Dec. 17—If you're hoping for a Philadelphia expansion team in the National Women's Soccer League, you're going to have to wait a while longer.

The NWSL has narrowed candidates for its 14th team to Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Tampa, Fla., a source with knowledge of the matter confirmed Friday after Sportico broke the news.

One of those three markets will join an expected return of the NWSL to the Salt Lake City area, where Major League Soccer's Real Salt Lake holds the right to revive the Utah Royals for a preset price of around $2 million. RSL's ownership group includes 76ers co-managing partner David Blitzer.

Sportico reported that the "highest initial bid" of an expansion fee from the other three teams is "well over $40 million."

In July, Union president Tim McDermott told The Inquirer that buying a NWSL expansion team was "certainly on our radar, and been on our radar for the past few years."

He said the team was "having conversations with folks at the NWSL league office [and] trying to get an assessment of the overall market interest."

Why Philly doesn't have a major pro women's sports team, and how that could change

The Union hosted a Gotham FC game at Subaru Park in each of the last two seasons. In 2021, an October game against Washington that served as a tribute to Delran's Carli Lloyd drew 9,532 fans.

This year, a Gotham-Orlando matchup in August drew 4,107 fans. It was moved here because Gotham's usual home, Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., was unavailable.

The league's process

In October, NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman said the league had heard from "82 interested groups" and planned to pick five to 10 finalists after an early November deadline.

All three that made the cut have significant institutional money behind them. The Bay Area bid has the biggest names: former U.S. national team stars Brandi Chastain, Aly Wagner, Leslie Osborne, and Danielle Slaton. There's also financial backing from private equity giant Sixth Street, which has existing investments in the NBA's San Antonio Spurs and Spanish soccer teams Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Slaton also is on the U.S. Soccer Federation's board of directors and chairs the governing body's committee that's working on implementing recommendations from the Yates Report on abuse in women's soccer.

Wagner does a lot of television work, including as a lead analyst for CBS' NWSL broadcasts and Fox's women's World Cup coverage.

Though it's not clear who has the biggest money in Boston's bid, the biggest name in it is Linda Henry, co-owner with her husband John Henry of the Boston Red Sox and the English Premier League's Liverpool. Linda Henry is also CEO of the company that owns the Boston Globe, with John as publisher.

Tampa's bid is led by Stuart Sternberg, owner of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Sportico's report offered no hints of where the teams would play, though in two cases the candidates are obvious. The Bay Area has PayPal Park, home of MLS' San Jose Earthquakes; and Tampa has Al Lang Stadium, home of the second-tier USL Championship's Tampa Bay Rowdies. The latter was a famous baseball spring training stadium for decades and became a soccer-specific venue in 2015.

It's not clear where a Boston team would play. The Boston Breakers played at Boston University's Nickerson Field and Harvard's football and soccer stadiums, but none of them were ideal — especially Harvard's soccer stadium, which held a mere 4,100 fans.

But the Breakers played 12 seasons across the three pro leagues that have existed in modern times, dating back to the Women's United Soccer Association in 2001. The Breakers name is the only one that existed in all three leagues: the WUSA (2001-03), Women's Professional Soccer (2009-11), and the NWSL (2013-18).

The Bay Area also had pro teams in the WUSA (the San Jose CyberRays) and WPS (FC Gold Pride). Each won a championship, the CyberRays in 2001 (the WUSA's first year) and FC Gold Pride 2010 (WPS's second). Chastain played for the former; Wagner, Shannon Boxx, Marta, Formiga, and Christine Sinclair played for the latter. FC Gold Pride folded after its title win.

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(c)2022 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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