The Fight To Save Women's Soccer

Women's Pro Soccer has lost one of its teams, and now it could lose its sanctioning as a professional league. But players are fighting to keep the league alive.

According to the Times, US Soccer requires leagues to have eight teams in order to be deemed professional. Last season, WPS only had six, but US Soccer granted them a special waiver. But with the dissolution of the Florida team magicJack, that number has dropped to five — and US Soccer has given the three-year-old league 15 days, starting on Nov. 20, to recruit another team before it decides whether to grant the waiver again. If it decides not to, the league could still operate, but it would probably lose a lot of its best players.

Now, some WPS athletes are pushing US Soccer to extend the waiver, even if the league has only five teams. In the Times Goal blog, player Yael Averbuch wrote that while the league might never be an enormous money-maker, it has a dedicated and growing fan base. She explained,

I have seen families gathered around the U.S. women's national team training field in Scottsdale, Ariz., eagerly hoping to get an autograph. I've seen girls screaming as if they were at a Backstreet Boys concert for the chance to meet Abby Wambach or Alex Morgan. I've seen Hope Solo, on "Dancing With the Stars," transcend her role as an athlete and become a celebrity. I've seen fans jumping up and down, almost at the point of tears, because I gave them my used, sweaty shinguards after the W.P.S. final this past season. These things tell me that there is hope, and a lot of it.

Her teammate Alexandra Sahlen has created a petition asking US Soccer CEO Dan Flynn to grant the extension. She argues that WPS serves as invaluable training for the women's World Cup: "Every player on the 2011 World Cup Roster has played in the WPS and benefited from the day in day out training and weekly competitive games." She adds,

Without the support and Division 1 sanctioning of the league, the league will not be able to uphold and retain its Top domestic and National Team players as well as International Stars. And what does this mean for your daughter? Or for your little sister? Your cousin? Your friend? [...] The opportunity for the millions of young girls that dream of being the next Hope Solo or Alex Morgan will never get the chance. All because US Soccer did not back the league that is playing in their back yard. That is producing and bettering their players for not just today, but for the future.

Averbuch and Sahlen make good arguments for the continued support of women's professional soccer in America, but WPS's woes also raise the question of why a country that loves Hope Solo, the Women's World Cup, and girls' soccer can't support a viable professional league. Only A Game asks,

But what does it say about a league when the team with the best record in its inaugural season goes bust after the championship? Or when the team that wins the championship during year two ceases operations shortly thereafter? Or when the team that employed Abby Wambach and several other prominent national team players last year gets snatched away from their eccentric and allegedly abusive owner and closes up shop in October?

That last would be the magicJack, whose owner Dan Borislaw allegedly sent abusive emails to players, and named himself coach even though he had no coaching experience. He also apparently hired no marketing, communications, or ticketing staff, and didn't even set up an official website for the team. Presumably, the five remaining owners are more competent — Sahlen writes that they "are committed and have fought tooth and nail, putting in millions of dollars to see the league succeed." They may need help building an audience, and the fact that Borislaw at one point owned one-sixth of WPS suggests that the league as a whole might need better oversight and organization. But the failure of a mismanaged franchise should be cause for better management, not the elimination of an entire league. As Averbuch and Sahlen point out, Americans like women's soccer. They deserve a fully-functioning pro league to root for, and WPS deserves the support it needs to become that league. But if loses its bid for a waiver, it may never get the chance.

Support Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) Remaining A Sanctioned League [Change.org]
Trying To Save W.P.S.: A Player's View [NYT Goal Blog]
Women's Pro Soccer: Will There Be A Fourth Season? [Only A Game]