Wisconsin will soon join the ranks of elite women's soccer, with the state's first professional team set to kickoff in 2025.
Forward Madison FC announced it had secured rights to the USL Super League team Tuesday — with plans to play at Breese Stevens Field in Madison.
The nearly 100-year-old stadium is already home to a Division III USL League One men's soccer team, which had its inaugural season in 2019.
Vern Stenman is the president of Big Top Sports & Entertainment which manages Forward Madison FC and the Madison Mallards. At a Tuesday press conference, he said plans to bring women's soccer to Madison have been in the works for years.
"We think the potential of this league and of this community and of this state is significant, and something that we can really build an interesting national and internationally-known story right here at Breese Stevens Field," he said.
But making the stadium home to a top-tier team will take significant improvements to the facility. A major renovation would be required to add women's locker rooms, additional seating for fans and new turf. The team would also need access to a year-round training facility with a full indoor soccer field — something Dane County doesn't currently have. Estimates on the cost of upgrades were not yet available.
Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said the city is committed to making the team a reality.
"We've been talking for some years now about this prospect and what it would take to get the stadium to the level that it needs to be," she said Tuesday. "And I think we definitely have a path forward."
Rhodes-Conway, a self-professed women's soccer fan since college, said the team will give people the chance to witness some of the best women's soccer players in the country — and world — in Madison.
"It's an opportunity for young women all across the state of Wisconsin, to not only see themselves playing sports, but to see themselves playing professional sports," she added. "That I think is perhaps the most important thing here, that young women are going to feel like they have an opportunity in the sports world."
The promise of women's soccer comes just weeks after Madison was chosen as the home for a professional women's volleyball team.
"It feels like women's sports are having a moment in Madison, and I'm absolutely here for it," Rhodes-Conway said.
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The USL Super League announced the first set of 10 to 12 teams for its 2024 inaugural season on Tuesday. Madison's team will be included in plans to expand the league by at least five teams in 2025.
The league will follow a fall-to-summer schedule — common in international programs — in an attempt to set it apart from the men's calendar. For Madison, that means home games would start in August and run until mid-November. The season would start again in late February, but games wouldn't be played in Wisconsin before March 15.
Amanda Vandervort is president of the USL Super League. She said the new league was created in hopes to expand opportunities in women’s soccer.
"The USL Super League aspires to be a global leader in women’s football, and we look forward to working together with all stakeholders to help shape the future of the game for women and girls in our country, across the region, and around the world," she said in a statement.