Stadium: Villanova Stadium
Founders Cup Championships: None
The Philadelphia Charge were a three-year entry in the Women’s United Soccer Association (2001-2003), the first pros soccer league for women in the United States.
The big impact players on the Charge were the team’s foreign stars – striker Marinette Pichon of France and midfielder/forward Kelly Smith of England. Pichon won the WUSA’s Most Valuable Player award in 2002. Smith, though limited by injuries during her Charge days, is widely considered one of the greatest offensive forces in the history of the women’s game.
But the big drawing cards of the WUSA were the American stars. The league was formed by a consortium of cable companies and executives who were intoxicated by the attendance and TV ratings of the 1999 Women’s World Cup, won by the USA women. Comcast backed the Charge franchise. Each of the eight WUSA franchises was “allocated” three of the U.S. National Team members in late 2000. The allocations were conducted via a matching process that took into account both team and player desires. The big name American stars (Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain, et al.) expressed no willingness to play in Philly. As a result, the Charge received the least impressive allocation of U.S. National Team players among the WUSA’s eight clubs: Mandy Clemens, Lorrie Fair and Saskia Webber.
The breakout American star turned out to be a college draft pick: defender Heather Mitts from the University of Florida. Mitts was a stalwart for the Charge during the three-year run of the WUSA, appearing in 51 of the team’s 63 matches and earning all-league honors as a defender in 2003. Off the field, Mitts appeared on the cover of Philadelphia Magazine as one of the city’s sexiest singles and dated Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Pat Burrell and later Eagles quarterback A.J. Feeley (whom she married in 2010). Mitts went on to play 137 games with the U.S. National Team, earning an Olympic gold medal with the team in 2008.
During the WUSA’s final season, the Charge drafted goalkeeper Hope Solo out of the University of Washington. Solo would eventually become the greatest American goalkeeper of all-time and a World Cup and Olympic champion. But as a rookie with the Charge in 2003, she spent most of the season on the bench backing up Melissa Moore.
Solo would never get a chance to establish herself as one of the rising young stars of the league. Late in the 2003 season, rumors emerged that Comcast was through backing the Charge, throwing the team’s future in Philly into question. In fact, Comcast’s desire to get out was a symptom of a broader loss of investor confidence in the WUSA. On September 15th, 2003 the league folded after three seasons of play, taking the Charge down along with it.