The NWSL won’t expand for 2014, but rest assured adding teams is in the cards if the league is to survive and thrive. And when the time comes to grow beyond the current eight clubs, the Houston Aces have their sights set on moving up. The Aces spent 2013 in Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL), losing in the championship match, and will play 2014 in WPSL Elite, slated to return after a one-year hiatus.
“We are currently in a situation where we are prepared to go into the NWSL,” owner William Brumbaugh told The Equalizer. “What we will be doing this season is trying to operate at the level of NWSL in terms of production, games, and whatnot so that as we try to move into it for 2015 there will be very little change for us.”
The Aces say they were ready to join the top flight in 2014, but NWSL leadership elected to stick with the status quo for the league’s second season.
“They wanted to get another year under their belts from how quickly they put it together. I’m obviously disappointed because I want to be a part of it. Another part of me is happy or gratified about it because they’re taking the time to make sure that their product is going to be able to sustain itself.”
Brumbaugh mentioned several reasons why Houston will be well-suited to house an NWSL squad. The city is culturally diverse, has produced strong female soccer players in recent years, plus the arrival of the Dynamo in 2006 has boosted Houston’s overall soccer culture.
“Houston has an array of talented soccer players of the female gender that far exceeded the level of competition for which they had opponents,” Brumbaugh said when discussing the origins of the Aces. He began fielding youth teams in 2008 and continued to move up the ladder until the Aces were founded in time to play the 2012 WPSL season.
“The more we learned,” Brumbaugh said, “the more we wanted to leave a trail of our progress. Wherever I have done a competition I have left a team that still exists. I look at it as a developmental program now in order to try to get (the players) from the high school level to the club level to the professional level.”
The Aces were set to be a semi-professional side in 2013, but WPSL Elite never materialized. Brumbaugh is confident it will be around in 2014. Details are still being finalized, but the Aces will be part of it.
“I am very confident that it will exist again,” the owner said. “What we’re looking for is to create a platform that can really bridge the WPSL or the W-League into a progressive tier system, which is what we want WPSL Elite to be.”
The fan base, always one of the great unknowns, appears ready and willing to embrace an NWSL club, says Brumbagh.
“We have really received a lot of encouragement that what we’re doing is something that (Houston) wants to have. They want us to be here. They want to support us. They’re very intrigued on having a professional team here in Houston.”
In 2013 the Aces say attendance topped 1,000 fans per game by season’s end, and they already have two small supporters groups to lend a hand with atmosphere.
“It really turned the tables for us in terms of environment,” Brumbaugh said of the supporters’ groups.
As far as the Dynamo are concerned there is a strong relationship between the clubs and while there are no plans to join forces, Brumbaugh says they continue to work on moving the relationship forward.
“We have a very good and very strong MLS team in the Houston Dynamo who have greatly endorsed us. We work side-by-side with them where we can and when we can. It’s not necessarily like we’re joint partners or do but from the larger picture of the greater good of soccer and greater good of Houston we do things together as often as possible, mostly on the community side. We are looking and we have had a lot of talks about trying to further engage with each other without having to cross streams too much. Right now everything is in a positive motion.”
Another issue for NWSL teams is where to play. The Aces spread their matches around the city in 2013 and Brumbaugh indicated that finding a venue for a run at NWSL will not be an issue. He has his visions too. The club has tossed around the idea of a small stadium of its own and the possibility of growing into BBVA Compass Stadium, where the Dynamo regularly play in front of near-full houses.
First things first, though. The Aces need to be accepted into NWSL. Brumbaugh is confident the league will be adding teams for 2015 and he is just as confident in Houston being an appropriate fit for the league, which really appears to the women’s soccer’s final chance at a professional league for the foreseeable future.
“I feel very strong that Houston is in the top three of choices,” Brumbaugh said. “Houston just has the dynamic and all of the ingredients that will make things work not only for ourselves but for NWSL as a whole.”