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Little Rock team eyed for new women's soccer league

by Mitchell Gladstone | June 9, 2021 at 2:36 a.m.

The women's soccer world in the country got a little bit larger Tuesday thanks to the return of the United Soccer League's W League.

And while the Little Rock Rangers aren't yet in the picture, it may not be long until they dip their toes back into the women's game.

The W League, which is set to begin play in March, was launched with eight founding clubs -- six of which have franchises currently affiliated with the USL. In its news release, the league said it anticipates "at least 30 clubs will be part of the W League's inaugural season," and Rangers President Jonathan Wardlaw hopes his team will soon join the mix.

"When we first started, we created a women's team [in a different league] and we just couldn't get traction," Wardlaw said, referring to the Rangers' 2017 and 2018 seasons in the Women's Premier Soccer League. "I just wanted to create a truly equal product to what we gave our fans with our men.

"Bringing a women's team back makes more sense now because it creates that pathway for these players that once these younger girls who are playing for us are playing in college and they want to come back and play in the summer, they can regroup and reunite with the girls they played with growing up."

The introduction of the W League comes as women's soccer continues to expand. The National Women's Soccer League -- currently the top league in the country -- is on the verge of adding two more franchises, one in Los Angeles and another in San Diego.

The UEFA Women's Champions League, Europe's premier competition, will feature a 16-team group stage for the first time next year.

The W League, which includes five East Coast-based teams among its founding eight, is looking to stretch nationwide, and Wardlaw believes the Rangers will eventually be a part of the competition -- even if they don't play in 2022.

"For 2022 to happen, a lot of things would have to perfectly fall into place," Wardlaw said. "But that's how this thing started with me to begin with, so I'm not saying that's not at all going to happen."

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