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Boston NWSL team sees this as ‘right moment, right city’ for women’s pro soccer reboot

US soccer great Kristine Lilly (far left ) and Celtics president of basketball ops Brad Stevens (far right) joined Mayor Michelle Wu (fourth from left) and the owners of the new NWSL team at Tuesday's press event.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

The Boston area has been at the forefront of women’s soccer for decades, going back to some of the first US national team successes in the early 1990s. But something always seemed to go wrong when it came to a professional team.

This time could be different, according to Kristine Lilly, who played for the Boston Breakers from 2001-03 and 2009-11, and is the US national team’s all-time caps leader.

“I think everything’s different, the excitement, the support, the talent,” Lilly said Tuesday. “Everything’s just grown, the investment.”

Now means 2026 for Boston, which was officially announced as a National Women’s Soccer League expansion team in a ceremony at City Hall Plaza Tuesday. The team will need time to prepare, starting with renovations at White Stadium. There are questions about the viability of the city-owned venue that a proposed $30 million upgrade might not be able to address.

“We will be the primary pro tenant in that stadium, and I just think that is a reflection of what needs to happen in women’s sports,” said Jennifer Epstein, controlling partner of Boston Unity Soccer Partners.

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“The landscape around women’s professional sports and women’s professional soccer has changed in the last five years. The level of investment is exponentially larger, and the opportunities for revenue are also very different now.

“Right moment, right city, and we’re putting together all the right components to make this really successful right now.”

The team also will need a nickname.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” said Lilly, who is a minority investor in the Boston franchise. “These women have done right so far and it’s exciting to be in a place where we can make it happen.”

When the Breakers and the Women’s United Soccer Association began, they were riding momentum from the US victory in the 1999 Women’s World Cup. This time, they are launching off a World Cup disappointment but hoping to latch on to the attraction of the 2026 World Cup, which will be contested in Canada, Mexico, and the US.

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Though the US was eliminated in the Round of 16 this year, Lilly believes the NWSL can ride the overall success of the women’s game. Plus, the US has a chance to recover its mojo in the 2024 Olympics.

“The overall game is in a better place,” Lilly said. “It doesn’t just have to be the US. I think the league’s in a stable place, doing well, the game is in a good place. You need something in a good place. And the US team is still good; we just didn’t do as well.”

Jennifer Epstein (at podium) is the controlling partner of Boston's expansion franchise in the National Women's Soccer League. Epstein and fellow team owners Stephanie Connaughton (standing left), Ami Kuan Danoff (standing second from left), and Anna Palmer (standing right) introduced their plans at a city hall press conference.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

In the Breakers’ initial incarnation in 2001, Lilly led a strong cast as the team led the WUSA in attendance while playing at Nickerson Field. But the original Breakers failed to qualify for the playoffs until 2003, when they seemed to have everything together, both on and off the field.

But the league collapsed around them, and when they returned, they experienced financial difficulties, despite an all-star cast that included Lilly and coach Tony DiCicco.

The Breakers finally folded in 2017, yet that incarnation of the team included five players who were still going strong at this past World Cup. In fact, no current NWSL team supplied the US roster with more players than the Breakers.

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“We need to get a coach in place,” Lilly said. “And we have a lot of young players, so give them some time. They’re playing in the pro league but they’ve still got to do international teams, and just come together.

“I think the coach is the next step and then figuring where we’re going to go as a team and get ready for the Olympics.

“The Olympics — we’re always in there. This was the first time we didn’t make the quarterfinals [in the World Cup]. It’s disappointing for us but I still think our team is strong.

“We’ve just got to start to fine-tune a bit. You see countries like what Spain and Portugal did; they’re playing well together and moving the ball, and we’ve just got to get back to doing that ourselves.”


Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at frankdellapa@gmail.com.