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NWSL makes it official: Boston Breakers to cease operations

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Thanks for the days of agonized waiting, guys.

Lifetime National Women's Soccer League Press Conference Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Lifetime

The National Women’s Soccer League announced today that the Boston Breakers will officially “cease operations, effective immediately.” The league will go forward with nine teams playing a 24-game schedule, so that each team plays three games against every other team in the league.

“In the best interest for the long-term viability of the NWSL, we will operate with nine clubs in 2018 to ensure a stronger league where all parties involved are aligned and committed to the core mission of continued growth and development as we move into our sixth season,” said NWSL managing director Amanda Duffy via league press release.

“We do not doubt the fan support or interest in women’s soccer in Boston or New England, and the measure taken by the Breakers organization does not reflect the passion we have seen from our fans,” said Duffy.

Reports of Boston folding came out several days ago after team staff and the NWSL Players Association were notified. In the aftermath, there were rumors of a last-minute group attempting to pull together to purchase the team. Alas.

So there will be no hail Mary pass, no deus ex machina, no miracle in Boston. The Boston Breakers, a women’s soccer team with a rich history and ties to innumerable players in every corner of the soccer landscape, will fold.

What now?

All Breakers fans who put down deposits for 2018 season tickets will receive a full refund.

As for the players, they will go into a dispersal draft, to be conducted on Tuesday, January 30 at 4 PM ET. This includes players selected in the 2018 college draft. Draft order will be determined on January 29 and players will be allowed to opt out of the draft if they want to pursue other avenues. Teams may pass on selecting any players in the draft.

Draft order will be determined with a weighted draw on Monday. Playoff teams will get one envelope each in the draw, while non-playoff teams will have their name put in twice. When the draw order has been determined, selection will proceed in a snake method (i.e. 1-10 will pick, then 10-1). Teams can then trade their picks until 1 PM ET on Tuesday.

Although team roster sizes will remain maxed at 20, there are some ameliorating measures from the league. First, players under contract and draft picks will not count against the roster limit or the salary cap for 2018, and each team may add up to four players from the draft. If a team requires an international spot for a contracted or drafted player, they will receive the spot. Housing and auto expenses will not count against the Permitted Team Assistance Cap.

These measures do not apply to players on the discovery list or retired players to whom Boston still holds the rights.

This may create an interesting situation where some teams effectively have expanded rosters while others are still operating with the league-standard 20; we’ll see how this plays out over the course of the season in terms of teams having an advantage in things like player rotation and managing fatigue. Even though a player won’t count against the salary cap, they still must be paid, and so you can imagine some teams with less money available might not be able to take advantage of these ameliorating roster rules, and even though a team may add up to four players, probably no team will be able to actually do so. In any case, it’s hard to begrudge a team a 21-player roster versus 20 given how hard done by the Breakers roster has been through this whole mess.

We’ll also see how much room there actually is for dispersed players since teams have already spent most of the offseason planning their rosters, followed by a college draft to fill some of their needs. Where is a player like Abby Smith going to land? She is undoubtedly a starting goalkeeper, but teams have already made plans for their #1’s.

And there are other questions, like why Boston was allowed to go through the draft despite the league likely knowing by that time that the deal had fallen through, or how Boston ended up in such an untenable position in the first place when the league and other owners were already aware they were struggling financially to the point where they were allowed to slide on payments in order to limp from year to year.

It’s hard making your way through this world as a female soccer player trying to make a living off the pro game, and it deeply, deeply sucks that it’s now that much harder.