Women's Soccer News: One Step-two Steps for Women’s Soccer
If you were surprised at the end of January when Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) announced suspension of the 2012 season, join the club. Since then I’ve been trying to make sense of the women’s game – what is the best league now, where are the WPS players going, is the women’s game taking a step backward?
The announcement of the creation of the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) Elite League just 10 days later helped answer some questions, but it really just made me want to know more. Had the USL thought about stepping up to host a professional league? Who is playing in the Elite League?
I figured I’m not the only one wanting some answers, or at least clarification, so I decided to do some research and reach out to the experts for answers.
The majority of the Elite League teams are from the WPSL with two of the five WPS teams joining. No USL W-League teams are participating and the Philadelphia Fever is the new kid on the block, the inaugural club that will be filled with collegiate players from New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
When I read the announcement that Aztec MA was joining the Elite League and that they were traditionally a reserve team for the Boston Breakers, I had to wonder how that relationship was going to “play” out. I caught up with Boston Breakers head coach Lisa Cole while in Boston last February and she explained that the Aztec team will have U23 players while the Breakers will be mostly Pro players (FYI in this league you can pay players).
She assured me that there would be “competition on game day,” especially given how well the players know each other, and the Breakers plan to let Aztec train with them. Whenever you bring elite level athletes together, they always play to win, and who knows, the U23’s could surprise us.
When I asked her if the USL had thought about going pro, she said, “the WPSL made more sense for right now. Right now this is a bridge year and we’re hoping that eventually big USL teams will be a part of the Elite League.”
Amy Carnell, Seattle Sounders Women General Manager Amy Carnell General Manager of the W-League Sounders Women, mentioned that the W-League is seriously considering a Pro League for 2013 with a division of West Coast and East Coast Teams.” Is that the same merger that Lisa Cole alluded to? Who knows? Amy acknowledged, “tons of movement is happening and I think we will have a lot of answers in the next 3-4 months.”
So which league is better, the WPSL or the W-League? Carnell explained to me that she thinks the W-League is stronger compared to WPSL because it has had more national team and WPS players play in it. However, she did note that “the West coast W-League teams are stronger than the WPSL West Coast teams, but on the East Coast, the WPSL Teams are in general more competitive.”
What’s that all mean? The WPSL (and now the Elite League) is big in the East and the W-League is big in the West ... Now that we understand the leagues, we might ask….
…where do WPS players go?
When the WPS folded there was a lot of uncertainty for players on where they were headed next – especially for the 3 teams that did not join the WPSL Elite (Sky Blue FC, Philadelphia Independence and Atlanta Beat).
In the case of the Breakers and Western New York Flash, some players are opting to stay with their teams and others are exploring new horizons. The Breakers resigned Leslie Osborne and have had success attracting star talent like Cat Whitehill (2011 Atlanta Beat) and Heather O’Reilly (2011 Sky Blue FC), although they did lose Kelly Smith to Arsenal.
However, the Western NY Flash has seen some of its star power go elsewhere – Alex Morgan to the W-League Sounders, Marta to a Swedish football team and they have yet to re-sign Christine Sinclair.
Overall, the Elite League will have some great players, but there are still so many top female soccer players out of contract. With several options for leagues to play in – the WPSL, W-League & overseas – where will players like Megan Rapinoe, Abby Wambach, Heather Mitts and Christie Rampone end up?
Hope Solo on finding the right team:
If you haven’t yet heard, the Seattle Sounders Women are attracting quite a bit of attention from signing high profile players like Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, Sydney LeRoux and Keelin Winters.
I reached out to goalkeeper Hope Solo for some insider info on why she decided to join the Sounders and how others are making similar decisions.
Maryann Boddy: When did you decide to play for the Sounders, and what helped in that decision?
Hope Solo: I decided to come play for Seattle because I have always wanted to return home to help build soccer in a city that I love and in a city that has helped me fulfill my own soccer playing dreams. Seattle gave me an opportunity to build as a player at the University of Washington and by coaching and training in the area.
There is a great soccer community in Seattle, and I learned all about it the moment I committed to UW to play.
Maryann Boddy: Did you consider joining WPSL Elite teams that have former WPS players on the rosters (Breakers or Western NY Flash)? Were you drawn to Europe at all?
Hope Solo: I thought seriously about playing in Germany, but it would have been a lot of travel in an Olympic year. I didn't consider any WPSL teams.
Maryann Boddy: With several options of leagues to play in – WPSL, W-League, overseas – do you think players are making their decision on where to go for personal or professional reasons?
Hope Solo: I think every professional athlete makes decisions because of both professional and personal reasons. However for me returning to Seattle wasn't simply because my boyfriend or family is here, it’s because I am passionate about helping the women's game in a city that has done so much for me. And one day I want to retire here in Seattle the same as Kasey did.
Maryann Boddy: I heard you are close with Sydney Leroux, did you help make her decision to join the team?
Hope Solo: I am close with Syd. I think she is the up and coming player for this country. I love the way she plays with so much passion and with a chip on her shoulder. She prides herself in playing defense and gong hard in for tackles unlike many forwards. She works hard and I admire her work rate.
Maryann Boddy: So far the team has announced 4 WNT players and 3 others will national team experience. Do you think Seattle is going to be the Yankees of the W-League?
Hope Solo: I don't believe in predictions when it comes to a team on paper. The greatest team on paper doesn't always win and isn't guaranteed success. Many things have to align in order to win championships.
Maryann Boddy: How will you balance league play and training with the Olympics?
Hope Solo: The Sounders organization have been very supportive and understand that my schedule and obligations are very different, not only from the Sounders team, but from my national teammates as well, especially in the lead up to the Olympics. The mutual understanding is beneficial to all as I can bring my experience to the team, bring some attention to the game as well as mentor other players and offer a high level of professionalism.
I will miss many games and training sessions but I will be fully committed to helping my new teammates and the sounders organization in many other ways then just between the posts.
With this insider info on what brought Hope to the Sounders, I asked Amy Carnell if she thought the WPSL Elite League and the W-League are competing for the same players.
Carnell explained, “Hope is a local product and has trained with the Sounders Women in the past. Some of her good friends are former Sounders Women players – lots of location connections.
In general, there are various opportunities for WPSL Elite League teams to pay players while most W-League teams are not. That creates an opportunity for them to pick up stronger talent. Overall, most WPS players are finding homes either overseas, with paid W-League or WPSL Elite teams or going back to their local roots. Every player has slightly different options.”
And having options is what it’s all about. The WPS door closed, but several more opened. There are more teams competing now for those top-tier players who can chose to stay local or explore abroad.
And the Olympics may have heavily influenced those decisions as the international stars we have lost may have decided to play closer to home in such an important summer. With a revamped league we can only hope they return – the next feel months should be very telling, both on the international and domestic fronts.
So have I made sense of all this yet? Did the game take a step back? I would say one step back and two steps forward.
Maryann Boddy played midfield for Seattle University from 2004 through 2008, appearing in 70 matches for the Redhawks. She earned Second Team All-GNAC in 2006 and Academic All-GNAC honors in 2006 and 2007. Boddy earned a Bachelor’s degree in Humanities and a Master’s degree in Sports Administration and Leadership. In addition to coaching with the Eastside FC G95 team, Boddy is the Marketing Coordinator at Korrio.
Related Article: WPS Dreaming