The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup generated record-viewership within the U.S., and this summer’s Tokyo Olympics soccer contests promise another huge audience. Minnesota hopes to heighten the excitement in the state, with a new women’s “pre-professional” soccer team.
The United Soccer League formed the women's league aiming to begin play in May 2022. A month ago, Minnesota's team was approved to join as a founding member.
Leader of the franchise, Andrea Yoch, sees the team as a training ground to help showcase the Midwest as a soccer hub. Yoch believes the league will be a good place for Minnesota's up-and-coming women players.
"This league, the goal is not only to be committed to the best possible soccer that we can provide, but it's also about the personal development of the players. So, we can help them with their career goals after soccer," Yoch said.
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Organizers plan to hire a head coach before the fall, in an effort to scout and recruit players by the spring. With few summer opportunities for women players at the collegiate level, Yoch hopes this will parallel the summer leagues present for men's hockey and baseball.
"We want these players to feel like this is the best place I can go during the summer to further my career," Yoch said.
Mike Navarre, the head coach of women's soccer at Augsburg University, believes new playing opportunities will revolutionize women’s soccer nationally.
"The development of our players is still primarily through the college game, which is on the academic calendar. There’s just not as many opportunities for the players to play year-round. So, if the United States women were going to keep being the prominent power in the world, we can’t just rely on the college game exclusively for the developmental platform,” Navarre said.
Tessa Ericksen and Megan Howard, Minnesota natives who play at Augsburg University under Navarre, say the opportunity to train more will only help to enhance soccer’s popularity with girls in Minnesota.
“Because growing up, obviously this wasn’t a thing,” Ericksen said, “I feel like if I were to have had this option, I would have pushed harder in my training just so I could make this team and improve my skills even more.”
The training offered through the new team appeals to collegiate athletes who have summers off, and return in the fall to competitive university seasons. “This is a great way for those higher level players to be able to come together and play on a team that the community is involved in as well,” Howard said.
In a structure like the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota’s women’s soccer team will be owned through community shares. Team organizers plan to start selling shares in October.
Minnesota's team will be the first community-owned women's soccer team in the country, providing a unique opportunity for women in the state.
During the launch in June, organizers discussed using the team to promote gender equity and career development. Since the team is community-owned, it can focus directly on that mission. Owners don't have to be soccer experts, just passionate about the game and the team’s goals.
St. Paul resident Hwa Jeong Kim plans to buy shares in the Minnesota women's soccer team perhaps as soon as the fall.
"I see it as an opportunity to get girls seeing themselves in those roles to know that it's a pathway for them. And I think engaging more women in sports in general can only be better for the community at large," Kim said.
Shareholders will be a part of the logo, name, and mascot decision-making process. The team is also open to private investment and is in talks with sponsors.
"It's just an incredible opportunity to be a part of something on the ground floor, but be a part of something that I'm passionate about and I love," Kim said.
So far, nine teams have announced they’ll play in the 2022 Women's United Soccer League. The league expects more teams will sign on in the coming months.