By Tim Grainey
This week, the Roundup discusses WPS’s formal announcement that the league is shutting down operations permanently, rather than just taking a sabbatical in 2012. We also preview the Atlantic and Northeast Divisions of the USL’s W-League this season, after last week’s look at the Western and Southeast Divisions and then discuss how some teams have affiliated with MLS sides. We discuss the first two weeks of the new WPSL Elite season, including a high profile inter-league match between Boston Breakers and D.C. United of the W-League, and review the UEFA Women’s Champions League Final.
WPS Finally Announces That It Will Not Return
On Friday May 18, Women’s Professional Soccer announced that it is permanently shutting down and will not return to play in 2013, as the league had implied when it announced in January that it was suspending operations this season to work on legal and financial issues.
Sky Blue FC’s CEO Thomas Hofstetter said: “We are proud of what WPS has accomplished, having attracted the highest quality players in the world to play in the best women’s league, as well as the progress women’s soccer has enjoyed over the past three years.”
Talking to women’s college and amateur coaches, general managers, league players and informed media over the last few months, no one seriously thought that WPS was ever coming back. Now, at least efforts to build professional and semiprofessional national leagues by the W-League and WPSL can proceed unhindered by prospective owners wondering if they should wait until WPS returns. Though the announcement was not a surprise, it is still sad to hear. Some have written off WPS as a failure but that is a harsh assessment. WPS furthered to the growth of the sport of women’s soccer in the United States.
WPS teams imported some of the top players in the world, like Marta of Brazil, Caroline Seger of Sweden, Christine Sinclair of Canada, Kelly Smith of England, Lisa DeVanna of Australia and Sonia Bompastor of France. WPS helped U.S. national team head coach Pia Sundhage identify new players, such as defender Becky Saurerbrunn, and gave her players a top level league in which to keep their skills sharp. WPS also furthered the chance for women players to build a career in soccer beyond college. The weekly game on Fox Soccer Channel increased awareness while providing the network with some consistent women’s soccer content.
Though the WPS’ demise is a setback, there is not the abject depression that surrounded the WUSA announcement when they ceased operations just 9 years ago. The sport in general is in a much better place than when WUSA folded in 2003. Players had very few options then; a few headed overseas but most hung on to the hope that WUSA or a new league would start…but it took six years until WPS was able to launch in 2009. Players have more paths now to continue their playing careers—American players are valued overseas in top level leagues like Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden and Russia and even in developing leagues like Australia, Croatia, Denmark, Finland and Iceland. At home, the amateur/semiprofessional level is brimming with energy and potential (see below).
Some of the most positive comments have come from former WPS coaches who are now aligned with WPSL Elite teams. Paul Riley, who led Philadelphia Independence to two WPS Finals, said: “We have tremendous female players in this country and it is up to the powers that be to get around a table and provide all these professional players with a great avenue to resurrect and further develop their careers. At New York Fury we are proud to have twelve previous WPS players, and we will spend this season in the WPSL Elite League working diligently to improve aspects of their game and give them a training environment where they can be competitive and prosper.”
Lisa Cole, who was on the Boston Breakers’ coaching staff for three seasons in WPS and is now the head coach of the WPSL Elite side said: “It is a sad day for women’s soccer but right now I am preparing for our sold-out game this weekend….The folding of the WPS does not mean the end of elite women’s soccer in the U.S.”
FC Indiana head coach Shek Borkowski, who coached professionally in Russia and now also heads Haiti’s National Team program, said: “The legal entity named WPS went out of business but the sport of women’s football has been, is, and will continue to move forward, in a more realistic and sustainable form this time. This is not time for mourning but for renewed enthusiasm.”
On a global scale, the sport is also in very good shape; last summer’s Women’s World Cup showed how competitive all the finalists were, over 50,000 attended this week’s Women’s UEFA Champions League Final in Munich (see below) and the next Women’s World Cup in 2015 will expand to 24 teams and be staged in neighboring Canada.
The WPS’s demise does show that the model for professional women’s sports is still an unsolved rubric—not just for soccer but also for softball and hockey. As Boston’s Lisa Cole noted: “We just need to find what makes sense for women’s soccer from a business perspective. The folding of the WPS…just means we need to create a new, economically viable model.” Players will have to play and work other jobs or coach in the off-season, but many in WPS already did anyway. The sport will survive this setback.
WPS officials and owners have been mercifully ridiculed for the magicJack fiasco, which was blamed for the league’s ultimate demise. The league directors approved Dan Borislow’s takeover of the proud Washington Freedom franchise after the 2010 season, with admittedly scant due diligence, and then listened to him refer to them as “blithering idiots” and “infidels” throughout the 2011 season.
Many blame the outspoken Borislow for scuppering the league, but he argues that if he hadn’t taken over the Freedom, the league would have folded before 2011, as there were only four continuing franchises (plus Western New York Flash who moved over from the W-League). Borislow is an easy target but the league had struggled financially since beginning during the Great Depression. WPS received U.S. Soccer’s approval to play in 2012 with five teams and might have made it through this season but income targets were bleak and new investors weren’t joining; expansion fees from three teams were an important source of income for a league that had trouble attracting sponsorships, particularly at the individual team level.
The league was doomed because the financial assumptions supporting the league were untenable. Perhaps Borislow expedited the final burial, but WPS couldn’t attract new franchise investors or sponsors to stem annual losses in the $1 to $2 million range. Interestingly, a second WPS announcement on May 18 stated that the league and Dan Borislow had settled their legal disputes.
Having covered WPS since the initial player draft in January of 2009 in St. Louis, my top memory will always be Sky Blue’s 2009 Championship win over LA Sol in the Home Depot Center, when the only people that believed that the team could win—with U.S. national team defender Christie Rampone stepping in as their third coach of the season--were the players and staff from New Jersey. I will miss the people of WPS--the wonderful players, tremendous coaches, dedicated administrators and passionate fans. The players in particular always approached the league as a gift and worked hard to promote it. The friendships will remain strong even if the league is now laid to rest.
USL W-League Preview
This week the Roundup reviews the Atlantic and Northeast and Divisions of the USL’s W-League for 2012, after last week’s look at the Western and Southeast Divisions. We will review the Midwest Division next week. All 27 league teams from 2011 returned this season along with three expansion sides in the Southeast Division. This is the W-League’s 18th season.
D.C. United made headlines by signing U.S. National Team defender Becky Sauerbrunn, who formerly played for Washington Freedom in WPS and before that at the University of Virginia. Another former Freedom member, in both the W-League and WPS, defender/midfielder Joanna Lohman, signed for United along with English international forward Lianne Sanderson. Both Lohman and Sanderson played with Philadelphia Independence last season as well as with RCD Espanyol in Spain during the winter. Sanderson, a former English international, scored 8 goals in 40 matches with Philadelphia and 8 in 29 international matches with The Three Lions. Sanderson is an exciting and productive offensive talent while Lohman adds guile and stability in either defense or midfield. D.C. United plays at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown, the former home of the Freedom.
Two second year franchises, the Dayton Dutch Lions and Fredericksburg Impact both aim to make the playoffs in 2012. The Impact have inked France’s Sandra Matute, who played collegiately for Virginia Commonwealth and for the Washington Freedom in the W-League. The Impact defeated Northern Virginia Majestics 3-1 at home on May 19 to open the season.
Northern Virginia Majestics have recruited former player and area native Jill Porto to head the coaching staff for a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007.
The Virginia Beach Piranhas, W-League champions in 2003 (as the Hampton Roads Piranhas), have recruited a Nigerian trio from Georgia Perimeter College: Linda Chukwuji, Esther Anyanwu and Marbel Egwuenu, as they attempt to make the playoffs for the first time since 2004.
The Long Island Rough Riders won two of the first three W-League titles (1995/1997) and finished in first place in the Northeast Division last season with seven wins, one loss and two ties. The Rough Riders fell to the Charlotte Lady Eagles 2-1 in the Conference semifinals. They return seven players and their roster consists primarily of local players. English import Vaila Barsley played four seasons at St. John’s University.
The New Jersey Rangers FC will field almost an entirely different side from the one that finished 2011 with no wins and one tie in ten games. Only three players return, while forward Alexandra Dezenzo of the University of Vermont and goalkeeper Lauren Mains, who played at Lehigh, are promising additions. The Rangers lost their first game of the season on May 12th in the season opener at Long Island by a 0-10 scoreline.
New Jersey Wildcats were W-League champions in 2005 and lost last season in the Eastern Conference semifinals to eventual champion Atlanta 3-2, but ramped up considerably by signing Jim Gabarra as head coach from the dormant Sky Blue FC. Gabarra, head coach of Washington Freedom from 2001 through 2010, won a WUSA title in 2003 and a W-League title in 2007. U.S. international Yael Averbuch won two WPS titles in three seasons in the league, with Western New York Flash last season and Sky Blue FC in 2009. She spent a short stint in Russia with FC Rossiyanka in 2012. She is expected to team up front with Esmeralda Negron, who set goal scoring records while at Princeton and is now an assistant coach there. Kristen Edmonds (formerly of Rutgers University) returns to the W-League after winning the league and cup double with Stjarnan in Iceland.
New York Magic is a perennial struggler which hasn’t won more than three games in a season since 2006. The Magic will build around Japanese players Aya Noguchi (Franklin Pierce University), Ayaki Shinada (Lindsey Wilson College) and Yuiko Inoue, who played in the 2008 U-17 World Cup in New Zealand with Japan.
North Jersey Valkries are in their third season and have signed local product Erika Keil of Virginia Wesleyan in goal. University of Connecticut defender Gabriella Cuevas is another homegrown talent, and the return of forward Danielle Schulmann, who was named to the 2011 W-League All-Conference Team, is important for the club.
Next week we will look at the W-League’s Central Division
W-League links with MLS teams
The W-League has been a leader in building relationships with MLS teams, most of which involve joint marketing and communication efforts. Four W-League teams are co-branded with MLS teams: Colorado Rapids Women, D.C. United Women, Seattle Sounders Women and Vancouver Whitecaps FC. The W-League franchises use the name, uniform and other team marks while also gaining marketing contacts and support.
In Colorado, the Rapids Women were formerly known as the Colorado Force. Last season, the D.C. United Women stepped into the breach left when the WPS Freedom were moved to Florida by magicJack owner Dan Borislow. The United Women play at the Freedom’s former home—the Maryland SoccerPlex. In Seattle, the W-League team was associated for many years with the former USL men’s side that moved up to MLS in 2009. Though the two Seattle teams do not share ownership, the branding has helped the women draw over 4,000 per game to three exhibition matches this season at their home in suburban Tukwila, along with the signing of U.S. National Team stars such as Hope Solo, Stephanie Cox, Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux.
Sue Carnell, the general manager of the Sounders Women, said “I think there has always been a market for women’s soccer in this country but the financial and logistical model has never been sustainable. Partnering with MLS clubs strengthens the brand and gives a greater bandwidth to W-League teams who operate on limited budgets. It shows that the W-League is growing and moving towards that sustainable model.”
The Vancouver Whitecaps have long been a standard barrier for a women’s team working with a men’s organization; as they fully encapsulated the W-League franchise and support it financially and with marketing support. This relationship began years ago when the Whitecaps were in the USL’s top division, before joining MLS last season.
In addition, the LA Strikers have a relationship with CD Chivas USA for marketing support, particularly with the latter’s season ticket holders.
Outside of these affiliations with MLS teams, the New Jersey Wildcats affiliated with Sky Blue FC of Women’s Professional Soccer, which brought Sky Blue head coach Jim Gabarra to the side. The agreement also provided marketing efforts and links to players. With WPS folding permanently last Friday, the hope is that the Wildcats will benefit from some investors and sponsors of the Rutgers-based professional team that won the first WPS championship in 2009.
Breakers and Fury Off to Fast Start in WPSL Elite
In the first week of WPSL Elite (May10/May 12), the New York Fury headed the table on goal difference after a 5-1 road win over New England Mutiny, with former Texas A&M forward Merritt Mattias scoring a hat trick. Just behind the Fury in the standings were the Rochester-based Western New York Flash, who defeated FC Indiana 4-1 at home behind goals by Spanish international Adriana (both from the penalty spot), Australian international Emily Van Egmond and rookie Laura Heyboer of Michigan State. The Boston Breakers defeated ASA Chesapeake Charge 3-0 away in the other game that week, which was the inaugural game of the new league, held on Thursday May 10. ASA Chesapeake Charge General Manager Patrick Crawford said: “We started five high school seniors tonight and I think we showed that there may be a little adjustment period, but I promise you we will adjust and come out stronger in our next match. Give credit to Boston, they are a great team. We now see what level we will have to play at to compete in this league. We are looking forward to traveling to Boston to play them again.”
League Commissioner and Founder Jerry Zanelli added: “While the teams that moved up from the WPSL to the Elite League [including the Charge, New England Mutiny, New York Fury and FC Indiana] will be challenged by the professional teams, I know that during the course of the year they will get stronger. What we are doing here is developing the players of the future and possibly future National Team members.”
In week two, on Friday May 18 the Breakers defeated FC Indiana at home 4-1 before a sell-out crowd of 2,312 at Dilboy Stadium in Somerville, Massachusetts. Part of the attraction was FC Indiana, with many Haitian National Team players, who drew some fans and Caribbean based-media. The Breakers’ two Australian internationals Kyah Simon (two) and Tameka Butt (one) contributed three goals, with the other coming from Katie Schoepfer. Haitian international Nadia Libertin replied for FC Indiana. Breakers Head Coach Lisa Cole was pleased with her team’s performance in which they outshot their opponents 22-6 and 14-2 for shots on goal; “I had an idea they [FC Indiana] would sit in a bit and look to counter, and that’s kind of what they tried to do, They were a little more physical than I thought they’d be, but we decided to come out and play our game and get the result we’d be happy with.”
It was a successful weekend for the New England Mutiny, who defeated ASA Chesapeake Charge 4-2 at home on Saturday May 19 and then tied Philadelphia Fever 2-2 on the road the next day. The New York Fury visited Western New York Flash and came home with a 1-0 win on a goal by Brittany Taylor, assisted by Merritt Mathias. Chicago Red Stars won their WPSL Elite seasonal opener at home versus FC Indiana 2-0.
After two weeks of play, the Breakers and the Fury are undefeated after two games for six points. The New England Munity is third on four points after three games.
Boston Breakers Edge D.C. United Women in Inter-league Match
In an interesting interleague match between the WPSL Elite’s Boston Breakers and the W-League’s D.C. United Women on Saturday, May 12, the Breakers won 1-0 on the road at the Maryland SoccerPlex. The game attracted a crowd in excess of 1,000, which saw Australian forward Kyah Simon score the only goal in the 56th minute. Boston had 15 shots (9 on goal) to only 5 for D.C. (4 on goal).
Exhibition matches are usually disregarded as little more than practice sessions and unimportant, but this was a significant occasion between two teams expected to go far in their respective leagues this season. As the women’s game tries to regroup after the WPS’s closure, we hope there will be more interleague games between the two senior women’s leagues in the country. Continued dialogue could see the two leagues explore combining for a national elite women’s league in the near future, but even if that doesn’t take place, it’s good to see the cooperation among the two leagues that are crucial to the further growth of the game in North America.
Lyon repeats as UEFA’s Top Club with Champion’s League Win Over Frankfurt
Two early goals from Olympique Lyon were enough to give the French side the UEFA Champion’s League title for a second consecutive season on Thursday May 17 over 1. FFC Frankfurt. The game, held in Munich in conjunction with the men’s Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Chelsea two days later, attracted a record crowd of 50,212 for a European women’s club game. On the back of last summer’s successful Women’s World Cup, Germany has set another standard in establishing itself as a leader in the women’s game. At the same time, the multinational Lyon side clearly showed that their artistic style of play has established them as the top women’s club team in the world. Lyon doubled 1. FFC Frankfurt’s shot attempts (21-10) and twice hit the woodwork.
The first goal came after 15 minutes when Costa Rican star Shirley Cruz was fouled in the box and Eugenie Le Sommer slammed the penalty kick into the corner just past Frankfurt goalkeeper Desiree Schumann’s outstretched hand. Former WPS player Camille Abily then lobbed an out-of-position Schumann to double the score in the 29th minute. The gifted French international midfielder Louise Necib started the play by dribbling out of trouble on the left flank before feeding the ball towards Swedish international forward Lotta Schelin. Schumann reached the ball ahead of Schelin at the top of the box but cleared the ball straight to Abily, who calmly put the ball into the empty net from about 35 meters away.
Frankfurt’s best chance of the game fell to Melanie Behringer on a breakaway just before halftime but French international goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi stayed on her feet and snuffed the close-range attempt. Both teams have built their clubs with strong domestic talent and liberal use of imports. Some players familiar to WPS followers included for Lyon ex-Washington Freedom midfielder Sonia Bompastor, who was influential throughout the match, and ex-Ohio State University forward Lara Dickenmann, who was a second half substitute for Necib. Dickenmann played in the W-League with the New Jersey Wildcats in 2006 and Sky Blue FC in 2007, when she was MVP and league scoring champion. Brazil’s Rosana won a WPS title with Sky Blue FC in 2009. Ami Otaki played at the University of York in Canada and is a prospect for Japan’s full national team. Frankfurt’s internationals included ex-Western New York Flash and Lehigh University’s Gina Lewandowski, who started in defense, as well as substitute defender Ria Percival, the New Zealand international who played in the W-League with FC Indiana and Ottawa Fury. Two Swedish internationals were important to Frankfurt this season: defender Sara Thunebro and forward Jessica Landstrom. Ann Maria Crnogorcevic is a Swiss international and starting defender Saki Kumagai was on Japan’s World Cup winning side last summer.
For W-League and WPSL Elite sides that are considering importing a team for a tour of North America, Lyon would be a fantastic draw and provide fans an opportunity to see a stunning side at its peak.
Tim Grainey is a regular contributor to Soccer365. His latest book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham was released earlier this month. Get your copy today.
The push for more color on their cleats, adidas has added the infrared colorway to the adiZero f50 Line.
adidas has added some color to the Predator line with this new colorway. Released on May 17. Be the first to own a pair.
The Liverpool 2013/14 soccer jersey is available for pre-order. The Reds are eager to compete for silver next season.
The new PUMA evoSPEED 1.2 FG. A great new soccer cleat with classic look and first time for PUMA to be on the cleat.
The Juventus jersey for the 2013/14 was released earlier this week. Be the first to wear the colors of the Old Lady.
The adidas Nitrocharge is the most talked about new cleat in years. It was released on May 15 and will take your pitch by storm.
One of the top soccer cleats for control the Nike CTR360 will not let you down on the field in tight spaces.
Borussia Dortmund hears Wembley Calling and are headed to London for the Champions League final.
Chelsea won the Europa League on Wednesday. The Blues defeated Benfica 2-1 on injury time goal from Ivanovic.
Bayern Munich are kings of Germany and hope to be crowned kings of Europe at Wembley later this month!