Women’s soccer finds new turf with premier league

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Rochester NY Football Club is taking a step toward expanding women’s sports with an alliance with the Women’s Premier Soccer League. RNY FC will compete in the 2023 season.

RNY FC began as the Rochester Raging Rhinos in 1996, a team that won the U.S. Open Cup in 1999. When it aligned with Rochester’s MLS NEXT Pro team last year, it took on its current identity. The sports organization last week said RNY FC would not participate in the 2023 MLS NEXT Proseason. 

“This decision involved a great deal of input from many stakeholders including MLS NEXT Pro and was not one we arrived at lightly,” its statement said. “Our full intention for 2023 was to reward RNYFC supporters with another exciting season of professional soccer in Rochester.  Our fans turned out in great numbers in 2022, cheered loudly, and were as impassioned as the players themselves.”

RNY FC positions itself as an elite training ground for soccer in Western New York. Expanding the women’s game became a clear goal for Jen Hoock, executive director. She hopes to create opportunities for female athletes to compete at a high level.

Hoock recalls the excitement when she told a group of 70 young girls at an RNY FC Youth summer camp about the team.

“That energy and that spirit behind it just solidified how important this was, providing kids with role models, and helping to move this along for young women and gain more momentum in the sport,” she says. “Also, giving a platform to just play and have fun first and foremost, as well as being role models.”

The team will have Division 1 collegiate athletes and will begin competing in June. Its first home games are slated for June 3 and June 4. The squad will compete at a stadium located at the club’s training facilities in Henrietta, the Empire United Soccer Complex.

WPSL has been the starting point for many successful professional women soccer players, which made it an attractive option for RNY FC. Hoock played an instrumental role in establishing the partnership, taking time to consider what the team was going to look like and how it could be structured in the best way possible to benefit the athletes and the greater sports community.

For example, Hoock was certain that she wanted an all-female coaching staff.

“As we looked through a lot of the different teams in the league, we realized there wasn’t an overwhelming presence of female staff, so that was important for us to have that. We think it’s time for that,” Hoock says.

For its inaugural WPSL season, RNY FC has named Katrin Kaarna as its head coach. Kaarna, a youth coach and director at RNY FC, has coached the Estonian Women’s National Team. Monica Cooke will serve as an assistant coach, and RNY FC is looking to round out the staff with a female goalkeeper coach and trainer.

Bringing the community together and giving back is another huge motivator for RNY FC. It currently fields teams within the Girls Academy, MLS Next Boys Academy, and a Premier program that serves youth players in Western New York.

“We are hoping to generate as much community involvement and excitement as possible, but even on a small scale just getting these little kids in and having them see how powerful women can be, in multiple levels, like with our staffing and as players, and even my role as executive director, will all come together to show them just how much of a presence they can have in our sport,” Hoock says.

Rochester has a long association with soccer, including the Rochester Rhinos, and Abby Wambach’s rise to fame on the global scene. Wambach grew up playing youth soccer in Rochester.

And now, the new RNYFC WPSL team has the power to add yet another chapter in that history. For the WPSL, it is the third expansion in the upper East Coast region.

Olivia Penegor is a student at the University of Rochester. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

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