Finally, some good news to report on women’s professional soccer in this country. After the WPS folded and players scattered across the country, many to the Seattle Sounders of the W league, it was unclear if there would be any attempt to resurrect a national women’s professional league. Last week, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) announced that it is going to help form a new, eight team league that will start playing in 2013.
The league will play a 22-game schedule from March/April through September/October. Each team will play all of the other teams three times with a bonus game against its regional rival. Four of the teams — Boston, New Jersey, Western New York, and Chicago — have ties to the former WPS and the other four teams will be located in Portland, Seattle, Washington D.C., and Kansas City, Missouri. The Seattle Team will, oddly enough, not have ties to the Seattle Sounders which has been a pretty successful franchise this season and the landing spot for several of the USWNT stars.
So, why should we hold out any hope that this league will be any different from the WUSA or the WPS which both folded after three measly years each? In the immortal words sung by Cyndi Lauper, money changes everything. In the case of both failed leagues there wasn’t enough money coming in at the gate to cover the out of control overhead both for each team and at the league offices. Also it was hard for teams to cover the cost of fielding a team of international stars. The likes of Abby, Hope, Pinoe, and Sinclair don’t come for free. The USSF has a plan to fix that problem.
The USSF and the soccer federations of Canada and Mexico are contributing to this new league in several ways. Each federation will cover the cost of a certain number of its own players to play in the league (the US will cover 24 players, Canada 16, and Mexico 12-16). The USSF will also house the league’s central office which will cut down on overhead even more. Finally, the teams will play in smaller stadiums, will have bare bones staffs, and will spend less money on marketing. The hope is that if the three federations cover the costs of finding places for their own players to compete the teams will have a smaller overhead cost, less risk of losing crap tons of money, and more flexibility.
There are a few downsides to this deal. One, the teams may pay low enough wages for non-star players that the players will be forced to work day jobs to make ends meet. Two, having the league involved in such a major way could produce some true conflicts. If Wambach’s coach on whatever team gets her tells her to do one thing and the USWNT tells her something else, who do you think she’s going to listen to, her coach or the USWNT who is now also playing her salary? Three, having some semi-pro-ish players on the team may result in a lower quality of play. This may not be a problem but it’s out there that the league may fill with cheap but not super players and the product will suffer.
All those negatives aside, the fact that the Portland team is partnering in some way with the MLS team (which is hugely successful) is a step in the right direction and the set-up seems to be focused on dealing with the major money problems that plagued both of the previous incarnations. I am hopeful, as always, that this time the league will grow, slowly and sustainably into a viable, stable league we can all enjoy. The interest in women’s soccer is there, as we all saw during the World Cup and the Olympics, they just have to find a way to make that interest translate into butts in the seats and enough money to keep the league afloat.
Do you think this is a formula for success for women’s soccer in this country? What players would you like the USSF to place on your local team? Will you support the league?