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City Football Group could bring NWSL team to New York

NYCFC at Yankee Stadium, where there is barely room for a soccer field, nevermind an NWSL team. (Photo: NYCFC)
NYCFC at Yankee Stadium, where there is barely room for a soccer field, nevermind an NWSL team. (Photo: NYCFC)

NYCFC at Yankee Stadium, where there is barely room for a soccer field, nevermind an NWSL team. (Photo: NYCFC)

New York City FC could “potentially” start a women’s professional soccer team, according to the chairman of City Football Group, which owns NYCFC.

Khaldoon Al Mubarak said in an interview with Manchester City FC TV that the recent successes of Melbourne City Women, which in their expansion 2015-16 season went unbeaten en route to winning Australia’s Westfield W-League, could spark further investment from CFP in the women’s game.

“The decision for us as a group to get into women’s football, to invest in women’s football, has really, I think, proven to be a success,” Al Mubarak said. “It’s been a great success in Melbourne and it’s going to be a success in Manchester, and I think you’ll see us doing that potentially in New York at some point. And in any club we’re involved in.”

[THE LOWDOWN: Taking stock of NWSL at the FIFA break]

City Football Group owns Major League Soccer’s New York City FC, which is in its second season of competition. NYCFC plays at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, a temporary home with no foreseeable alternative in the near future; it’s nearly impossible to see another team playing at the venue, but there are smaller stadiums throughout the New York area.

City Football Group also owns the Melbourne City FC men’s and women’s teams, in addition to Manchester City FC men’s and women’s teams in England and a men’s team, Yokohama F Marinos, in Japan. Al Mubarak said in the City TV interview that the acquisition of more clubs could be on the horizon.

As The Equalizer reported earlier this year, a women’s team in New York City looks like a matter of “when, not if.”

Sky Blue FC is the closest thing the NWSL has to a New York metro-area team. The club plays home games at Yurcak Field on the campus of Rutgers University in Piscataway, N.J. and averages 1,699 fans through three games this season, last in the league. Sky Blue FC has ranked last in attendance all three full seasons thus far in NWSL history.

Representatives from Sky Blue FC had informal discussions with New York City FC in the fall of 2014, but nothing came of them. In the fall of 2013, Sky Blue owners rejected the opportunity to merge with MLS’ New York Red Bulls.

“You have to look at Sky Blue as a very small organization,” Sky Blue owner and CEO Thomas Hofstetter said in November 2013. “Red Bull (is) a big, global corporation. They have their other goals and priorities. I don’t mean this in a bad way. At the end of the day we just didn’t feel that from a business perspective, the deal that we were discussing, could get on the same page. It was mainly business driven.”

[CURREN ON U.S. WOMEN: Ellis’ Olympic lineup seems to be set]

NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush stated earlier this year that he is in touch with as many as a dozen potential expansion cities, all at varying stages of talks, and that about half of those are MLS ownership groups. Plush declined to comment on these developments. An NWSL spokesman told The Equalizer: “We are pleased with the current level of interest and ongoing discussion regarding potential expansion teams. We are in talks with more than a dozen potential ownership groups, who are at various stages, but it would be premature to discuss in further detail.”

MLS interest in the NWSL is on the rise. Three of the NWSL’s current 10 teams — Houston Dash, Orlando Pride and Portland Thorns FC — share ownership, facilities and staffing with the city’s MLS club. MLS commissioner Don Garber said in April that, “I think you’ll see, very soon, half of our clubs launching and managing women’s teams.”

Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen has previously been public about his desire to add a women’s team to the club, but has not recently commented on the topic. Many around NWSL believed that Real Salt Lake would enter the league in 2016. Instead, the Orlando Pride accelerated plans to do so — partly based on the success of the 2015 Women’s World Cup and partly based on the ability to acquire star U.S. forward Alex Morgan — and is the lone NWSL expansion team in 2016, bringing the league to 10 teams.

Real Salt Lake Women currently play in the second-division UWS (United Women’s Soccer) league after eight seasons in the WPSL, formerly as Salt Lake United and Sparta Salt Lake. they have played under the Real Salt Lake Women name — and RSL badge — since 2013, winning a WPSL Elite League title last season. They are associated with RSL by name, but the exact level of crossover is unclear.

“We couldn’t be happier for Real Salt Lake Women to carry the RSL banner into women’s soccer,” Hansen said in 2013. “One of our core values is to promote the game at all levels in Utah and our association with RSL Women will help us do that.”

[MORE: MLS commissioner Garber thinks half of MLS teams will have women’s teams]

Hansen said at other points over the past two years that part of the idea for a women’s professional team would be predicated on a soccer-specific stadium to host NWSL and USL games. Real Monarchs play in the USL. But plans for that stadium have changed after failed bid, with a downsized version of it now part of a bigger plan focused on a training facility. An prospective NWSL team could still play at the 20,000-seat Rio Tinto Stadium, home to Real Salt Lake.

Reports this week also vaguely hint that NWSL could be a possibility in the future for FC Dallas, another MLS club. But much like with RSL, the prospects remain unclear for turning a women’s amateur team playing under the club’s name into a fully professional, multi-million dollar operation.

“We do think an NWSL franchise, there’s some validity to that and should be a target for us,” said FC Dallas Women’s coach Ben Waldrum, whose father, Randy, is the coach of the NWSL’s Houston Dash. “But it hasn’t been like the Hunt Sports Group has come out to us and said, ‘We want this team.’ I think they want to support women’s soccer and continue to monitor and see how the league goes.

“I don’t think there’s anything set in stone that, ‘Your attendance has to be this’ or ‘You have to be this successful in your WPSL league.’ I think the biggest message for the local soccer community from our end would be, if you want to see a team be here in the future it obviously makes sense for FC Dallas to do it, and we want you guys to get out and show our ownership that women’s soccer is viable and we can support it in this area.”

The Dash and FC Dallas Women played a friendly last weekend.

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