By Zach Baru
For Western Mass. soccer fans, you may not realize it, but these days are some of the best we have ever had. It may sometimes feel differently, with the two soccer clubs playing non-professionally, but this region is very fortunate to have two class organizations in its own backyard.
The New England Mutiny currently competes in a league that shares the title of the most competitive women's soccer league in the country. The Mutiny are members of the newly formed Women's Premier Soccer League Elite, which along with the USL W-League is the highest form of women's soccer in the U.S.
Although the Mutiny have never been professional, they are seasoned. They have now been playing since 1999, when they were the Springfield Sirens of the W-League. They joined the WPSL in 2002, and now play their home games at East Longmeadow High School and Northampton High School. While the two towns are certainly not a far trip, this is a good approach to giving the two communities a chance to see soccer locally, similar to what the Springfield Slamm use to do when they played at Springfield College and different high schools.
One thing that cannot be criticized by fans is their competition. WPSL Elite includes three former franchises from the currently suspended Women's Professional Soccer (WPS), including the Boston Breakers. The reality is that some of the best soccer in the country is being played right here in the Pioneer Valley.
The Western Mass. Pioneers may have switched from professional to amateur in 2010, but this allows them to compete more from both a competitive and economical perspective. They now compete in the United Soccer Leagues Premier Development League, a league with as much change as the length of its name. What this has done is create an even more stable franchise in the very special and intimate Lusitano Stadium, in Ludlow, Massachusetts.
The 3,000 seat stadium is a treat for any soccer fan to experience. Built in 1918, it is the only soccer-specific stadium in the area. Its location right in the middle of a residential neighborhood of Ludlow makes for a very interesting feel, and it provides the opportunity to more or less get as close as you want to the field. It is great to see competitive soccer like this so close to home.
The lack of professional soccer in Western Mass. is irrelevant. Soccer is perhaps better than it's ever been in this region, and in time the attendances should show this. It has taken many years, and a decent amount of changes, to get to this point where two well run organizations combine great amateur and youth development. We are very lucky to have soccer in Western Mass. as competitive as it has become today.
Zach Baru also blogs for Sports Business Boston. He can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.