U.S. women hope for soccer revival
Winning gold medals hasn't been a problem for Abby Wambach and the U.S. women's soccer team.
So far, attempts to convert their success into a sustainable professional women's league at home have turned out to be fool's gold.
And if a good performance at the London Olympics can't kick-start the revival of an entity to take the place of the now-defunct Women's Professional Soccer league, Wambach says she and her teammates will have to look overseas for opportunities.
"First and foremost, the whole national team has been working tirelessly this year to hopefully bring home this gold medal so that we can solidify a league in the United States for us," Wambach said Friday on a conference call with reporters. "That's our No. 1 priority. If that weren't to come to fruition, yeah, there will be other opportunities around the world."
Wambach pointed to established women's professional leagues in Sweden, France and Germany as potential destinations for U.S. players. Wambach also mentioned Japan, where women's soccer got a boost after the Japanese national team beat the U.S. to win the Women's World Cup last summer.
Having been on the losing end of that game, Wambach said the U.S. team has something to prove when it begins Olympic play against France on July 25.
"There's no better motivation than losing, in my opinion," Wambach said. "And I think that we did a lot of really cool things last summer in Germany, we got people excited about the women's game again, and truthfully, throughout my career, I wasn't sure it was going to happen. I believe that this team has something to prove, and I know that all of us are competitors."
For now, they're competitors without a place to play. Without the WPS, the U.S. team has scrimmaged together as much as possible, but Wambach says players need to play in a league to stay sharp.
"We have to play, we have to get games in," Wambach said.
Widespread mainstream interest in the Women's World Cup last summer wasn't enough to save the WPS. Having previously decided to scrap its 2012 season amid a legal dispute with a former franchise owner, the WPS folded in May after three seasons.
The WPS's predecessor, WUSA, also lasted only three seasons in the wake of the U.S. victory at the 1999 World Cup.
U.S. captain Christie Rampone is hopeful that another league will emerge to take the WPS' place. But she says players can wait only so long.
"If there is no league in place, players will be talking to clubs overseas," Rampone said. "Hopefully, we'll not be making that decision until January."
Rampone says players see a domestic professional league as a critical part of the national team's success -- and if it doesn't happen, having players scattered around the globe will pose a new challenge to the success of the national team.
"Our goal, coming through the fall, is to make sure that we try to keep this league going, that we do have another option to play in America and not have college soccer be our only feeder system," Rampone said.
Winning a third straight gold medal certainly couldn't hurt that cause, although coach Pia Sundhage doesn't want her players spending too much time looking at the big picture.
"I'm not talking about the gold medal that much," Sundhage said. "I'm talking about the next game."
Wambach says she's feeling better than she has in a long time after a series of holistic and traditional treatments on her Achilles tendinitis. And she says she and the team have something to prove after last summer's loss to Japan on a penalty shootout.
"Because we got so close, and lost in the most dramatic way you can lose a soccer game and a soccer tournament in the World Cup, adds even more fuel to that fire," Wambach said. "We had a short period of time from the World Cup to now to prepare, and I think it's really nice and important for the freshness of that loss to be stuck in our minds and definitely in our hearts. Yeah, what's in the past is in the past, but this team still has something to prove."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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