Los Angeles Soccer: Orange County Waves
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 Southwest Division failed to get a team to the Premier Development League final four for the second straight year, but four of 11 selections on the All-PDL team went to players from the division's top teams.
Three from the quartet are local: Ventura County Fusion midfielder Danny Barrerra (Thousand Oaks/Westlake HS and UC Santa Barbara) and defender Dillon Barna (Westmont College), and Orange County Blue Star forward Chandler Hoffman (UCLA). Fresno Fuego forward Milton Blanco, the national semipro/amateur league's MVP favorite, also is listed.
The Fusion and Fuego were ousted during the Western Conference final four last weekend in Fresno, both dropping their first games of the season to the Kitsap Pumas, from Bremerton, Wash.
The Pumas pulled out two 1-0 wins, beating Fresno in the final as Daniel Scott -- an All-PDL pick at defender -- scored in the 90th minute of the final against Fresno and goalkeeper Bryan Meredith stopped Blanco's penalty kick in stoppage.
Also chosen to the All-PDL team were Thunder Bay defender Wilson Rodrigues Neto, Michigan Bucks goalkeeper Mitch Hildebrandt and defender Stewart Givens, Central Florida Kraze midfielder Jonathan Mendoza, Des Moines (Iowa) Menace midfielder John Sosa, and Westchester (N.Y.) Flames forward Jake Keegan.
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:
SANTA CLARITA -- Fabian Sandoval has not the least doubt had his team not been hit hard by injuries down the stretch, it would be en route to Seattle for next weekend's W-League final four. And probably win the championship.
Instead, an immensely rewarding -- and seemingly surprising -- campaign in the United Soccer Leagues' women's competition ended in pain for Santa Clarita Blue Heat, which didn't quite have the manpower to overcome the Vancouver Whitecaps in Sunday night's Western Conference final at College of the Canyons.
Blue Heat (8-2-5) rallied from a two-goal deficit and enjoyed a man advantage for the final 10 minutes, but the Whitecaps (9-2-4) advanced to their second successive W-League final four in a 4-3 thriller.
Kailyn Kyle scored the winner, finishing from a goalmouth scramble in the 88th minute, her second goal of the game. UCLA star Sydney Leroux and former L.A. Sol defender Martina Franko also tallied for the Whitecaps, who will join host Seattle Sounders (5-5-4), Atlanta Silverbacks (11-1-0) and Ottawa Fury (14-0-0) next week in Tukwila, Wash.
“Expectations coming in for our coaching staff was to get to this point ...,” said Sandoval, who also is director of coaching for Santa Clarita United and a volunteer assistant with Cal State L.A.'s women's team. “I couldn't ask any more from our players with all the injuries this season. No doubt in my mind that if we had the same group that we started with, we'd be in Seattle. No doubt.
“[Vancouver is] a great team, but full squad with us, we're better than them any day of the week.”
Santa Clarita, a second-year club that won the conference regular-season title by a point over the 'Caps, was missing seven players, five of them starters, including likely conference MVP Edite Fernandes, a Portuguese national-teamer sidelined with a hamstring injury.
“She's the heart and soul. These girls know it,” Sandoval said. “I think she's the MVP of the W-League. We're lucky enough to have been able to see her play. She's that great of a player.”
The first-year Waves slipped into the league's Pacific Conference final as Icelandic forward Katrina Omarsdottir scored in the first half of a 1-0 win Saturday night over Marin County's North Bay FC Wave in Dublin, east of Oakland.
The Waves (12-1-2) will meet the San Diego SeaLions, a 3-2 winner over host Bay Area Breeze, in the title game. The winner will join the Chicago Red Stars, Tampa Bay Hellenic and either Boston Aztec Breakers Reserves or ASA Chesapeake in next weekend's final four in Lisle, Ill.
Omarsdottir scored from a pass by former Women's Professional Soccer forward Kiki Bosio in the 21st minute. The SeaLions (12-2-1) got two goals from Alex Webber in their victory.
The teams split their regular-season meetings, with the Waves winning, 3-2, in San Diego on June 19 and the SeaLions prevailing, 1-0, in Costa Mesa on June 25.
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.”
Blue Heat (8-1-5) edged the Vancouver Whitecaps (8-2-4) by one point and two-time W-League champ Pali Blues (7-1-6) by two to move within 90 minutes -- Sunday night against the Whitecaps at College of the Canyons -- of the national semipro/amateur league's final four in Tukwila, Wash.
The Seattle Sounders (8-4-3), who finished fourth in the West, will join the three conference champions as host of the July 29-31 finals at Starfire Sports Complex.
Cal State L.A. All-American Liz Franco's sixth goal of the season boosted the Blue Heat to a 1-1 draw with the L.A. Strikers, and their second scoreless draw of the campaign with Pali Blues was enough to advance the Whitecaps, who are affiliated with the Major League Soccer club and played in last year's W-League title game.
Vancouver's hopes to win the regular-season title ended with a 3-3 tie against Colorado Force, which required a three-goal comeback after Erin Gunther scored a hat trick in the first 21 minutes for the Force. UCLA star Sydney Leroux netted the last two goals, her ninth and 10th, for the 'Caps.
All three contenders failed to assert control when given the opportunity down the stretch. Blue Heat won just once in their last six games and heads into the postseason without a victory in their last three games. Vancouver and Pali won just twice in their final six.
More on local clubs and players:
The W-League and Women's Premier Soccer League wrap up their regular seasons this weekend, and one has more to sort out than the other.
Both of the WPSL's Pacific-South playoff spots are taken, one of them by first-year pro side Orange County Waves (10-1-2), who will clinch the divisional title with a victory Saturday against Ajax America in Rolling Hills Estates.
Three teams are separated by a point in the fight for the W-League's two Western Conference postseason berths, and it all could come down to Sunday night's clash between the first-place Santa Clarita Blue Heat (8-1-3) and third-place Pali Blues (7-1-5) at Canyon High School in Canyon Country.
The Ventura County Fusion (10-0-4), which won the Premier Development League championship in 2009 and Southwest Division title last year, are the first Southwest side to claim a playoff berth, doing so with a 1-0 win over the BYU Cougars on a late goal by Cal State Bakersfield's Gyasi Zardes (Hawthorne/Leuzinger HS).
The Fresno Fuego (9-0-3), which has four games remaining in the season's final two weeks, is likely to grab the division's other spot -- and perhaps pip the Fusion for the Southwest title. Orange County Blue Star (8-5-1) and the Southern California Seahorses (7-3-3) are still alive, technically.
More on local clubs and players:
With Hollywood United departing for a rival league, the Ventura County Fusion might have figured they were in a two-team battle for the Premier Development League's Southwest Division title this year.
They would have been correct.
Only the other team isn't Orange County Blue Star.
The Fusion made that clear Friday night with a 7-2 pasting at Ventura College, running their record to 4-0-1. That's only worth second place -- Fresno Fuego, apparently their chief competition, is a point better, at 4-0-2.
The teams drew, 0-0, May 1 in Ventura and meet again June 11 in Fresno.
They're in another battle this week, for the division's berth in the U.S. Open Cup. Fresno won all four of its qualifying matches, and the Fusion is 3-0-0 heading into Saturday's PDL match against the Southern California Seahorses at La Mirada High School. Ventura County will advance if it wins by two or more goals or by one goal while scoring at least three. A 2-1 win forces a coin flip, a 1-0 win, draw or loss sends Fresno through.
Thousand Oaks' Danny Barrerra (Westlake HS/UC Santa Barbara) played the key role against Blue Star, setting up two goals -- his league-best fifth and sixth assists -- and scoring the finale.
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?