WPS Extra Time: Milbrett envisions better future for sport

Giovanni Albanese Jr. June 15, 2011 9

As it turns out, there is still women’s professional soccer in the Bay Area of California. So what if it’s not a club in Women’s Professional Soccer (in case you’ve forgotten, FC Gold Pride folded in October last year). Thanks to an ownership group, two professional clubs joined Women’s Premier Soccer League in 2011 — Orange County Waves in So Cal and Bay Area Breeze in Nor Cal.

And, after viewing the Breeze dismantle the San Francisco Nighthawks, 5-0, Saturday night in Dublin, Calif., I can assuredly say that there is plenty of talent in the women’s game; probably enough to start a small conference of teams that could challenge a WPS champion.

As it stands now, the talent level in WPSL is clearly inferior to that of WPS. But that doesn’t mean it can’t change. With Orange County and Bay Area pro teams in a professional-amateur league, they could be joined by clubs like the California Storm, Portland Rain and San Diego SeaLions to throw out some clubs; Vancouver Whitecaps of the W-League would also be a great candidate for a pro club to join a West Coast league, but is unlikely. The aforementioned five WPSL teams, however, could assimilate a West Coast pro league, comparable to the East Coast-heavy WPS, and have just what many fans of the game want: a nationwide league.

On June 6, the status of WPS’ future is still uncertain. Should they remain relevant into 2012, there is some aspiration from the Waves-Breeze ownership group, as well as other pro WPSL, to form this West Coast league. Could that turn into a WPSL-WPS overall champion? It would be nice.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves right now. There is still a lot of time between now and then. In the present, things are going great for the two new clubs in WPSL. O.C. is in first through three matches, with a 3-0-0 record, netting 14 goals and not allowing one (tied with the San Diego SeaLions, also 3-0-0 with 9 goals, 3 allowed). Bay Area is in second, 2-0-1 through three matches, with seven goals scored, one allowed. (Breeze trails North Bay FC Wave, who is 3-0-1 through four matches.) It’s certainly shaping up to be a successful project.

Wave features a slue of talent, including former WPS’ers Kiki Bosio (FC Gold Pride), Brittany Klein (Washington Freedom), Kristina Larsen (Atlanta Beat) and Vendula Strnadova (Beat). Meanwhile, the Breeze also have their share of talented players, including former Gold Pride players Kim Yokers and Tiffeny Milbrett, along with former Boston Breakers defender Chioma Igwe; Terry Foley, formerly of the Philadelphia Independence organization, is the head coach of the Breeze.

When asked about the prospect of westward expansion for a semblance of a pro league to counteract the bevy of East Coast teams, Milbrett was on board.

“Absolutely, are you kidding? The West Coast is a soccer hot bed. It really is a no brainer,” said Milbrett. “Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, California, this whole West Coast is a soccer hot bed and I think we need it back here, but we need it to stay.”

It’s hard to argue Milbrett’s point. Have you seen the crowds that gather for matches in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver in MLS? It’s hard to think those dedicated fans couldn’t translate their allegiance to the women’s game. Maybe its owners who don’t want to invest? It’s quite concerning.

“The thing that baffles me is there is so much money in this country … how can we not find the people that will be like a (Phil) Anschutz was for MLS?” Milbrett asked. “He made an investment and it was worth it; it’s the same for us: we’re an investment and we’re worth it.

“We’re hopeful, and that’s why we’re out here and continue to do what we do,” Milbrett concluded.

Milbrett, like former US Women’s National Team and FC Gold Pride teammate Brandi Chastain, elected to continue to play women’s soccer after leaving WPS. Chastain went on to join the Storm, who call Sacramento home, where she still is a member. Milbrett stayed in the Bay Area to join the newly-formed Breeze.

“We want to build and move forward (in women’s soccer),” said Milbrett. “(The Breeze ownership group) that wants to move soccer forward in this country. We need a lot of help and support … that’s why I’m out here.”

“It’s very professional here with the Breeze,” Milbrett added. “What a group to be a part of.”

She hasn’t scored a goal yet for the Breeze, but Milbrett, 38, is as fit, if not in better condition, than everyone on the pitch. In 85 minutes of action, the veteran took five shots and set up the game’s first goal. Surely if there was a team in WPS on the West Coast, Milbrett would be suiting up with that team. She chose Breeze because of her reluctance to go to the East Coast to play a full season.

But Milbrett continues to play. Her competitive nature helps up-and-coming soccer players that could potentially translate to WPS caliber talent. And whether or not the advent of a West Coast league comes to fruition, the second-tier leagues, such as WPSL and W-League, are great for the game.

“These are league’s that are important for these players; you need to play somewhere,” said Milbrett, who mentioned playing was not for her personally, but to help continue to move soccer forward and keep soccer in the Bay Area.. “These leagues can potentially become feeder league’s for WPS … it’s very important and affords (the players) a place to play.”

Things to watch for this week

Philadelphia Independence has a chance to expand from its triumph over Western New York — handing the Flash its first WPS loss — when it takes on magicJack, who got back to its winning ways last weekend with a 3-2 win at KSU Soccer Stadium in Kennesaw, Ga., against the Atlanta Beat. In the only other match over the weekend, the Boston Breakers will hope to keep its play going in the right direction when they head to Georgia to take on the Beat on Sunday night — a FOX Soccer broadcast.

Power Rankings

1. Western New York Flash

2. magicJack

3. Philadelphia Independence

T-4. Sky Blue FC

T-4. Boston Breakers

6. Atlanta Beat

Player of the Week

Alyssa Naeher — Boston Breakers keeper backed up the 2-1 win over magicJack with a scoreless draw on the road against a streaking Sky Blue FC club. Naeher saw Sky Blue FC take 24 shots, 13 on target, stopping each one to earn a much-deserved point on the road.

Quote of the Week

“They tried to take us off our game and that was achieved,” Western New York Flash coach Aaron Lines said after his club not only didn’t score multiple goals in a game for the first time, but didn’t have a single tally, and they lost for the first time all year — a 1-0 shutout on their home field to Philadelphia Independence.

Follow Giovanni on Twitter @GAlbaneseJr

  • W League Fan

    The W League is strong. 3 teams in the LA area, one is in first place in the Western conference; 2 teams in Colorado and 3 in the Northwest. I think Tiffany is on to something.

  • jim

    it’s nice to see MJ back in the #2 spot. i’ve seen rankings with them in the #5 spots. really? anyway, for the good of the league, they need to meet WNY in front of a packed crowd for the championship. i think to get to 2012 the league needs that super final. it’s nice to see several wpsl teams in the west are interested too.

    • http://www.equalizersoccer.com/ Jeff Kassouf

      Agreed, although the problem is that these WPSL teams can’t pay WPS prices (fees, player salaries, etc.) so they are looking into their own pro league. That doesn’t help WPS. In fact it hurts expansion. I like that there are alternatives being explored, but it is also another case of division amongst leagues.

      • jim

        well, i think with any league you are going to have your super teams (wny and mj) and you’re cheap teams (atl). is there a middle ground which can be found? fitz is saying he can run the beat for 1 Mil. what are the wpsl teams looking at? i think i read 100-250k. even dan and sahlen have said teams are still overspending on certain things. if you have 6 teams on the west coast toying with the idea, you have to sit down and figure out away. is 500k per yr to run teams too much? teams at that cost would probably break even yrly w/2500 attendance per game. you’d probably end up with a combo of buffalo flash w-league and atl beat talent, but that would still be a team that could give sbfc and boston a run, maybe not the big two. i think over time you could have a 12-14 team league. well, it depends on what happens after aug 27th. sbfc had under 1000 this past week.

  • george

    Is there a reason why you think Vancouver joining a WPSL pro league is unlikely or is this just an intuition?

  • Katy

    What about teams that piggy-back w/MLS clubs, like the DCU Women? Is that a possibility as well?

    • http://www.equalizersoccer.com/ Jeff Kassouf

      It’s an idea, and one that many have inquired about. It’s not yet realistic, though. MLS as a whole is not concerned with women’s soccer. DCU Women are far from close to an MLS-WPS relationship and the likes of Silverbacks and Eagles are even farther off. The money difference is just too big. The most realistic partnerships in that category are in Vancouver and Seattle.

  • Katy

    meant to include other men’s/women’s combinations like Silverbacks in Atlanta, Eagles in Charlotte…the economies of scale have to be worth something

  • http://home.comcast.net/~StarCityFan/ StarCityFan

    You do get the impression that women’s professional soccer is here to stay; it just has to find its level. WUSA was laughably ambitious. WPS started out too ambitious but has been scaling back trying to find a sweet spot. Some WPSL and W-League teams are scaling up with similar goals. You have to hope they find a place that players, owners, and fans are all comfortable with. But, yeah, the bottom line – as I have said many times – is that the only real difference between the success men’s soccer over here and the success of women’s soccer is that people like Anschutz and Hunt are willing to lose tens of millions on the former while no one as yet is willing to lose millions on the latter.