FOX Soccer Exclusive
USA announces new women's league
The lessons learned from the failures of the past were evident as the new professional women's soccer league in the United States took its first public steps on Wednesday.
Gone were the delusions of grandeur and the expensive trappings intended to create a significant splash out of the gate. In their stead arrived an emphasis on sustainability over the long term and a significant level of investment from US Soccer, the Canadian Soccer Association and the FMF to subsidize the development of their national team players in a competitive league.
The new, eight-team competition doesn't have a name yet. It doesn't have many of the granular details of the operation sorted out, either. But its operators do possess a revamped and tempered approach designed to ensure this third attempt to establish a functioning league does not end in disappointment.
“The model is quite different, both in terms of the sorts of players you might go out and get internationally, in terms of marketing and promotional efforts and maybe in terms of some of the stadiums,” US Soccer president Sunil Gulati said on a conference call to announce the new endeavor. “What we need is a sustainable model: less hype, better performance. The hype will come if we have the performance.”
Gulati and his counterparts in Canada and Mexico committed significant financial resources to get this league off the ground. All three federations will fund the participation of a significant number of their national team stars – up to 24 US national teamers, up to 16 Canadian regulars and a minimum of 12 Mexican players – to ensure those integral figures will receive frequent match action at a high standard of play ahead of the 2015 World Cup.
What we need is a sustainable model: less hype, better performance. The hype will come if we have the performance.
The match practice will not come with the high overhead costs incurred by WUSA and WPS. US Soccer will administer the front office to create stability and defray operating expenses. All eight clubs – Boston, Chicago, Kansas City, Portland, Seattle, Sky Blue (New Jersey), Washington and Western New York – will enter the new league with smaller budgets and smaller venues.
The alterations to previous practices may include the arrival of fewer marquee international players from overseas and the prospect of some players holding additional jobs during the winter to supplement their income, but those tweaks will not stop the league from immediately establishing itself as one of the top competitions in the world.
“The one thing that has absolutely not changed is the teams' commitment to professional training and a professional environment for the players,” Boston Breakers managing partner Michael Stoller said. “This is a true professional league and standard of play.”
Plenty of work still remains to bring the league together in time for its expected launch in March or April. US Soccer must convince its most marketable players – Alex Morgan, Hope Solo and Abby Wambach, for starters – to cast their lots with the new league instead of exploring alternative options. It must then find a way to equitably distribute the national team players from all three countries among the involved clubs despite the concentration of US stars who might prefer to play in Portland or Seattle.
Throw in the usual concerns about acquiring and dispersing the rest of the players and creating the necessary infrastructure to build a league in a matter of months and this setup faces a significant number of challenges before the first game can take place.
None of those obstacles will come as a surprise to a group of federation officials and investors well versed in the difficulties that lay ahead. Two professional leagues have come and gone since the 1999 Women's World Cup. While those competitions may no longer exist, their influence on this prudent setup is clear.
The involved parties return to the table this time armed with more knowledge about the marketplace and more reasonable expectations for what it may yield. Now, the onus falls upon them to use those instructive failures of the past to ensure this third and perhaps final attempt to establish a professional league will further the development of the women's game in North America for many years to come.
Kyle McCarthy writes about the beautiful game for FOX Soccer, the Boston Herald and several other publications. Follow him on Twitter @kylejmccarthy.