Gone in a Flash: NWSL Champions Move to Cary

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In a move that surprised many followers of the NWSL, North Carolina FC of the North American Soccer League announced on January 9th that they have purchased the Western New York Flash from the Sahlen family and will move the team from Rochester, NY to Cary, NC for the 2017 season. The Flash will be re-branded into the North Carolina Courage (a nod to the Carolina Courage of the Women’s United Soccer Association that operated from 2001-2003) and will play their home games at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary.

Now that the announcement of the move is official, here are some thoughts and questions about the move:

  • Will Paul Riley join the team in North Carolina? After the Flash limped to consecutive 7th place finishes in 2014 and 2015, Paul Riley replaced Aaran Lines as the WNY head coach in 2016 and led the team to a surprising championship. With the franchise moving away from NY, Riley may not want to move away from his home state again. The NC ownership was noncommittal in the press conference about retaining Riley’s services, only mentioning that he was a candidate for the job.
  • Will players opt out? North Carolina has been at the center of discussion in the past year over a very controversial piece of legislation – HB2, or the Bathroom Bill – that has seen the NCAA relocate events away from the state, including the most recent College Cup. We may see some roster movement from the newest franchise if players decide they don’t want to play in North Carolina.
  • Will professional women’s soccer ever return to Rochester? While the Flash were a very successful team on the field, winning 4 championships in their 8 years of existence, the team was never able to draw the large crowds that other markets have been able to attract. The dual-city model used by the Flash, along with limited at best marketing in Rochester, was most likely the biggest reason for the lack of attendance. The organization just did not have the ability, or the willingness to work to bring in the fan numbers needed for a successful franchise. And with no buyer willing to keep the Flash in Rochester, it could be a very long time before a professional team returns to upstate NY, if ever.
  • Good move by the NWSL? The league has been criticized for having franchises in markets that do not draw crowds, and North Carolina is a state that has shown tremendous support for their college teams. While it should be noted that the Carolina Courage ranked near the bottom of WUSA in attendance, their average attendance was significantly higher than what the Flash were able to draw in Rochester. If the NC Courage can match, or even surpass, the 5000+ average of the Carolina Courage, this move will be seen as a successful one.

For the sake of the league, and the players, I hope that this move proves successful. But time will tell if the ownership can make it work.