Monday, October 25, 2021

Pitching a women’s soccer team to DFW

FC Dallas goalkeeper Kelsey Devonshire came off the line to challenge and end this run on goal from Houston Dash forward Bianca Brinson. Brinson, who is on the reserve roster for Houston, also plays for FC Dallas’ WPSL team during normal league competition. (Photo: David Wilfong)
FC Dallas goalkeeper Kelsey Devonshire came off the line to challenge and end this run on goal from Houston Dash forward Bianca Brinson. Brinson, who is on the reserve roster for Houston, also plays for FC Dallas’ WPSL team during normal league competition. (Photo: David Wilfong)

By David Wilfong
NDG Contributing Writer

The 2015 World Cup win by the United States Women’s National Team has once again ignited enthusiasm for women’s soccer throughout the country. The tournament final drew record audiences on television, and the returning champions faced throngs of adoring supporters wherever they went.
 
More importantly for the long-term viability of the sport, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) was able to enter a fourth season, one year longer than any previous attempts at forming a pro league for women in the U.S. Currently, the salaries are small compared to the men’s game, and the league is limited to only 10 teams, but with a World Cup win in 2015 and the Olympic games coming this year, the opportunity exists to strengthen the existing fan base.
 
For now, the Houston Dash is Texas’ only team in the NWSL, but this season the FC Dallas organization took the first step toward the stated goal of bringing a professional women’s team to Dallas. FC Dallas Women (FCDW) entered the Women’s Premiere Soccer League (WPSL), the second tier in the framework of the American women’s system. Founded in 1997, the WPSL comprises both professional and amateur athletes in more than 100 teams.
 

Chioma Ubogagu, a member of the visiting Houston Dash, is actually an example of the pro-level talent available in DFW. Ubogagu graduated from Coppell High School in 2010 and went on to make 89 appearances in four years for Stanford before entering the 2015 NWSL draft. Melissa Henderson, who scored the first goal for the Dash against FC Dallas, is a native of Garland. (Photo: David Wilfong)
Chioma Ubogagu, a member of the visiting Houston Dash, is actually an example of the pro-level talent available in DFW. Ubogagu graduated from Coppell High School in 2010 and went on to make 89 appearances in four years for Stanford before entering the 2015 NWSL draft. Melissa Henderson, who scored the first goal for the Dash against FC Dallas, is a native of Garland. (Photo: David Wilfong)

While FCDW is not in the NWSL, its roster includes players from the national teams of Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago, and standout athletes from university programs. FC Dallas management believes the North Texas area is ripe with both fans and talent to produce a high quality program.

 
“We’ve put 14 players into a youth national team from our ECNL program in the last year-and-a-half,” said FCDW coach Ben Waldrum. “So we kind of feel like this market, with just youth soccer in general, it’s a real big soccer market. So we do think an NWSL franchise, there’s some validity to that and should be a target for us. 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.”
 

FC Dallas’ Kelley Monogue fires a shot on goal past Houston’s Rebecca Moros. The shot was thwarted by the goalkeeper as Dallas was held scoreless against the NWSL team in the friendly on June 2. (Photo: David Wilfong)
FC Dallas’ Kelley Monogue fires a shot on goal past Houston’s Rebecca Moros. The shot was thwarted by the goalkeeper as Dallas was held scoreless against the NWSL team in the friendly on June 2. (Photo: David Wilfong)

As part of the process of bringing the team up to speed, FCDW played host to the NWSL’s Houston Dash in a “friendly” played prior to the meet-up between FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo. The game processed through periods of heavy downpours to a 3-0 win for the Dash, with goals scored by Melissa Henderson, Kealia Ohai and Stephanie Ochs.

 
But the score doesn’t tell the whole story, as the second half featured play by Dash reserves who are also on FCDW’s WPSL roster, and FC Dallas developmental players as young as 14 years old. The two programs are connected both by shared players and family ties as the Houston Dash is coached by Randy Waldrum, Ben’s father.
 
Though Houston’s national team stars like Carli Lloyd and Morgan Brian were absent as they train for the Olympics, the game gave Dallas players the chance to go toe-to-toe with some of the top athletes in the sport. And on the women’s side of the game, NWSL competition is a global mark to shoot for.
 

Houston’s Cami Privett (left) attempts to move the ball downfield against pressure from both FC Dallas’ Gwennie Puente (right) and a torrential downpour that occurred during the game. (Photo: David Wilfong)
Houston’s Cami Privett (left) attempts to move the ball downfield against pressure from both FC Dallas’ Gwennie Puente (right) and a torrential downpour that occurred during the game. (Photo: David Wilfong)

“If you were to go out and say in the men’s world scene, ‘What are the top leagues in the world?’ You’d automatically go, ‘It’s La Liga in Spain or the Premiere League in England’,” Waldrum said. “People associate the men’s game with those kinds of clubs. But I think with the women, we have the world class players. We have the Carli Lloyds of the world, which is the equivalent of the Cristiano Ronaldos on the men’s side, in the U.S. So from a quality standpoint, I think the (NWSL) is doing great.”

 
FCDW began their WPSL league play on May 21 with an 8-0 win over the Conroe-based Texas Titans. Two days after their friendly against the Dash, they followed up with a 2-0 win over FC Austin Elite on Saturday and played Nacogdoches-based Pines 1779 to a 3-1 win on Sunday to remain undefeated with a 3-0 record as of press time.
 
Waldrum estimated the attendance at his opening game at roughly 500, which he saw as a positive given a last minute venue change to McKinney. He’s hoping to develop a solid fan base for the team, which in turn could help to eventually move the program up to the top tier of women’s competition.
 
FCDW generally plays its home games at Dr. Pink Stadium, located adjacent to the Toyota Stadium (9200 World Cup Way in Frisco). A complete schedule of game, roster and more team information can be found at www.fcdallas.com/wpsl.
More up-to-date information is available on Twitter (@FCDwomen).

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