The message is clear: Without her, there might no longer be a Boston Breakers team.
When Andy Crossley, the former Breakers general manager, signed Leslie Osborne in 2009, he was looking for a vocal leader. They needed energy, someone to push the club.
That’s not all they got.
“She is a dynamo, and I think without her presence here, I don’t know that the team would have continued,” Crossley said.
It was Osborne who spent her offseason recruiting investors and players, attempting to ensure that the team would have enough money and talent to continue to play in the WPS and, after that folded, the WPSL Elite League. She helped make it happen, something she said she felt duty-bound to do.
But will others follow? As women’s soccer works on building a future from uncertainty, its players grapple with how involved they have to be to make it succeed. They are, after all, their sport’s greatest ambassadors. Do they need to be activists, too?
“We felt like we could be utilized a lot more,” said Kia McNeill, who played at Boston College and was slated to play for the Philadelphia Independence. “I think it’s great what Leslie Osborne did, and I wish a lot of other girls, particularly those with the national team, would have stepped up and taken on that type of role. I know some of them did. A lot of them didn’t.”
Many women’s soccer players get involved with their local communities, teaching clinics, reaching out to young players, raising interest and awareness. Osborne did more. She met with wealthy supporters of the sport, helped identify potential investors, did the behind-the-scenes work that is generally not the province of players.
“I felt an obligation, I felt how lucky I was to have the opportunity to play for my country, to play professionally,” Osborne said. “I want other kids to have the same opportunity and dream to one day play professionally like I did.
“When our main owner left and we needed to find new ownership, the easy thing would have been to move on. Myself and a couple people that truly cared about this organization took the initiative to find new owners. It was a lot of work and it was challenging, but I loved every minute of it.”
And they made it work, despite the end of the WPS, despite the difficulties of finding another place to play. It wasn’t just that, though. One of the issues that signaled the end of the WPS was Puma’s decision not to continue as a sponsor.
The Breakers, though, are still a Puma team because Osborne is a Puma athlete.
“I believe that players underestimate the power they have,” Osborne said. “I really think that some of the national team girls do a great job of individual marketing, stuff like that, but I really believe if enough players went out to try to get more sponsorship, it would really work.”
Osborne is hoping that, for the next league, more of the players are active. They have to do more than just believe in a new league, more than just play in it instead of playing overseas. Her idea is to have current and former players on a committee to work on sponsorships, to help ensure a third league succeeds.
She wants teamwork from her fellow players, especially the stars. She wants them to fight for the sport and the league and the sponsorship dollars that are necessary for survival.
“She is sort of the ultimate love-of-the-game player, who I think realizes that she’s probably not going to get back into the US national team pool or is a long shot, but she’s still playing,” Crossley said. “Not only is she still playing, but she’s fighting to build the actual infrastructure of her sport, as well.”