In a sudden new development, top-flight women’s professional soccer could be headed to the Lone Star State for the first time ever.
The Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer went public this week with the revelation that the club is weighing an entry into the National Women’s Soccer League as a “cousin team” of the two-time MLS Cup winners – and should they proceed, the new squad might take the field at BBVA Compass Stadium (pictured above) in a matter of months.
“We’re taking a good look at this,” Dynamo president of business operations Chris Canetti told SoccerWire.com this week. “We believe there’s some value to what this can bring to our organization so we’re doing a lot of due diligence and evaluating right now.
“I think there’s an excellent opportunity that lies in front of us with the potential women’s team.”
NWSL is operated by U.S. Soccer and federation president Sunil Gulati told SoccerWire.com during the 2013 playoffs that no expansion was planned for the fledgling league’s second season. Yet the Dynamo, should they take the plunge, sound ready to dive right in without waiting a year.
“I believe that from our perspective, we could probably make that work,” said Canetti of a 2014 debut. “But that wouldn’t be up to us, that would be up to Sunil and the league. So we’ll cross that bridge when it comes.
“We’re starting from a great place if we end up doing this,” he added. “We have a stadium. We have a training complex. I’ve got a front-office staff of over 65 people. I’ve got a season-ticket base of 12,000. I’ve got 150,000 Facebook likes, 75,000 Twitter followers. I’ve got a database of over 100,000. We can activate stuff pretty quickly and we’ve got great infrastructure.”
The Dynamo may have taken note of the healthy turnouts which have greeted the U.S. Women’s National Team on three trips to Texas, a youth soccer mecca, over the past two years. A vibrant crowd of 15,643 at BBVA Compass watched a 4-0 friendly win over China last December (video below), a substantially larger gate than the 11,737 who attended a less glamorous 0-0 U.S. Men’s National Team friendly against Canada the following month.
The Houston NWSL squad would have a distinct name but related branding to the orange-clad Dynamo, and follow many of the practices used so successfully in Portland, Ore. There, the MLS’ Timbers stood up Portland Thorns FC and promptly led the NWSL in attendance, community engagement and several other metrics en route to the capture of the inaugural league championship.
There were fewer formal links between MLS and NWSL teams in Seattle and Kansas City, but both women’s clubs benefitted from the groundwork laid by passionate MLS fanbases. It’s unclear whether the Houston Aces, a WPSL (second-division pro/am) team which has made clear its pursuit of a place in NWSL in 2015, would be involved with the Dynamo.
“Looking into what went on in Portland, comparing that to other markets and trying to figure out where we fit into that mix,” said Canetti, “the more I looked into it, the more it became clear that there’s an opportunity here that may be viable.”
The Dynamo moved from San Jose, Calif. to the Bayou City in 2006, immediately won two MLS titles and endeared themselves to the community. They have since invested millions in a youth academy, training ground and a downtown, soccer-specific home.
Those resources could efficiently host a women’s pro team alongside “the Orange,” but Canetti says there are clear objectives in mind, and first among them is not losing money on their NWSL offering.
“Number one, it’s got to be a financial success. We’re not looking to get into anything that would be a negative financial situation,” he explained. “Number two, where can this assist the Dynamo by potentially introducing a new audience to us, and opening up the doors for more sponsorship?
“Number three, it would provide an excellent community message, in my opinion, in terms of opportunities for women and role models for girls. Four, we made a large investment in a stadium here and it would be good for us to utilize it as many days as we can. That would be part of our justification.”
With two sisters and two daughters who are and have been youth and collegiate athletes, Canetti knows the positive influence of women’s sports and he spent time with USWNT legends Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly when the U.S. soccer community responded to the Newtown shooting tragedy in his native Connecticut. But the NWSL decision will have to hinge on dollars and cents.
“At the end of the day, the financial one will be a primary factor,” he said.