The bay area will soon have a new sports franchise to root for as the United Soccer League announced that Tampa Bay United is the latest club to join its W League.
The USL W league is a pre-professional women’s soccer league, kicking off in May 2022. The league aims to create a national platform to increase opportunity, gender equity and career development in women’s soccer. According to its website, the USL W League will serve as the nation’s premier pre-professional league as it develops talent both on and off the field, and will operate as a women’s soccer pipeline between college and the professional ranks.
The USL plans to feature at least 30 teams in its inaugural season, creating more opportunities to play, watch and work in the women’s game across the country. The Tampa Bay Rays also own the Tampa Bay Rowdies, who play in the USL Championship league. Rays President and Rowdies Vice-Chairmen Brian Auld broached the subject of bringing women’s soccer to the area at Friday’s Tiger Bay Club luncheon in Tampa.
“The Rowdies will play their entire season in that same facility, and we hope a women’s professional soccer team – of which there have been two leagues in conversations with us of late – will be able to play there too,” teased Auld as he discussed a new Rays stadium and a split season in Montreal.
“And hey, women’s professional soccer is amazing,” added Auld. “And we’d love to get into that business as well.”
While the USL is still in the early stages of creating a parallel women’s professional league, the organization broke the news that Tampa Bay United would join its pre-professional league on Tuesday, just a few days after Auld’s announcement.
“It is an honor for Tampa Bay United to invest in the women’s game by bringing the nation’s premier pre-professional platform to the greater Tampa Bay soccer community,” said Anthony Latronica, Tampa Bay United’s Sporting Director in a USL press release. “With relentless effort and forward-thinking, our W League franchise represents a massive force for societal good.”
Tampa Bay United is the first club representing Florida and joins 24 other previously announced franchises. More teams expect to be announced throughout the fall and winter, and most clubs are attached to corresponding men’s teams throughout the USL’s divisions.
Founded in 2011, the Tampa Bay United Soccer Club (TBUSC) develops the sport of soccer for athletes of all ages, from youth to adults. The club focuses on instilling the principles of maximum effort and fair play while fostering knowledge, respect and a life-long love for the game.
TBUSC teams have won two national championships, three regional championships and have produced over 500 college commitments from a pool of more than 3,000 players. The club also develops its members off the pitch and commits to enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the organization. TBUSC believes those traits are vital to its players’ success and hopes its culture of leadership, character and commitment bring more joy to the game while enhancing a team’s strengths.
By joining the new W League, Tampa Bay United will take its mission to grow the women’s game a step further, providing equal access for its male and female members to reach the next step in their soccer careers. The club will also benefit from the USL’s fully formed women’s pipeline that now extends from youth soccer to the professional level.
“We are very excited to be launching a W League team right in the USL’s backyard, here in Tampa,” said Betsy Haugh, Director of Women’s Soccer Operations. “The Tampa Bay soccer community has been keen to see increased investment in women’s soccer, and we are confident that Tampa Bay United will do just that … ”
In addition to the USL’s developmental W League, the organization – headquartered in Tampa – has also announced the formation of a professional women’s league. According to its website, the Super League will provide an unprecedented pathway for women’s soccer athletes to advance from youth clubs to the professional level – all within one ecosystem.
Details are scarce, and the USL has yet to formally announce teams, but the Super League expects to begin play in 2023 and aims to double the number of professional women’s soccer teams in the United States.