Now that the WPS offseason is upon us, All White Kit will be checking in on each team over the next few months to get an assessment of offseason happenings. First up is the Boston Breakers. Breakers General Manager Andy Crossley took time to discuss what it is about the city that makes the team so unique to players and fans alike and offers status updates on some of the team’s key players.
Forming an identity is tough. Some would argue that WPS is still trying to forge one, what with its revolving door of teams seemingly constantly in motion. Establishing a WPS club on such shaky ground has proven to be a pretty daunting task.
Attracting a bevy of faithful, enthusiastic fans whilst tending to a quality soccer team that’s as well-stocked with talented, charismatic players as it is well-coached is a tricky proposition. Having a smart front office that demonstrates patience in its personnel as well the know-how to keep fans streaming through the turnstiles is even trickier. If you can check off all of those boxes you have more than a soccer club. You have a community.
The Boston Breakers have arguably taken the biggest strides of any WPS club towards developing a true community.
The team led the league in attendance last year, and by quite a distance. Boston was the only WPS team to have broken the 50,000 total fan threshold and holds the unique distinction of being the only team to have actually increased its attendance average from 2009.
On the field, the Breakers staged a second half turnaround that beggared belief. Prior to July 4th, the team experienced a 10-game winless skid. After July 4th, the Breakers dropped points on just five of 13 occasions. It was a comprehensive effort from head coach Tony DiCicco and down to each player. The improved record was good enough to earn the team a second place finish and a berth in the Super Semifinal, in which they were defeated by the Philadelphia Independence.
A return trip to the playoffs as well as continued support from the Breakers’ passionate supporters is chief among the team’s offseason concerns. Strengthening the squad and retaining key players are also priorities for the next four months.
The Breakers have worked on the former by adding the likes of Rachel Buehler, Kelley O’Hara and Nikki Washington to its squad.
Breakers General Manager Andy Crossley postulates why Boston is such an attractive destination for blue chip players, despite the turf field.
“We are in the city. We’re right on the border of Cambridge and Boston,” Crossley explains, “A player like Lauren Cheney can walk or ride her bike to practice every day. She can get anywhere she wants in Cambridge or Boston on public transportation”.
The accessibility of Harvard Stadium has also produced residual benefits for the team’s fans as well, many of whom have been Breakers supporters when the team played in the WUSA, WPS’ erstwhile predecessor. (Incidentally, two of three women currently in contention for FIFA Coach of the Year have connections to the Breakers; USWNT coach Pia Sundhage took charge of the team in its final season while Germany U-20’s coach Maren Meinert was one of the few German players to appear in the WUSA).
“The last couple of games the [WUSA] Breakers had there were like eight or nine thousand fans having a great time and local sponsors were attached and poof, it was gone and they were just dumbfounded. So I think we had a head start in that people were ready to jump back on board. People who had season tickets from 2001 or 2002 because they had a 12 year-old daughter and now that young woman was in college or was gone, those people have come back too.”
Crossley continues, “When you go to a game up here you see people wear a Breakers shirt that doesn’t look quite right. When you look closely you’ll see it’s like a Kate Sobrero shirt or a Maren Meinert shirt and they’ve had this stuff in their closet for eight or nine years and it’s come back out.”
Sobrero – who may be better known to more recent women’s soccer fans as Kate Markgraf – and Meinert were Breakers staples, much in the way that Kelly Smith, Kristine Lilly, Alex Scott, and Amy LePeilbet are today. Players like Leslie Osborne, Jordan Angeli, Lauren Cheney, Lindsay Tarpley, and Kasey Moore endeared themselves to Breakers fans last season. Now it’s a matter of keeping those players in Boston.
The impending kickoff of England’s FA Women’s Super League could pose the biggest threat to the preservation of Breakers’ English corps of Smith and Scott. It looks as if at least one part of the duo will be back next season. Crossley says, “Alex Scott just agreed to terms and as far as I’m concerned, she’s going to be a Boston Breaker in 2011.”
The issue of retaining Smith is more opaque, however. It’s no secret that the league has been forced to undergo widespread cutbacks this offseason and player salaries are among expenses being trimmed.
Although there have been reductions in salaries, Crossley maintains, “We have never put the demand or a contract in front of a player this year or any year that I would consider to be insulting.”
This offseason, some teams (including ones that are no longer with us) have been rumored to have offered select players small base salaries plus pay-for-play type bonuses. The Breakers General Manager assures that all of the team’s contracts have been strictly base salaries.
“We’ve never said to somebody ‘we’re going to pay you some pathetic little base salary and then you’re going to get $500 a game on top of that or anything,” Crossley adds, “it’s been straight base salaries to all of the players.”
However, it seems England’s ace no. 10 and longtime Arsenal player has been affected by the austerity measures.
Crossley says, “We’ve had players on the team who we’ve asked to take pay cuts and they’ve agreed and we’ve had players who we’ve asked and who we’re still working with them on and Kelly is one. I can’t state 100% that Kelly Smith will be a Breaker next year but I certainly hope she is. She’s been our leading scorer for two years and is one of the best players in the world. I can tell you we’ve offered a contract for her that would continue to compensate her guaranteed as one of the highest paid players in the league and by extension probably the world. But it is at a substantially lower level that is has been the past two years. We haven’t managed to meet a level of agreement yet.”
No firm deadline for Smith’s contractual agreement has been set yet.
Other players are still on the market including Lindsay Tarpley, who Crossley partially credits for the team’s midseason turnaround. Her involvement with the USWNT in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup is another variable the team has to consider.
“We would love to re-sign Lindsay Tarpley. She was a difference maker for us on and off the field for us when she arrived midseason,” Crossley praises, “but we don’t know if she’s a 12-game or 18-game player for us next year. Leslie Osborne is another. ”
The impending World Cup will likely see the Breakers lose several major players during the offseason months. Thus, calculated risks must be taken when building next season’s squad. Crossley concedes, “It’s definitely going to impact the team. If we have a lot of players missing a lot of games people may look back at what we’ve done this offseason and say we’ve handles things the wrong way. But only time will tell.”
Whatever happens before, during or after the World Cup, the Breakers will be prepared. The local passion for the team will likely remain just as fervent as it would be otherwise. The team has made sure that a framework has been put in place that ensures interest in the team will be sustained.
“You don’t have to love women’s soccer or soccer [in general] to be a Boston Breakers fan. You just have to be a fan of our particular little business. You might like it because you like the atmosphere, you might like the people who work here or because you have a connection with one of the players,” Crossley concludes, “That level of enthusiasm comes from the hardcore and the intelligence of the local staff. It’s not something you can just count on rubbing off from other events like the World Cup.”