April 12, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - When the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) makes its debut this weekend, Notre Dame will be front and center when it comes to filling out the rosters of America's newest top-level women's pro soccer league.
Each of the NWSL's eight franchises finalized their opening day rosters earlier this week, and when the dust settled, no less than six Fighting Irish alumnae had earned a place with their respective teams. Among all college programs, Notre Dame ranks as one of the nation's leaders, with North Carolina (13), Stanford (9), Florida (8) and Portland/UCLA/Virginia (7) the only schools to produce more former players on NWSL rosters (each squad is allowed to keep 18 players on its active roster).
Leading the way is three-time Olympic gold medalist and longtime U.S. Women's National Team midfielder Shannon Boxx ('99), who will suit up not far from the Notre Dame campus for the Chicago Red Stars after being assigned to the Windy City club as part of the league's allocation of U.S., Canadian and Mexican national team players.
One of the world's top holding midfielders, Boxx also played in the first two American women's professional soccer league (the Women's United Soccer Association and Women's Professional Soccer), earning all-league honors three times (2001 and 2003 in the WUSA, 2009 in WPS) and helping FC Gold Pride to the 2010 WPS title.
Joining Boxx on the Red Stars' roster is defender/forward Lauren Fowlkes ('11), who was a captain on Notre Dame's 2010 NCAA national championship team. Fowlkes was part of the final WPS season in 2011, having been drafted by the Philadelphia Independence before the league folded following that campaign. She then spent the 2012 season with the Red Stars, playing in the Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL) Elite League, helping the franchise reach the title match before falling on the road to the Western New York Flash.
Fowlkes proved to be a valuable asset for the Red Stars during the recently-completed exhibition season, netting a pair of goals in Chicago's 4-1 win at Notre Dame on April 3, then adding another goal in the team's exhibition finale, a 5-0 win over Illinois State on April 7.
The other NWSL team that will feature multiple Notre Dame alums when this season kicks off will be FC Kansas City. Former Fighting Irish All-America midfielder Jen Buczkowski ('07) reached two WPS title matches during her three-year tenure in that league, helping Sky Blue FC to the inaugural league championship in 2009 and leading the Philadelphia Independence to the WPS final as an expansion franchise in 2010. Last year, she spent time with the Chicago Red Stars, teaming with Fowlkes to help that squad reach the WPSL Elite League final.
Buczkowski is joined in Kansas City by former Notre Dame All-America forward and 2010 Honda Sports Award recipient/Hermann Trophy runner-up Melissa Henderson ('12). The high-scoring striker, who ranks among the top 10 in eight career categories at Notre Dame and is one of only five Fighting Irish players with at least 70 career goals, was initially selected by Sky Blue FC with the second overall pick in the first round of the final WPS Draft in January 2012. However, with the demise of the league shortly thereafter, Henderson moved on to play with the Boston Breakers in the WPSL Elite League before taking on her current assignment in Kansas City.
Speaking of Sky Blue FC, the New Jersey-based franchise will maintain its connection with Notre Dame, as former Fighting Irish All-America midfielder Brittany Bock ('09) joins the squad. The bruising and versatile Bock, who also has seen time at defender and forward in her career, was chosen in the first round (fifth overall pick) by the Los Angeles Sol in the inaugural WPS Draft in 2009, helping her team to the regular season title and spot in the first WPS championship match.
After the Los Angeles franchise folded, Bock moved on to the Washington Freedom via the 2010 WPS Dispersal Draft, but injuries hampered her progress. A year later, she signed with the Western New York Flash, winning a WPS title in the league's final season. Last year, she played with the Colorado Rush of the United Soccer League (USL)'s W-League, scoring four goals in 12 matches.
Another versatile former Notre Dame All-American, defender Candace Chapman ('05), rounds out the Fighting Irish contingent on NWSL rosters, having signed on with the Washington Spirit. Chapman was part of two WPS championship teams during that league's three-year run, hoisting the hardware with FC Gold Pride in 2010 and the Western New York Flash in 2011. The Canadian National Team veteran also helped her country earn a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics (the country's first Olympic medal in a traditional team sport in 76 years).
The inaugural NWSL season gets underway at 8:35 p.m. ET (7:35 p.m. CT) Saturday, when Buczkowski and Henderson lead FC Kansas City in a home match against Portland Thorns FC at Shawnee Mission District Stadium in Overland Park, Kan.
The next day, the remaining six teams will kick off their seasons -- Seattle Reign FC at Chicago Red Stars (6 p.m. ET/5 p.m. CT at Benedictine University Sports Complex in Lisle, Ill.), Western New York Flash at Sky Blue FC (6 p.m. ET at Yurcak Field in Piscataway, N.J.) and Washington Spirit at Boston Breakers (6:30 p.m. ET at Dilboy Stadium in Somerville, Mass.).
Several of the league's teams will offer live streaming of their home matches this season, with full broadcast coverage still to be determined. For more information, including links to individual franchise web sites, complete schedules and ticket availability, visit the official NWSL web site at www.nwslsoccer.com.
or more information on the Fighting Irish women's soccer program, follow Notre Dame on Twitter (@NDsoccer or @NDsoccernews), like the Fighting Irish on Facebook (facebook.com/NDWomenSoccer) or sign up for the Irish ALERT text-messaging system through the "Fan Center" pulldown menu on the main page at UND.com.