Sunday, May 20, 2012

With the WPS Gone, the W-League Picks up Slack

Article by Luke Lohr

In the wake of the unsurprising yet still saddening news of Women's Professional Soccer folding, fans may wonder where young female talent is left to practice their craft. Where are they to go? The WPS was the second strong attempt to capitalize on a market that was seriously under exposed. The failures of the WUSA in 2003 and now the WPS in 2012 mark a sad realization that making a professional women's league for the mainstream market will be beyond difficult.

At yet, despite each of those leagues' failures, there is a place for women's soccer to develop and grow. A place for young female soccer players to find role models outside of just their national team. That place is the long-lasting W-League of USL. The United Soccer League has been striving since it's inception to see the growth and development of soccer in many different demographics, including the women's game. With the WPS now gone, the W-League is left to pick up the slack. It is now home to many iconic national team players from both the United States and Canada, including Hope Solo, Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath.

The inaugural season of the league was in 1995 and since then it has at times been the peak of the women's professional game while at other times, it has served to be the second tier in the US Soccer Pyramid. In any case it is now the primary league in North America for elite female soccer.

USL President Tim Holt discussed the situation with MLSReserves in the wake of the WPS news and provided exceptional insight as to what the league hopes to accomplish in both the long and short term.

"The W-League has, since it's inception, been very consistent in its mission," said Holt. "That is to be the top women's development league in the United States and Canada. It has never deviated from that mission. Now at times there has been a professional league in this country and the W-League has not been the top level of women's soccer in this country and that's been OK, because the key word here is development."

The word development may come as both encouraging and surprising. At first glance the W-League might appear to be a second division of soccer hoping to become mainstream and competitive similar to the NASL on the men's side. However, Holt is adamant that the W-League's purpose is to provide a developmental aspect to its business, whilst simultaneously providing fans with a quality product on the field.

"We are always in the business to provide an entertaining product. So the event experience is something we take pride in," continues Holt. "This isn't just a Sunday league where you let anyone in who can field an adult women's team. We have an attention to quality over quantity. When fans go to a W-League match, they are treated to a very high level of play and at times, the highest level of play. We've had players from national teams in the league, we have players from national teams of the United States and Canada in the league now."

Holt is referring to the players mentioned earlier in the article. A spearhead in the W-League now is the Seattle Sounders Women's side, who boast many of those stars. However, they are not the only MLS branded team in the league. DC United Women are also competing. The Atlanta Silverbacks and Charlotte Eagles are also represented opposite their professional male counterpart teams. A positive sign that despite setbacks, there is faith in women's professional soccer.

"In some games, you might see some of the best players in the world, where as other games you might see a much more collegiate representation of players," describes Holt. "Some teams are focused on older players, some teams it's part of a youth club structure where it's an extension of a youth club in development, so it varies. All of our clubs are trying to put out an entertaining product on the field and to create a great night out off the field. We it to be an event experience more than just an entertaining soccer game."

"The W-League, along with all of our leagues, tries to do both of those things with a high level of execution."

Currently the W-League features a remarkable 30 teams who play in regional competition. It combines elite amateurs along with national team stars and the budding collegiate talent. At present, it serves as an excellent reminder that women's soccer is still a worthwhile endeavor and there is a place for hope in the hearts of young female athletes. While two leagues may have failed, the W-League persists and has done so for nearly two decades.

Women's soccer is in no way dead, it's simply development you might say.

To see me discuss the news and future of women's soccer, check out this video here. Skip ahead roughly an hour to the halftime show.

To find out more on the W-League or gather information on the teams involved, head here.

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