On April 13, a game between two franchises in the newly formed National Women’s Soccer League—the Portland Thorns and FC Kansas City—will kick off at the Shawnee Mission District Stadium in Overland Park, Kansas. With a field ringed by a rubber track and bleachers that accommodate a modest capacity of 5,500, the venue is a far cry from London’s Wembley Stadium, where a record-breaking 80,000 fans crammed last summer to watch the U.S. women’s soccer team win Olympic gold. Still, a generic high school football stadium is a promising sign for this infant league.
The occasion marks the third attempt at building a women’s professional soccer league in the U.S. since 1999. The first league, the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA), was introduced in 2000 after the Women’s World Cup at which Brandi Chastain famously fell to her knees and flashed her black sports bra. The sport was riding its first big wave of popularity. Comprising eight teams, WUSA was forced to call it quits three years later, amid dwindling TV ratings and with only two major investors still aboard—Hyundai and Johnson & Johnson—just five days before the 2003 Women’s World Cup was hosted by the U.S.