The abrupt end of the Boston Breakers brought out a range of emotions among players, including sadness and anger. But mostly there was an overwhelming feeling of uncertainty.
“It was definitely sad because I built such good relationships there. So coming to the realization that it wasn’t going to be a team anymore and I wasn’t going to be seeing those people on a daily basis was really sad,” said former Boston midfielder Rose Lavelle, now with the Washington Spirit. “But then I was worried, because nobody really knew how it was going to work out for us.”
The Breakers were disbanded with a dispersal draft, with most players landing on other National Women’s Soccer League teams. The team has now started giving refunds to season tickets holders. And, seven weeks into the league’s season, the displaced players are acclimating to their post-Boston careers.
It was a sad end to one of the pioneering teams in women’s professional soccer.
The Breakers’ history dated to the team’s first incarnation with the Women’s United Soccer Association in 2001. That league folded in 2003 but was followed by Women’s Professional Soccer, which included the Breakers from 2009 until the league’s demise in 2012. Boston returned again as one of the eight founding teams of the NWSL, launched in 2013.
But it became clear that Boston’s owners were not going to support the team following the 2017 season and it folded on Jan. 28 after what players and team officials described was an 11th-hour scramble to try to save the season.
“I think it all happened really too quickly for me to process, and since then I haven’t processed what happened emotionally to me. But I kind of just go with the flow: Everything was out of my control. So it was just trying to find out where I was going to be and find the logistics and the facts about what was happening rather than worry about what had already happened,” said now-Portland Thorns midfielder Midge Purce.
The demise of the Breakers left the NWSL with just nine teams for the current season. FC Kansas City also folded following the 2017 season but its players went to the Utah Royals, a new team affiliated with Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake.
Breakers players, including national team allocated players, who were picked up in the dispersal draft didn’t count toward rosters or salary caps. The Spirit traded up to get the first pick in the draft, taking Lavelle, and Sky Blue, which fell to second in the deal, took forward Savannah McCaskill.
Lavelle won’t be on the field this Saturday when the Spirit host former teammate Purce and the Thorns because she is recovering from a hamstring injury. She’s taking her recovery slowly as the U.S. national team prepares for World Cup qualifying matches this fall.
“I really like my new team. I know a lot of them from playing on other teams and the other national team players,” said Lavelle, an allocated national team player. “All of the girls are super fun and nice and I’m looking forward to building relationships with them on the field, too.”
Other Breakers players who went to the Spirit in the dispersal draft included Elizabeth Wenger and Tiffany Weimer. Wenger is not on the team’s current roster but Weimer rejoined the Spirit after a trade to Houston. Purce was joined in Portland by former Breakers Angela Salem and Ifeoma Onumonu.
The bulk of Boston’s players are still in the NWSL, but two eventually went to Sweden: striker Natasha Dowie wound up with Linkopings while forward Hayley Dowd plays for Sandvikens.
When the Breakers folded, NWSL managing director of operations Amanda Duffy left open the possibility that a team could return to the Boston area in the future. Indeed, the league is looking at expansion with rumors that the MLS expansion team LAFC might be fielding a women’s team. The Vancouver Whitecaps (another MLS team) have also expressed interest.
“It’s a market that we believe in. It’s a brand that has a great historical reputation in women’s professional soccer,” Duffy told The Associated Press when the franchise folded. “With many of the groups we’ve spoken to over the last few months and over the last few days, we hope to continue those conversations to look at 2019 or beyond as expansion opportunities.”
Purce said she’s grateful it has worked out.
“Every setback is an opportunity for a comeback and I was blessed with the opportunity to come to Portland and it has just been absolutely amazing for me individually, as a player in terms of my growth and as a person, just being around the staff and the players here,” she said.