November 26, 2011
By Charles Cuttone
Memo to US Soccer: time to step up
It’s time for U.S. Soccer to step up for women’s soccer. Yes, every few years, the Federation does what it needs to in order to make it look like it actually cares about the women’s game. After all, trophies and medals are at stake, and maybe a bit of money.
No doubt Women’s National Team players are well paid, especially compared to national teamers from other countries. But that’s because of the players who came before, the ones who went on strike before the 2000 Olympics.
But now the Federation needs to really step up and say it cares about the future of the women’s game. Other parts of the world have caught up, and the game in this country needs an infrastructure like the one that has been developed on the men’s side over the last 20 years.
That includes having a viable pro league at the top of the system. Unlike MLS, however, that pro league can and has attracted the very best women’s players in the world. Marta, Christine Sinclair, Homare Sawa, they all played in Women’s Professional Soccer, along with nearly every member of the U.S. Women’s National team that made it to the final of this year’s World Cup. A story that was one of if not the best in sports this year.
WPS has teetered on the brink of collapse almost since the first ball was kicked in 2009, but it doesn’t need the Federation playing the role of dodo hunter to push it over the brink.
According to U.S. Soccer’s rules on the professional game, a pro league must have eight teams in order to be considered first division. WPS was granted a waiver by U.S. Soccer last season, when it had six teams. This year, that number has been reduced to five, after the league kicked out a loose cannon of an owner who refused to adhere to professional standards that the league had set forth. This was an owner who refused to put up sponsor signboards at his home playing field. A field—not a stadium as required by the league. This was an owner who refused to tape his games, or provide medical training supplies to his own players on the road. An owner who took to the sidelines to coach and who berated his own players while threatening to not show up for road games and to sue his partners in the league.
WPS made the only move they could in expelling that owner and his team. It made the league stronger. Now U.S. Soccer has given WPS two weeks to get some things in order, including getting a sixth team. That makes no sense. Push a team into playing before they are ready only weakens the league and the sport.
We hear there are two potential teams who could come in, but would prefer to wait until 2013, so they have more time to prepare. There is apparently a great deal of interest in the league if it can make it to its fifth season in 2013.
The owners of the other teams in the league seem to be pretty committed. In Atlanta, they’ve built their own soccer stadium in partnership with Kennesaw State University. Sky Blue FC’s owner is talking about building his own stadium, and Philly’s owner is champing at the bit to eventually move into PPL Park and share it with Major League Soccer’s Union. The owner of the Western New York team, in addition to shelling out for Marta, also signed a long-term deal for naming rights to the stadium in Rochester.
U.S. Soccer should not be looking to pull the WPS’ sanction, but be looking for ways to help the league. If it insists that it needs a sixth team, then why not in this Olympic year make the National Team the sixth and integrate it into the league schedule? That’s not to say U.S. Soccer should give the WPS a free pass. Hold their feet to the fire on other minimum standards, but maybe look the other way on this one. Five semi-solid franchises in a league is better than no league at all.
The U.S. already has lost one women’s pro league. The owners of that league were not nearly as committed as the group in the WPS. U.S. Soccer needs to know that.