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updated: 1/28/2018 6:47 PM

NWSL's Boston Breakers fold in advance of the 2018 season

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The National Women's Soccer League announced Sunday that the Boston Breakers will cease operations in advance of the 2018 season.

Many players were told last week that the team was folding, but no official league announcement was made and rumors circulated over the weekend that an investor or group of investors might step forward to save the team. Boston Breakers managing partner Michael Stoller confirmed the last-minute scramble for a buyer.

"Discussions with an active buyer who had signed a letter of intent were ongoing since November of 2017. Unfortunately, due to certain factors that process was halted on short notice. Since that point a number of potential buyers were spoken with, but nothing could be completed within the short timeline," Stoller said in a statement.

Fans who bought tickets for the upcoming season will be given full refunds, the league said.

The NWSL now embarks on its sixth season with nine teams. FC Kansas City also folded following the 2017 season but its players went to a new team in Utah associated with the Major League Soccer team Real Salt Lake.

The league will hold a dispersal draft on Tuesday to move Breakers players to new teams. A weighted draw for the draft will be held on Monday. Players are allowed to opt out of the draft.

While roster size for the league's other clubs remains at a minimum of 18 and a maximum of 20, contracted Breakers players, including national team allocated players, and 2018 draft picks who are picked up by other teams won't be counted toward rosters or salary caps.

The Breakers have a long history dating back to the team's first incarnation with the Women's United Soccer Association in 2001. That league folded in 2003 but was followed by Women's Professional Soccer, which included the Breakers from 2009 until the league's demise in 2012.

The Breakers were one of the eight founding teams of the NWSL, which started play in 2013. Last season the team finished 4-13-7.

The NWSL was told at the end of 2017 that the team's owners would no longer support the team. The league looked at several other buyers, entering into exclusive negotiations with one. That deal fell through recently, NWSL managing director Amanda Duffy said.

While the league explored other options, a deal could not be finalized. However, Duffy left open the possibility that a team could return to the Boston area next season.

"It's a market that we believe in. It's a brand that has a great historical reputation in women's professional soccer," Duffy told The Associated Press. "With many of the groups we've spoken to over the last few months and over the last few days, we hope to continue those conversations to look at 2019 or beyond as expansion opportunities."

The league will continue to play a 24-match season, with each team facing an opponent three times.

Preseason camps can open on Feb. 19, with the first regular-season matches set for the weekend of March 24-25. The playoffs will take place on Sept. 14-16 and the title game will be played Sept. 22. The Portland Thorns are the league's defending champions.

Duffy emphasized that the overall health of the league remains strong, pointing to the commitment of the league's sponsors and partners, and the addition of the Utah Royals.

"They understand that in a young league, in the formative years, that sometimes it required this type of decision for the long-term success and stability in that league," she said.

The NWSL Players union issued a statement on social media saying: "Despite this setback, the future of NWSL is bright! We appreciate the league-wide efforts to provide the Breakers roster with opportunities. If you're looking for a way to support, buy season tix. If you don't live near a team, pick a franchise & donate the tix back to the club."

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