Los Angeles Soccer: Abner Rogers
This is an exciting time for the Women's Premier Soccer League, just not on this coast.
With Women's Professional Soccer officially dead, as of Friday morning, the 15-year-old semipro/amateur outfit is stepping into the void and embracing, in small steps, full professionalism. The WPSL Elite, an eight-team league that includes three former WPS teams (defending champion Western New York Flash, Boston Breakers and Chicago Red Stars), is the big focus for the league in 2012, with plans to form a division on the West Coast next year.
That leaves this year in a bit of flux, especially with reigning WPSL champ Orange County Waves dropping out after losing their money source. The Pacific-South Division is down to four teams, and they'll play a modest schedule -- six league games, a few crossovers against Northern California clubs, plus whatever friendlies they can scrounge up -- well out of the usual WPSL limelight, as it were.
“We have gone through a major upheaval, and a lot of our regions have shifted around,” league commissioner Jerry Zanelli, who also runs Sacramento-based powerhouse California Storm, told ESPN Los Angeles in an email. “We are having teams in the Pacific Division step out for a year to re-tool to enter the WPSL Western Elite Division next year.”
Only Rolling Hills' Ajax America, Los Alamitos-based L.A. Vikings and the San Diego SeaLions return to the Pacific-South, with Long Beach's Beach Futbol Club joining in. Gone, too, are the Claremont Stars and Pasadena-based LAFC.
The Waves are the big loss. They had a mix of WPS veterans and top amateurs, posted a 14-1-3 record and pulled out the championship game against Chicago on an overtime goal from Tanya Taylor (Buena Park/Sunny Hills HS and UC Irvine).
“The CEO decided not to do the Waves, to just concentrate on [sister club Bay Area] Breeze,” said Waves head coach/GM Abner Rogers, who guided the L.A. Sol to the regular-season title in the inaugural 2009 WPS campaign. “He informed us in December and said he'd help us as much as he could, but there's no financial backing.”
The Waves approached youth clubs in the region about sponsorship -- Rogers directs powerhouse Laguna Hills Eclipse -- but was unable to acquire what was needed to continue on. There is hope of a return next year to play in the Western Elite Division, but no telling if it's doable.
Pacific-South play kicks off Friday night at Long Beach State, with Beach FC taking on the L.A. Vikings.
A look at the three local teams:
Southern California is an epicenter for the women's game, prime breeding ground for top female players and home to nearly a dozen local clubs playing in one or the other of two national semipro/amateur leagues, a few of them with aspirations to join a league that suddenly might be gone.
The plan, WPS's board of directors proclaimed in its announcement Monday, is to return in 2013, and everyone in the women's game appears united in support of that. But what's best for women's pro soccer in North America isn't necessarily what appears to be best.
This could be a first real step toward unifying the women's game, which likely would require U.S. Soccer bringing into talks WPS and the two national leagues -- the W-League and Women's Premier Soccer League -- amid realization that there's not much money to be made, and there likely never will be.
WPS has lasted three seasons, just like its better-heeled, freer-spending predecessor, the Women United Soccer Association (2001-03), shedding four franchises along the way, including the L.A. Sol and 2010 champ FC Gold Pride. It was looking to play this year with only five teams, all on the East Coast.
The five clubs, as well as the terminated Boca Raton, Fla.-based franchise at the center of WPS's legal problems, are scrambling to determine their next steps. The Western New York Flash, which won last year's title after claiming the W-League title in 2010, likely will return to the United Soccer Leagues-affiliated competition. Sky Blue FC and the Boston Breakers also are considering options in other leagues.
The WPSL on Monday invited all five WPS teams to take part in an “elite division” this season.
“We want to give them a landing place for a year, but we also have [existing] teams that want to play in that elite league ...,” WPSL Commissioner Jerry Zanelli, who also runs the Sacramento-based California Storm, a longtime amateur powerhouse, told ESPN Los Angeles. “We're only thinking about 2012 right now. I think they have to play somewhere, in an established league, and if they don't, it will be hard to pick things back up again.
Counting down the 11 biggest 2011 stories in Southern California soccer ...
The struggles facing the women's game in America were forgotten for a few weeks last summer, during the U.S. team's exhilarating run to the title game at the Women's World Cup in Germany.
The Yanks did not win the trophy -- Japan's story was, ultimately, far more compelling, and their aim in the shootout truer -- but they rallied a nation behind their quest for a first World Cup title in a dozen years, creating a buzz that offered a few reminders of that magical summer of '99.
The Americans had faltered at the previous two World Cups while winning Olympic gold in Athens seven years ago and Beijing in 2008, but the golden generation -- Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly and Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain and so forth -- is gone and the attention (and Nike's millions) they received was spent long ago.
This group caught the public's imagination with a stirring run to the final as Abby Wambach added to her legend, Hope Solo became a mainstream presence and Diamond Bar's Alex Morgan emerged as a real star. They needed Wambach's goal deep into stoppage in overtime to force penalties against Brazil in the quarterfinals, wore down France in the semifinals, then watched two leads slip away, one of them in OT, against the surprising Japanese.
The World Cup's impact on the game in America wasn't clear. Women's Professional Soccer, now entirely an East Coast venture, completed its third season by dropping to five teams, managing to survive only through U.S. Soccer largesse. The Western New York Flash, the newcomer from the USL's second-tier W-League, won the title -- they had Marta, of course -- but there are serious questions about the league's future.
A prominent way of thinking is that a national professional women's league is impossible in a country so large, unless Major League Soccer (or some multibillionaire with bucks to burn) wants to step in and finance things. No sign of that. The solution: entwined regional leagues, with the champions meeting at the finish -- exactly what the semipro W-League and its rival Women's Premier Soccer League do.
Getting all the parties to the table, and onto the same page, could take some doing, but among the proponents of such a venture is Abner Rogers, who coached the Los Angeles Sol to the first WPS regular-season title. The Sol didn't make it to year two, but Rogers and his partners in the Bay Area formed two WPSL teams -- the Orange County Waves, who won the WPSL championship -- with a WPS slot in mind.
NORCO -- The big positive from the L.A. Blues' twin 0-0 draws with Richmond over the weekend was defense, which hasn't exactly been a team strength. That's a huge plus as they head into the USL Pro playoffs, a one-and-done, eight-team tournament in which shutting down the opposition is vital if you're going to be a real contender.
The Blues (8-7-9) had posted just three shutouts all season before Friday's draw at Cal State Fullerton, which was followed by another -- in a far more entertaining outing -- in a regular-season finale Sunday at Norco College.
Richmond (12-7-5), which won a USL title in 2009, reached last year's final and is in this season's U.S. Open Cup semifinals, struggled to create chances against an organized Blues defense, even after throwing on four regulars at halftime in Sunday's game. If only L.A. could have found the net even once.
“I have loads of respect for Richmond, so for me, it's a good measuring stick,” said Blues coach Charlie Naimo, who takes his team to Pennsylvania to face the Harrisburg City Islanders in a quarterfinal Friday. “Second half, they put some of their top-choice guys on to go for the game, and then I think we picked it up, too.
“We struggled to get clean sheets all year long, and then to get two in a row against what I think is [one of] the top two teams in the league ... knowing we have [injured Mexican forward Jonathan] de Leon resting and [suspended forward Cesar] Rivera possibly coming back, I'm good. I'm comfortable with where we are right now.”
They'd likely have another win had Antiguan forward Peter Byers finished when 1-on-1 against Kickers goalkeeper Ryan Jones just past the hour mark Sunday. Or if he'd be awarded the penalty kick he drew a few minutes after that. Or if he'd taken a few more shots when he got into Richmond's box, or had he had better support from the midfield. Winger Akeem Priestley's late withdrawal with a minor knee injury didn't help.
And attacking is about chemistry, which also hasn't been the Blues' strength.
“It takes a long time for a nucleus to build a team chemistry and a bond,” Naimo said. “We don't have a good one. It's not a bad one, but it's too many different kinds of players, and that's what I think evolves more in a group over time: They just want to compete together. We don't have that.
The Orange County Waves' inaugural season finished just as planned, with a trophy following a dramatic victory in Sunday's Women's Premier Soccer League title game in Lisle, Ill.
Former UC Irvine star Tanya Taylor (Buena Park/Sunny Hills HS) finished a feed from veteran pro Brittany Klein (Arcadia/Arcadia HS) 11 minutes into overtime, and the Waves (14-1-3) held on for a 2-1 triumph over the Chicago Red Stars at Benedictine University.
Kiki Bosio (Mission Viejo/Santa Margarita Catholic HS and Capistrano Valley HS), like Klein a veteran of Women's Professional Soccer (both are Santa Clara University alums, too), gave the Waves an advantage just before halftime, and the Waves were counting down to a 1-0 victory when Julie Ewing pulled Chicago even in the 88th minute.
The speedy Taylor beat Chicago's offside trap to latch onto Klein's through ball on the decisive play.
“Tanya is a handful for anybody,” Waves coach Abner Rogers told the WPSL's website. “She can just turn it on and just beat you. I felt the game could have gone either way. Like any big game, you're going to have to dodge some bullets, and we certainly got our breaks today.”
Kristina Larsen (Mission Viejo/Mission Viejo HS and UCLA), another WPS vet, came on as a substitute. She suffered a broken collarbone and fractured wrist last month and had been thought done for the season.
It was the fourth successive year a Los Angeles-area team reached the WPSL title game. Ajax America won its second championship in 2008, then lost in the 2009 and 2010 finals.
Hollywood United rallied twice from deficits but couldn't do so a third time and lost in Saturday's National Premier Soccer League title game.Tommy Krizanovic's hat trick, with each goal assisted by Rafak Safi, prodded Florida's Jacksonville United to a 3-2 triumph at Madison, Ala. Krizanovic netted the winner in the 87th minute.
Hollywood United's Arturo Albarran also might have scored a hat trick, but he missed one of two penalty kicks. The Hitmen finish the season with a 14-3-1 mark, and Jacksonville closes at 8-4-0 after losing its first four games.
California teams had won four of the previous five NPSL titles: Sacramento Knights in 2006, Carlsbad-based Southern California Fusion in 2007, Sonoma County Sol in 2009 and Sacramento Gold last year.
WPSL: The Orange County Waves romped into Sunday's Women's Premier Soccer League's championship game with a 3-0 romp over defending champion Boston Aztec Breakers Reserves in heavy heat in Lisle, Ill.
Meagan Snell scored two goals and Kiki Bosio (Mission Viejo/Santa Margarita Catholic HS and Capistrano Valley HS) assisted a pair of strikes, one by Katrin Omarsdottir, for the Waves (13-1-3), who will face final-four host Chicago Red Stars (11-1-0) -- a club on hiatus from Women's Professional Soccer -- in the title match.
“This was a well-played game against a very good Boston team,” said Orange County coach Abner Rogers. “They really composed some problems for us in the first 20 minutes, but we were able to score on our first or second quality scoring chance. That made a big difference for us in the match, and we're very pleased with the way our team continued to perform ... especially in this heat.”
Boston Aztec, which is affiliated with the WPS's Boston Breakers, finished 8-3-3.
The Red Stars pulled out a 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay Hellenic (10-3-1) as former Notre Dame All-American Michele Weisenhofer scored and assisted goals.
Rogers was head coach of the L.A. Sol. Chicago's brain trust includes advisor Charlie Naimo, who was the Sol's general manager and currently directs the USL Pro's L.A. Blues, who are owned by the Sol's former co-owners.
PDL: The Ventura County Fusion (10-1-6) completed their season a few steps earlier than they'd hoped to, falling, 1-0, to Kitsap Pumas (13-1-3) in the USL Premier Development League's Western Conference semifinals in Fresno.
Bryan Burke's 11th-minute goal stood up for the Bremerton, Wash.-based club, which will face Fresno Fuego (14-0-3) on Sunday for a berth in next week's league final four.
Fresno romped to a 3-1 win over the Victoria (B.C.) Highlanders on Tyler Reinhart's hat trick, which gives him 15 goals this season.
The Portuguese forward was rewarded for her play Wednesday with the announcement that she's one of three finalists for the national amateur/semipro women's league's MVP honor, along with Colorado Rush forward Lindsey Horan, a U.S. youth national-teamer, and Ottawa Fury forward Mallory Outerbridge.
Fernandes was joined on the All-W-League team by teammate Cynthia Jacobo (Arleta/Granada Hills HS), Cal State Northridge's goalkeeper, and Pali Blues defender Sasha Andrews, a former Canadian national-teamer.
Jacobo is a finalist for Rookie of the Year, along with UCLA star Sydney Leroux, who leads Vancouver into this weekend's W-League final four in suburban Seattle, and Horan. Andrews is up for Defender of the Year, and Santa Clarita's Fabian Sandoval is one of three Coach of the Year finalists.
Fernandes, Jacobo and Blue Heat defender Kendall VanDine (Brea/Brea Olinda HS), and Andrews and fellow Pali defender Christie Shaner were chosen for the All-Western Conference team. So was Leroux.
Also on the all-league team are Horan, Outerbridge, Long Island defender Sue Weber, Ottawa defender Amanda Fancher and midfielder Jessica Shufelt, Toronto defender Christine Exeter, Vancouver midfielder Tiffany Weimer, and Atlanta midfielder Megan Tomlinson.
More on local clubs and players:
That's the starting point for the Waves, the most direct descendent of the great but short-lived L.A. Sol and a club that aspires to provide a foundation for the Westward expansion of WPS -- in whatever form that might take -- as the third-year league plots for the uncertainty ahead.
How that will play out is a mystery, but the Waves plan to be involved, and they've spent the last few months building a worthy résumé in the Women's Premier Soccer League, one of two national semipro/amateur women's leagues playing in the WPS's shadow.
Led by former Sol head coach Abner Rogers, the Waves have made it a point to proceed as professionals in every way -- and yes, everyone except a quintet with college eligibility is paid. It's made an impact on the field.
The Waves (11-1-2) won the WPSL's Pacific-South Division and this weekend is in the Bay Area, at Dublin High School, for the Pacific Conference finals. They take on Marin County's North Bay FC Wave (9-1-4) in a semifinal Saturday -- San Diego SeaLions (11-2-1) and Bay Area Breeze (9-2-3) play in the other semi -- and Sunday's winner heads to next week's WPSL final four in Lisle, Ill.
Rogers bids for the championship with a squad featuring five players with WPS experience (Mission Viejo's Kiki Bosio, Kristina Larsen and Jenny Anderson-Hammond, Arcadia's Brittany Klein and Czech-born midfielder Vendula Strnadova) and another selected in this year's WPS draft (Buena Park's Tanya Taylor, from UC Irvine). Larsen is sidelined because of a broken collar bone after scoring four goals in her first five games.
NOT WPS: The performances have been good, but let's be clear. The range of competition in the WPSL varies greatly, and only the Breeze and SeaLions have given the Waves much of a game. The playoffs will be much tougher: The Chicago Red Stars, one of four clubs shed through WPS's first two seasons, has already qualified for (and will play host to) the league's final weekend. The New York Fury, a virtual WPS side affiliated with the Philadelphia Independence, failed to get through the Eastern Conference bracket.
“The level of play is definitely lower than WPS,” said Klein, a central midfielder who played for the Red Stars in 2009 and the Washington Freedom last season but chose not to pursue a WPS roster spot this year. “We still have some girls that are WPS level. So although our competition for the most part is definitely notches down, we try to still maintain a high level.”
Says Rogers: “Oh, it's a drop. It's definitely a drop” from WPS to WPSL. “You don't have five or six foreign players. Those players make a big difference. They raise the level of competition in every training session. Everyone knows Marta, but to have [former Sol stars] Aya [Miyama] and Camille [Abily] ... that's what makes the difference.”
The Women's Premier Soccer League kicks off Saturday with two new teams from Orange County, and each arrives with very singular plans for success.
The Orange County Waves, led by former L.A. Sol head coach Abner Rogers, are primarily a professional club looking toward a jump to Women's Professional Soccer -- or whatever the top tier of the American women's game evolves into.
The Los Al Vikings are designed to provide opportunities for players out of its parent club, Los Alamitos-based Viking Soccer Club, to play competitive soccer after their youth careers have ended and gain exposure from college recruiters.
That both approaches fit the national semipro/amateur league is part of the charm, and part of the problem, with the women's game in the U.S. The primary issues: dwindling popularity of female soccer as a spectator sport in the post-Mia Hamm era (while an increasing number of talented players pour from clubs across the nation) and debate over how best to present top players, from the U.S. and abroad, in a country that stretches some 3,000 miles from coast to coast.
The future, the smart observers note, is regionalization, and not the kind the WPS, in its third year, has fallen into. The country's (and maybe the world's) top league has lost five of its original teams -- the Sol was the first to go -- and, this year, is an East Coast-only affair.
Rogers, who guided the Sol into the WPS's inaugural championship game in 2009, understands the minefield that must be traversed. The burning question: How can a national women's league be profitable and meaningful?
Hollywood United FC is awaiting word on a National Premier Soccer League rival's appeal of sanctions for fielding an ineligible player to find out, for sure, that it is headed to the U.S. Open Cup.
The Hitmen are set to take one of four NPSL slots in the annual competition after the San Diego Flash, an ambitious club led by former English pro and current Fox Soccer analyst Warren Barton, forfeited two games for using an ineligible player, Englishman Lee Underwood.
Early-season games in the NPSL double as qualifiers for the Open Cup, which dates to 1914 and features clubs from all strata of American soccer -- amateur to Major League Soccer -- and the forfeits gave the Flash's berth to HUFC. First-round games are slated for June 14.
It's all pending appeal, but the Hitmen's record becomes 7-0-1 after a 3-1 loss to San Diego (now 5-2-0) in their opener was changed to a 3-0 victory. The winless Bay Area Ambassadors also picked up a win.
HUFC's five-game winning streak was stopped Saturday in a 1-1 draw with visiting Sacramento Gold.
Elsewhere in the NPSL:
- Santa Ana Winds (5-1-0) won their fifth in a row, beating San Diego Boca, 3-1, on goals by Chong Yong Park, Torrance's Diego Turoldo (North Torrance HS/Cal State Dominguez Hills) and Carlos Godinez. That puts them on top in the Southwest Flight, because, it turns out, Hollywood United is in the Northwest Flight. That's according to HUFC, who learned of it only on Monday. The Hitmen were listed in the Southwest on the league's website until last week.
- Thousand Oaks' FC Hasental (2-4-1) toppled Boca, 3-1, the day after a wild, 5-4 loss loss to Sonoma County Sol. Los Conejos let a 4-2 lead slip away in the last half-hour.
- Lancaster's Rattlers FC won its first NPSL game, winning, 2-1, at Real San Jose on an 82nd-minute goal by Roberto Mariscal (Palmdale/Palmdale HS). Miguel Guillen (Rosamond/Rosamond HS) also scored for the Snakes.
PDL: Defending Southwest Division champ Ventura County Fusion (3-0-1) grabbed first place with shutout victories over L.A. Blues 23 and Southern California Seahorses in the USL Premier Development League. Former UC Santa Barbara standout David Walker (Orange/Villa Park HS), a 2010 Houston Dynamo draft pick, scored and set up two more goals in Friday's 4-0 romp over the Blues, then assisted UCLA's Reed Williams (Newport Beach/Corona del Mar HS) to start Sunday's 2-0 win against the Seahorses.
- Newsmakers/No. 10: Alex Morgan/Christen Press
Stanford's Cristen Press led the nation with 26 goals this season.
Press (Palos Verdes Estates/Chadwick School), a senior forward with superb skill, broke every significant offensive record at Stanford while leading the top-ranked Cardinal to the NCAA College Cup championship game.
The U.S. under-23 national team standout, whose future likely is as a withdrawn forward or attacking midfielder, scored 26 goals to lead the nation, but she was shut out in Cary, N.C., and Stanford fell in the final for the second successive season, losing, 1-0, to Notre Dame.
Morgan's senior season wasn't quite so stirring -- Cal went out in the first round of the NCAA tournament -- but the striker from Diamond Bar (Diamond Bar HS) emerged as the U.S. national team's biggest weapon off the bench.
Alex Morgan emerged as a big weapon off the bench for the U.S. national team.
Her numbers -- four goals in just 232 minutes of action -- were the best on the U.S. team: One goal every 58 minutes, 1.55 per 90 minutes.
International duty limited Morgan to a dozen games for Cal, but she scored 14 goals and joined Press as one of three finalists for the MAC Hermann Trophy, college soccer's most prestigious player-of-the-year honor.
What's next: Next month's Women's Professional Soccer draft, in which Morgan and Press could be the top two picks.
- Stories/No. 10: Expansion!
The L.A. Blues and OC Sol were unveiled in December, adding to a landscape that stars Major League Soccer's Galaxy and Chivas USA and features a host of minor-league clubs playing in national semipro/amateur leagues.
The Blues, with former Sol general manager Charlie Naimo as head coach/GM, will play in the United Soccer Leagues' new USL Pro division, with most of their home games at Cal State Fullerton's Titan Stadium. They've already got four players lined up, including former Galaxy midfielder Josh Tudela.
The OC Sol is one of two pro women's teams Bay Area-based Soccer Partners LLC is producing as a precursor to a planned WPS expansion team in 2012. Former L.A. Sol coach Abner Rogers will be the OC team's head coach and the technical director of both teams -- the other will be based in the Bay Area -- which will play in the semipro/amateur Women's Premier Soccer League.
Four other L.A.-area teams play in the WPSL, but all are amateur outfits.
The Bay Area-based group that will field professional women's teams in Orange County and the Bay Area next year, with plans to place an O.C. club in Women's Professional Soccer in 2012, hopes to have a greater impact than just competing for championships.
They'd like to help transform women's pro soccer in America.
That's part of what's behind the venture announced Monday, to compete next season in the Women's Premier Soccer League. The OC Sol and Bay Area Sol would be the first fully professional clubs in the WPSL, one of two national semiprofessional women's leagues in the U.S., and their ownership group envisions a stronger connection among the leagues and WPS.
That could have a profound impact on the future of pro soccer in this country.
“I do [believe WPS is viable], but I subscribe to the view that there should be layers of professionalism -- and of semiprofessionalism, if you wish ...,” said Paul Haley, a Bay Area business consultant and the face of Soccer Partners LLC, the Walnut Creek-based group behind the new Sol enterprise. “We're motivated to see more than one league or division for professionals to play in.”
The group, which includes former L.A. Sol head coach Abner Rogers, will announce Monday the formation of professional teams to play in Orange County and the Bay Area in the Women's Premier Soccer League, one of two national semiprofessional second-division leagues, according to two soccer sources.
A league official said the announcement would be made Monday morning, and Rogers confirmed the plans and said the group's aim remains returning the WPS to Southern California in 2012. The group is headed by Bay Area businessmen Paul Haley and Scott Alford.
The teams will share a nickname -- the OC Sol and the Bay Area Sol -- and Rogers will be the Orange County team's head coach and technical director for both teams. Terry Foley, who was general manager and director of player personnel for the WPS's Philadelphia Independence last summer, will be the GM and head coach of the Bay Area team.
There were 52 teams playing in 10 regional divisions in the 12-year-old WPSL last spring and summer. Included were four Los Angeles-area clubs -- South Bay-based Ajax America, Pasadena-based LAFC Chelsea, Claremont Stars and Santa Clarita-based PSSCV Rooks. Ajax advanced to the league final four.
Two teams were based in the Bay Area: North Bay FC Wave, based in San Anselmo, and San Francisco Nighthawks. Several more teams play in Sacramento, Clovis and San Diego.
Most teams in the WPSL are amateur, but Rogers confirmed that players for the new Orange County and Bay Area teams would be paid.
A bid by a group headquartered in the Bay Area to bring FC Gold Pride to Orange County fell through, but Women's Professional Soccer could be headed to Southern California soon. Perhaps real soon.
A meeting of the group's chief investors and strategists is scheduled Friday, and on the agenda is discussion whether to wait until 2012 to start a WPS franchise -- the likeliest option -- or make a play to bring in a team next season.
WPS announced Tuesday that it had six clubs, all on the East Coast, lined up for its 2011 campaign and was giving the Chicago Red Stars another month to secure the necessary funding to continue. Gold Pride, which scorched the competition en route to the championship in the league's second season, folded Tuesday, and its players -- including Brazilian superstar Marta -- became free agents.
Gold Pride's potential survival, with a move likely to Cal State Fullerton's Titan Stadium, fell apart apparently over financial matters, although a league official offered no such reasons during a teleconference Wednesday.
"We did have several conversations with a group, a couple of groups in Los Angeles and Orange County, [about trying] to take over Gold Pride," said T. Fitz Johnson, owner and CEO of WPS's Atlanta Beat, chairman of the league's board of governors and head of the league's expansion committee. "We just couldn't get over the hump of getting everybody on the same page in time for 2011."