by TOM SLATER
The rumors that began over the weekend were confirmed today.
The sale of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) champion Western New York Flash and relocation of the franchise to Cary, North Carolina was made official this morning at a press conference in North Carolina. The club will be renamed North Carolina Courage (also referred to as NC Courage) and will play at WakeMed Soccer Park during the 2017 NWSL season.
Joseph Sahlen, whose family has owned the Western New York franchise since its inception three leagues ago, were looking to sell and found a willing buyer in a team headed by Steve Malik in North Carolina.
This marks the first club relocation for the NWSL, which is entering into its fifth season — a high water mark for women’s professional soccer in the United States.
“We are excited to be able to bring the highest level of professional women’s soccer back to the Triangle,” said North Carolina Football Club owner, Steve Malik. “This is an important step in the plan we set forth last month, and as we continue to develop, we look forward to the continued support of our community. I would like to thank the Sahlen family for giving us the opportunity to enter into this agreement to acquire the Western New York Flash and look forward to a long and rewarding partnership as we continue to grow the women’s game in North Carolina and the nation.”
All player and coach’s contracts will be honored and transferred to the North Carolina Courage. The team’s current roster includes team captain and New Zealand international Abby Erceg, U.S. Women’s National Team midfielder Sam Mewis, Canadian goalkeeper Sabrina D’Angelo and 2016 NWSL Golden Boot Winner and MVP Lynn Williams. Mewis, Williams and fellow teammate Jessica McDonald each earned caps with the USWNT in 2016. The three players listed, along with Taylor Smith and Jaelene Hinkle, have been recently called into the upcoming USWNT training camp set to begin Friday.
The Courage will also assume the Flash’s picks in Thurday’s college draft. The Courage will have the second, seventh and 18th overall picks.
The move is immediate, according to the NWSL office, and all season ticket money collected by the Western New York Flash will be refunded.
”We truly appreciate all the Sahlen family has done to foster the growth of the women’s game in their area and will continue to do in the future,” said NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush. “To all the fans, we want to thank you for your support of the Flash and continued support of the league. The Flash will always play an important role in the history of NWSL, and for that we are grateful to everyone in Western New York who were part of it.”
Attendance and the ability to support a professional women’s soccer club became an issue in the Rochester area, despite the rich history of the area in both men’s and women’s soccer. The North Carolina management team said many times during a press conference this morning they expect to tap in to the Triangle area of North Carolina to attract a solid following.
North Carolina has always been a leader in women’s soccer. It has produced several legends including Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Heather O’Reilly, and Carla Overbeck, and UNC women’s coaching legend Anson Dorrance. The state was the home of WUSA’s 2002 Founders Cup Champion Carolina Courage for three seasons before the league folded the following year.
North Carolina is also home to the most dominant college soccer program in history, the 22-time NCAA National Champion UNC Tar Heels. Four teams from the state participated in the 2016 Women’s College Cup including UNC-Charlotte, NC State (Third Round), Duke (Quarterfinals), and UNC-Chapel Hill (Semifinals).
Western New York Flash owner Joseph Sahlen released the following statement this morning:
“Unfortunately, it has become apparent that the Western New York market is not the right fit for the NWSL and the future direction of the league. We know that the North Carolina market will provide what the players deserve and we are excited to see the team continue to compete at the highest level. The NWSL has been an incredible platform for the top women’s soccer players to perform in and we are proud to have been a founding member. We wish the NWSL and our other fellow ownership groups – as well as US Soccer – the best of luck and would like to thank them for the past four years.”