Andrea Yoch didn't use her time staying home during the pandemic as a long vacation. She used it to plan how to bring women's soccer to the Twin Cities.
At Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium on Sunday, Yoch was announced as president of a to-be-named Minnesota club that will compete in the new USL W League beginning in May 2022. The pre-professional league became official Tuesday, with eight founding teams across the country. As a pre-professional league, all of the USL W League's players will be amateurs, including college players looking for opportunities to develop.
Six of the eight teams have USL men's counterparts. Minnesota's team will stand as an independent, community-owned club.
“This is unlike any ownership group you've ever seen. We are designers. We are freelancers. We are attorneys. We own a bar. We work for the city. … But what we all have in common is that we love soccer.”
Yoch said the club plans to open community ownership sometime this fall. Community owners will have a say in the team's name and branding, which will be determined in the next year.
"We are really serious about the community being a part of this journey with us," she said. "We want to actually do the things that we've all wanted to see happen. We want to use BIPOC vendors. We want to use female-owned businesses. We want to cast a wide net and not do the same things that have been done over and over again, to truly do something fresh."
Sunday's event served as an introduction between club and community. Fans snacked on food from women-owned businesses Flavors of Peru, Honey & Mackie's and Sweet Troo Vi, which is co-owned by former Lynx star and current assistant coach Rebekkah Brunson. Brunson served as the event's emcee.
The club is women-led, something Yoch said is unique in the Twin Cities market. Ramsey County budget director Susan Earle, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities director of evaluation Andréa Carroll-Franck and KPMG forensic services manager Elisa Vicuña join Yoch on the team's executive board.
"This is unlike any ownership group you've ever seen," Yoch said in her opening remarks to the gathered fans. "We are designers. We are freelancers. We are attorneys. We own a bar. We work for the city. … But what we all have in common is that we love soccer."
That group met last summer to come up with a way to start a team. With her experience as former vice president of business development for Minnesota United and leading events for organizations in the area, and having seen the growing popularity of the U.S. women's national team, Yoch believed Minnesota would embrace a women's team of its own.
One of the team's goals is to eliminate barriers to entry for amateur players. Yoch said the team will waive registration fees and provide housing to its athletes.
League play won't begin for a year, but Yoch and her team will be busy. In addition to launching community ownership and developing a brand, next steps include hiring a coach, which Yoch expects to do in the next six months, finding a venue and partnering with sponsors.
For co-founder Carroll-Franck, the club is all about community. She said she hopes people on the margins of the Twin Cities' larger community, especially local immigrants and refugees, will find a soccer home with the club.
"I think we have a huge untapped market of people who live and breathe soccer," she said. "And not all of those people, I think, feel embraced in other soccer spaces. I think we have a huge opportunity to truly engage the community to come out to a different soccer experience."