead changes and near misses. “This was a fantastic match,” said Ferrara. “It was back-and-forth, a couple of lead changes. It was awesome.”
New England’s Chareyron got through in the 12th minute but shot wide. Three minutes later Lancaster’s Teresa Rynier sent a beautiful through ball to the feet of forward Katie Hackos, who came in toward goal and lobbed the ball in. Goalkeeper Annie Ulliac was able to get a finger on the ball but not stop it.
Five minutes after that, Mutiny captain Kate Howarth also got through but missed wide from about twelve yards out.
New England would finally tie it up in the 38th minute. Howarth got the ball to Liana Hinds, who faked out her defender to get an open shot and sent it in over goalkeeper Emily Dolan.
The halftime whistle would blow with the score at 1-1.
It would take just five minutes for the visitors to take the lead, as Howarth headed in a long cross from Romina Bell.
In the 57th minute, Lancaster would tie it up again as a wet, bouncing ball in the box fell to Hackos on the left, who quickly and accurately fired it into the right side netting.
The clincher would come in the 72nd minute. On a free kick from about thirty yards out, Bell sent in a rocket of a shot that second-half goalkeeper Emily Armstrong was able to block but not corral. Howarth leaped on the rebound and sent it in.
Howarth was named UWS East Conference Offensive Player of the Week for her 2-goal, 1-assist performance in this match. UWS is the fourth league for the former Miami Hurricane, after playing in the WPSL-Elite, the regular WPSL, and even four matches professionally with the NWSL Boston Breakers. Asked about the new league, she said, “It’s good. I think the level’s good. It’s organized well, and it’s professional, and that’s what this whole league was built on, trying to take it to the next level and having a standard and thus far – we’re only two games in – it’s definitely good.”
As for the game, “I think both teams worked really really hard on and off the ball. They made it competitive for sure. I think their game plan was to shut a couple of our players down, and they did a pretty good job. It’s just about finishing your chances. We had three in the first half that we should have had. We created plenty of opportunities – it shouldn’t have been as close as it was.”
On the other side, Katie Hackos has just finished her second year as a Youngstown State Penguin, and this is her first experience with an elite summer league. “I like it a lot. I absolutely love the training sessions and coaching staff. They’re making my soccer knowledge ten times better than it was.”
Despite scoring two goals this evening – and getting an Honorable Mention for it in the weekly awards – she thought she still needed to improve. “Hopefully I can start scoring some more goals. As a forward, that’s the job. That and learning to make the right runs and help out your teammates even if it’s on defense.”
About this match, she said, “It was definitely a positive turnout, especially for this team. There’s a lot of new players, it’s half-and-half. We have a lot of really good players on this team, so I’m getting to know players and really add on to that soccer knowledge you really need to grow as a player.
“The other team that we played was absolutely phenomenal. They moved the ball really well, so we had to learn to catch up to that speed and play at that speed to counter them.”
The next game for both teams is the second half of their home-and-home series, at East Longmeadow High School on Saturday, June 4, at 7 pm.