Article by Leanne Elston
In disappointing but not altogether surprising news, Women’s Professional Soccer announced today that after three seasons, it has folded. The league had already ceased operations for the 2012 season and had hoped to return in 2013, but the cancellation is now permanent.
WPS began in 2009 after previous attempts at maintaining a women’s professional league had failed. Women’s United Soccer Association folded in 2003, also after three seasons. WUSA had looked to capitalize off of the success of the 1999 U.S. women’s national team at the Women’s World Cup. That team featured women’s soccer legends such as Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Kristine Lilly, Julie Foudy, and Michelle Akers.
Last summer the USWNT made it once more to the final of the World Cup, but lost out to an impressive Japanese side on penalties. However, while the USWNT gained widespread support during the tournament, the increased attention was not enough to sustain WPS. Attendance shot up in the aftermath of the World Cup and Fox Soccer Channel aired some WPS matches, but the league still faced problems.
The U.S. Soccer Federation came close to rescinding WPS’ status as a Division 1 league last year, but eventually granted an extended waiver with conditions requiring that the league expand. With the termination of the magicJack team amid legal controversies regarding the owner Dan Borislow, WPS had only five teams, three short of the necessary eight for Division 1 status. It was hoped that the 2012 Summer Olympics, in which the USWNT is expected to do well, would attract more fans and help with future expansion.
When WPS canceled the 2012 season, the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) announced a special elite WPSL league, which included squads from the Boston Breakers and Western New York Flash, both of WPS. This special league would allow for players to remain in top form and would be based in the East Coast and Midwest. Meanwhile, USWNT stars Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, and Megan Rapinoe joined the Seattle Sounders Women, and Becky Sauerbrunn joined the DC United Women. Both teams are part of the W-League, which resides alongside the WPSL on the second tier of women’s soccer in the U.S. Other members of the USWNT are currently out of contract, with Ali Krieger the only regular member of the team who plays outside of the U.S., in the Frauen-Bundesliga with Frankfurt. At the moment, the USWNT is preparing for the upcoming Summer Olympics in London.
Abby Wambach, second all-time leading goal scorer for the USWNT and former member of the magicJack, tweeted today:
“Nothing good ever comes easy, and without struggle. The commitment to keep trying, no matter how bad things get, is courageous. The greatest accomplishments usually come after the biggest let downs. Never give up.”
Here’s hoping that we all follow her advice and never give up on women’s professional soccer in the U.S.
Finally, on a personal note, I grew up in the Atlanta area and played soccer (poorly) as a kid. Still, the Atlanta Beat was something I was only vaguely aware of, and I wish very much that I had had more opportunities to see women play professional soccer. While I wasn’t exactly destined to be a professional athlete, it saddens me that girls growing up today playing soccer will continue to lack consistent teams to support aside from the USWNT. The U.S. should be a frontrunner in developing women’s soccer, and a professional league is an important part of that. I can only hope that the future holds something better.