Los Angeles Soccer: WPS
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.
Ali Riley, the Rookie of the Year in Women's Professional Soccer, has a new club.
Riley (Pacific Palisades/Harvard-Westlake School), a left back out of Stanford University who plays for New Zealand's national team, agreed to contract terms Thursday with the expansion Western New York Flash, which will play in Buffalo and Rochester.
Riley became a free agent when WPS champion FC Gold Pride folded last month.
Gold Pride's other starting outside back, Kandace Wilson (Los Angeles/Walnut HS and Cal State Fullerton), and star forward Christine Sinclair, a Canadian national-teamer, also agreed to terms with the Flash.
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."
All of the U.S. players, several of the Canadians and a couple of the Mexicans are keeping an eye on what's going on with Women's Professional Soccer. Champion FC Gold Pride and the Washington Freedom, a Women's United Soccer Association survivor that is the only team to reach the WPS playoffs in both seasons, are desperately seeking investment to stay alive.
A report over the weekend that both teams would fold Monday was premature, but the possibility they'll become the third and fourth teams in the second pro U.S. league to disband isn't remote by any means. Gold Pride GM Ilisa Kessler on Monday told the San Jose Mercury News that “it's do-or-die week for us.” Freedom president Mark Washo was quoted in The Washington Post: “We're approaching the 90th [minute], hoping for extra time.”