Women’s Professional Soccer completed its third season last summer on the heels of the Women’s World Cup. Most of the players on the United States team, which lost to Japan in the riveting tournament final, also played in W.P.S. They returned from Germany to acclaim and the league experienced a modest bump in attendance as the Western New York Flash, based in Rochester, won the championship.
The six-team league was reduced to five when league officials terminated the magicJack franchise in South Florida. The team’s owner, Dan Borislow, who invented the device of the same name to make inexpensive telephone calls, subsequently filed a lawsuit suit against W.P.S.
According to US Soccer’s bylaws, all professional leagues are required to have a minimum of eight teams. With only six (all in the eastern part of the country) in 2011, W.P.S. requested and was granted a one-year waiver by the federation’s board of directors. Now with only five teams a certainty for the 2012 season, W.P.S. requested an extension of the waver to take it through a season that will include the London Olympics in the hope of attracting new investors before 2013.
“Our primary goal is to retain our D1 status,” Jennifer O’Sullivan, the league’s commissioner, said Thursday in a telephone interview. “We just came off a phenomenal season in 2011 and it feels like this is our time. We want to grab that and run with it.”
We are determined to provide the platform for the development of the next generation of national team players. There’s too much here to walk away from. But for an additional team, we are in a time crunch and we don’t want to rush into anything.”
Last Sunday, the federation gave the league 15 days to secure a sixth team (there have been reports that a club in Connecticut might join the league) before it makes a decision whether to extend the waiver. Neil Buethe, a spokesman, said the federation would have no further comment until the matter is resolved.
“We have a group of dedicated owners who want to make sure the league survives in an incredibly challenging economic environment and we need help in building the sport,” said Jack Cummings, one of the league’s founders. “There was a great passionate response from the American public as a result of the World Cup. We have another event next summer with the Olympics. US Soccer is either being bureaucratically pedantic saying we need at least six teams or it’s pushing the league into the grave.”
W.P.S. is the second attempt to sustain a D1 professional league for women. The Women’s United Soccer Association got its start after the successful 1999 Women’s World Cup in the United States and lasted for three seasons before folding in 2003. After several delays, W.P.S. was finally launched in the spring of 2009, less than a year after the United States women won the Olympic gold medal at the Beijing Games.
“It’s partly because of the W.U.S.A. and now W.P.S. that we won gold in 2008 and silver at the World Cup,” said Jennifer Hitchon, the executive director of the union that represents the league’s players. +She added, “The league is fragile and fraught with problems, but it’s ours and the federation will be hard-pressed to effectively shut down the last best chance for a women’s pro soccer league in this country.”
If its waiver extension is rejected and the federation strips it of D1 status, the league could continue, but national team players, from the United States and elsewhere would not jeopardize their international eligibility by playing in what would in essence be an outlaw league. It would probably be more realistic for W.P.S. to go with five teams in a Division 2 league, but that might be less attractive to the players in the United States Olympic pool and from overseas. W.P.S. could bide its time and try to regain its top-flight status for the 2013 season with additional teams and investors.
But, as O’Sullivan said, retaining top-flight status is the first option.
Hitchon is concerned that US Soccer would prevail upon national team players not to play in a Division 2 league and instead to be part of a residency camp leading up to the Olympics (should the American team qualify at a tournament in Vancouver, British Columbia, in January) that would probably be held at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., making it difficult for the players to shuttle back and forth to their East Coast teams.
If the league folds, Cummings believes it could be the death knell for top-flight women’s pro soccer in the United States, even as interest from a new batch of owners has increased after last summer’s World Cup.
He said that investors in Los Angeles are interested in relaunching the Sol and that several clubs that also field teams in Major League Soccer, the men’s league, are keen to launch W.P.S. teams in the Pacific Northwest. In addition, ESPN has plans to launch a sports channel aimed a women that could be a natural home for W.P.S. games, which have in the past been carried by Fox Soccer, on Sunday evenings last season.
“If we don’t get the waiver the damage will be irreparable,” Cummings said. “The ripples will be felt around the world and it will be a setback for women’s soccer worldwide.”
It's a disgrace tbqh. For all the effort US Soccer puts into making the country seem like a real competitor in international soccer, they basically ignore their female teams,
There's a petition on Change.org created by NY Flash defender Alex Sahlen gathering signatures to help save the league's D1 status, you can sign it here.
Also, mods, how is there not a 'Sepp Blatter' tag already? For shame.