Eleven years ago, the Boston Breakers were named one of the National Women’s Soccer League’s eight original franchises. Five seasons later, they ceased to exist.
The Breakers had been around since the first season of the Women’s United Soccer Association, the first relatively-successful venture for women’s pro soccer in the United States. They’d go on to be original members of two more startup leagues, only one of which still exists.
Despite boasting players such as Germany’s Maren Meinert (a 2003 World Cup champion) and USA’s Kristine Lilly (the most-capped player in the history of international soccer), the Breakers were never able to find much success, only ever reaching a playoff semifinal twice.
The team officially folded on Jan. 25, 2018, following a failed ownership proposal made to the New England Revolution. Just six days prior, they had participated, and picked second overall, in the NWSL draft.
It was ultimately the team’s marketing and overall business model that doomed them. The Breakers heavily pitched to younger fans, and displayed their players as role models for the next generation.
“But when the majority of your fans need mom or dad to drive them to a game — and attend one or two games per season as a result — it’s not exactly the best strategy for developing a knowledgeable, devoted fan base,” wrote the Globe’s Shira Springer February 2018.
The Breakers were originally founded back in 2000, as the fledgling WUSA took root after the United States women’s national team’s 1999 World Cup victory popularized soccer among girls across the country. The name itself came from a “name the team” contest, won by Laura DeDonato of North Easton.
The Breakers went on to rank in the top half of WUSA attendance for all three years of that league’s existence. The WUSA suspended operations in September 2003, citing lower-than-expected revenues, as well as budgetary issues.
“There is little evidence that the sport is strong enough to succeed at the level the Women’s United Soccer Association had envisioned. In fact, there is little chance of any women’s team sport succeeding without subsidization at such a level,” the Globe’s Frank Dell’Apa wrote soon after the WUSA folded.
After a five-year hiatus, the Breakers returned as an inaugural member of Women’s Professional Soccer in 2008. When that league was suspended in 2012, the club jumped ship to the WPSL Elite, a semi-pro league that several other squads joined with the belief that WPS would resume for the 2013 season.
This did not happen, as WPS permanently shut down as a result of a lack of funding. In response, the National Women’s Soccer League was unveiled in late 2012, sponsored by US, Canadian, and Mexican soccer governing bodies. The Breakers joined a third fledgling league in their 12-year history.
By late 2017, the team was in a dire situation. Behind on league payments and without key staff and facilities, the Breakers made two last-ditch attempts to save the team. One was an offer for the Kraft Group, longtime owners of the Patriots and Revolution, to buy out the team, and another was for the team to be bought by the real estate group behind the Union Point development in Weymouth and moved to a planned 10,000 seat stadium there.
Ultimately, neither option panned out, and the team ceased operations in January 2018. In a hastily-assembled dispersal draft occurring two days after the team folded, former Breakers were given new homes among the nine remaining NWSL clubs, and the team was gone.
Unlike the previous two iterations of the Boston Breakers, the latest edition was not doomed because of the league they played in. The NWSL is currently wrapping up its tenth season of play, with 12 teams competing and two more in Utah and San Jose joining in 2024.
nWhen the 2024 expansion teams were announced in April, Boston was also announced as an expansion team, but would begin play after 2024. A reported $50 million franchise fee was paid to the league to secure the new franchise, backed by an all-female investment group and with Mayor Michelle Wu’s support. And on Monday, that team was finally unveiled, as Boston was awarded an NWSL expansion franchise for 2026 with a yet-unannounced name.
“Boston and Massachusetts are a place where women are in charge and thrive at all levels and in every community, so our city would obviously be an excellent home for a team of world class athletes representing the best women’s soccer league in the world,” Wu said in December. “Starting up a professional women’s soccer team is a challenging endeavor, but one that we are excited about.”