Until today, the highest – and only – level of nationally competitive soccer for women in Wisconsin was intercollegiate athletics. The best local girls might travel with elite youth clubs or play on area college teams, but unless they made it to the professional National Women's Soccer League (Mary Luba, Cara Walls) or the senior U.S. squad (Sarah Hagen), that was the culmination of the experience in the sport. Then, it was pretty much just coed and women’s recreational teams for the state’s top soccer players.
On Thursday, the Milwaukee Torrent made news that will change that reality, announcing the addition of a sister team that will begin play in the Women’s Premier Soccer League in 2018.
The new team, also called the Torrent, will provide women the chance to continue playing soccer at a higher competitive level in Milwaukee, where no such option currently exists. Andreas Davi, the owner and head coach of the men’s club, said the aim is to "have a positive impact for all the female players," bringing new role models and soccer opportunities to the area.
"With the amount of girls and women we have playing in Wisconsin, we just need it here," Davi told OnMilwaukee on Thursday. "This is the next logical step."
Wisconsin is home to numerous pro and semipro teams – and there have previously been three short-lived WPSL squads, the MYSC Lady Blues (2008), FC Milwaukee Nationals (2010-12) and Madison 56ers (2010-14) – but presently "there is nothing on the women’s side like this for soccer," Davi said.
The Torrent would be at or near the top of the competitive ladder for women’s sports in the state, offering opportunities for talented area players from high school to college to post-college. And while the Torrent is joining the WPSL as an amateur squad, Davi said "absolutely, yes," he hopes to have a professional team and be able to pay players at some point in the future, just like on the men’s side.
Davi believes both of the teams will provide Milwaukee’s youth exposure to a better quality of soccer and give them more players to whom they can look up.
"It will be great for (women) to come to the games and see the regional and national competition we will play against," Davi said.
Mark Litton, the goalkeeper coach for the Torrent men, will coach the women's team.
The second-tier WPSL, below the NWSL and roughly on par with United Women's Soccer, includes more than 100 teams nationwide and is the largest women’s soccer league in the world. Its mission is to provide high-level women’s soccer in America and bring affordable, important family entertainment to its local communities.
According to a news release, the Torrent will join the WPSL’s Central Division next year – the Central does not currently exist; the Heartland Division contains the nearest regional clubs but could be reorganized – and league officials are excited to welcome the new team.
"With over a year to lay the groundwork, there’s no doubt that the organization will provide an entertaining, professional product both on the field and off for their fans," Division Coordinator Matt Homonoff said in a statement.
WPSL commissioner Jerry Zanelli added, "Andreas Davi proved in the past that his projects are all successful, and the Torrent will be a great asset to the Midwest and the league in general."
Wisconsin has four NCAA Division 1, one Division II and three Division III women’s collegiate soccer programs, plus many alumni and high schoolers around the state, which will provide the Torrent a large – and largely untapped – pool of talent. Davi speculated on the possibility of having two women’s teams, one being a reserve squad, and reiterated he wants the Torrent to be a "homegrown program."
In addition to the new competitive opportunity for all players, there is a mutual benefit for the college teams, many of which have utilized the WPSL in other cities as a way for their players to stay sharp and gain experience during the off-season.
The Torrent men’s club was founded in January 2015, and the team played its inaugural season in the semipro National Premier Soccer League in 2016, winning its conference, after spending a year methodically developing the organization, signing players and spreading the word. Davi said he was surprised there wasn't presently a team here – he estimated the total annual operating cost for the Torrent women would be about $40,000, including league fees, player registration, insurance, equipment, travel, food and coaches – and the owner indicated that he plans to roll out the women’s squad just like he did the men’s.
"When you do something like this, you do it the right way," Davi said. "To start a program, you need a lot of enthusiasm; but to run it, you need a lot of patience."
He added that the plan is to spend one year building and growing the team and fundraising for it – he believed he already had some sponsors on board – before beginning competition, which was the same path the men took.
Hart Park in Wauwatosa will be the home field for both sides. Davi anticipates them playing same-day doubleheaders there and intends to offer one season ticket for the two teams, in order to encourage fans to come out and see a high level of both men’s and women’s soccer in Milwaukee.
Davi said the Torrent women's team will make its first player announcements Thursday night.
For more information about the Torrent, or to buy tickets, click here.
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.