It’s not often you see a unit gel the way the 2010 FC Gold Pride did. A year after finishing the inaugural Women’s Professional Soccer season with a league-worst record, the Pride, after making a slew of roster changes, executed a complete turnaround, winning the WPS Championship with ease.
Not only did Gold Pride win the title game with ease – a 4-0 romp over Philadelphia Independence on Sept. 26 – but they coasted through the regular season. When the dust settled, the Pride finished 2010 touting a 16-3-5 record, totaling 53 points (17 better than second-place Boston), 46 goals (nine more than the next closest) and allowing a league-low 19 goals (eight better than second), sporting a plus-27 goal differential. That whopping goal differential was 19 better than Boston. It was safe to say that this team – one many thought could match up with some national teams – could not be brought down.
And then less than two months later, in mid-November, the team was side-swiped with the announcement that FC Gold Pride would be ceasing its operations.
“I was pretty shocked. It came to all of us as a surprise,” said former Gold Pride captain and now Boston Breaker defender Rachel Buehler. “I loved that team so much – one of the best experiences of my life. It was such a great group so it was sad.”
And that sentiment of shock reverberated through the team.
“Going from a championship team to nothing left me feeling so confused. We had no clue Pride was on the verge of folding,” said Kandace Wilson, two-year Pride defender, and now a member of the expansion Western New York Flash. “Being left without a club just made it seem like it was time to find a new family.”
Carrie Dew, another two-year Pride player, now plays for Sky Blue FC. She was similarly shocked.
“I know I never saw it coming. It ended up being sort of embarrassing,” Dew said. “You run into people who start congratulating you for winning a championship, then your next sentence has to be that your team doesn’t exist anymore.”
That shock displayed by the players wouldn’t have been the case had they been informed of the on goings behind the scenes. In fact, many players became aware of the team’s status via social networks.
In Buehler’s case, she “found out what was going on through someone’s Tweet on Twitter and was like, ‘What’s going on?’ ”
As for Wilson, she “was enjoying the off-season in Las Vegas when I read on Facebook that Pride was folding … and I read it on a players page from a different team.” Wilson went on to say “It was disappointing to have to find out over Facebook opposed to hearing from our team staff first.”
Like Buehler and Wilson, Dew became aware from someone outside of the Gold Pride organization.
“I first heard the news from a player on another team. She told me our team and Chicago were going to be folding, and I didn’t believe her,” she said. Chicago, in fact, have gone public in stating they are taking off 2011 and hope to return to the field in 2012.
“We had just recently gone through the process of being saved and were under the impression everything was fine,” Dew continued. “We had no reason to believe our team would be folding. Then we all starting receiving phone calls from (Pride GM) Ilisa (Kessler) and at that point we knew the rumors were true.”
Just like that, the unstoppable team was dismantled. Players had to put the triumphs of 2010 in the past – along with their aspirations for a repeat in 2011 – move on, and begin to look for a job.
With WPS having just six teams, the talent on each team has potential to run 15 deep. For players like Buehler, a starter on the United States Women’s National Team, she essentially had her choice. “I looked at all the teams,” Buehler noted, “and Boston felt like a good place to be.” But for others, even Dew and Wilson, who were key contributors in the Pride claiming last season’s title, it wasn’t so cut and dry.
“I was definitely worried,” Dew said, reflecting back on the early stages of free agency. “There is so much talent across the league. Losing two teams meant 40 players would likely be left without jobs one way or another.”
“Before coaches were able to contact free agents, I had doubts that I would be contacted,” Wilson reminisced. “I always seem to prepare for the worst.”
Many players have now signed with other teams. Nicole Barnhart just joined the Philadelphia Independence. Buehler, along with USWNT teammate Kelley O’Hara, have latched on with Boston; Dew, with former Pride developmental keeper Erin Guthrie, joined Sky Blue FC; Shannon Boxx, who has been on three teams that have folded – Los Angeles Sol, St. Louis Athletica and FC Gold Pride – joined the Washington Freedom.
But if there will be any resemblance of FC Gold Pride in 2011, it will be located in Western New York. Along with Wilson, the Flash picked up 2009 and 2010 regular season MVP and 2010 WPS Championship MVP Marta, Canadian internationals Christine Sinclair and Candace Chapman, 2010 WPS Rookie of the Year Ali Riley, as well as former Pride backup keeper Brittany Cameron and midfielder Becky Edwards.
“I have a really good feeling about Western New York,” proclaimed Wilson. “I’m so excited to be playing with a lot of (former) Pride players again. We all formed such a tight bond and it’s obvious it was too soon to depart from that bond.”
Year three of WPS starts on April 9 with the Atlanta Beat hosting Buehler and the Boston Breakers at KSU Soccer Stadium in Kennesaw, Ga. Dew and Sky Blue FC get its third season underway on April 10 at home against Philadelphia. And Western New York starts its inaugural year on the road against Boston on April 17, with their home opener on May 1 against Atlanta.
But with three teams folding in two years, and the Red Stars up-in-the-air situation in Chicago, it brings to question the stability of the league.
“We have a great product,” Buehler said. “I think there’s a lot of potential, but financially it’s tough.”
“It was definitely a wake-up call (with the teams folding),” remarked Dew. “We can’t take any of it for granted because the reality is we have no idea how long it will last. As a player I am thankful to have another opportunity to play this year and really hope the league will continue to not just survive but also expand for years to come.”
WPS will also have to survive a two-week hiatus in midseason – much like Major League Soccer did in 2010 – while many of the players go overseas to Germany to take part in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. But while many think the World Cup can be a hindrance to the league, the players are hoping it makes the league stronger.
“I think anytime women’s soccer gets coverage, it’s good for WPS,” said Buehler. “This is the most involved our country has been with soccer. It’s a great opportunity.”
Meanwhile, Dew, a player that will be on the mainland while the World Cup is ongoing, sees the tournament helping, but in a different sense. If the US makes a deep run, and WPS resumes without the stars from the national team, it’s up to the remaining players to produce a great product.
“The teams that are able to adapt the best to missing key players will be the most successful this year,” said Dew. “Every player on the roster will be important.”
Now, the only thing left to do as fans of the game, and women’s soccer in general, is to sit back and watch as it all unfolds. Teams will begin their slate of preseason matches in early March leading to the 2011 season opening weekend April 9 and 10.