WPS, magicJack break-up a potential growing point

Jeff Kassouf October 28, 2011 10
Christen Press

2011 WPS Rookie of the Year Christen Press will have to find a new home in 2012 after scoring eight goals for magicJack in 2011. (Photo Credit: Geoff Solomon)

And so it ends. We think, anyway. The 11-month blind date of a romance concluded on Tuesday when the WPS Board of Governors voted to terminate the magicJack franchise. The termination should serve as the last stand in this tussle, although this relationship has taught that anything is possible.

As turbulent and often times confusing as the relationship was, let’s recall that it did serve a critical purpose in getting the league to this point. Almost a year ago to the day, WPS was on the verge of going under. Joe Sahlen had just committed the Western New York Flash to the league, but 2010 champion FC Gold Pride was on the verge of bowing out along with the Chicago Red Stars (both eventually did exit the league) and the Washington Freedom were close to having the plug pulled after 10 years.

Enter Dan Borislow, the 11th hour savior of the Freedom. Well, sort of. Borislow quickly revealed his intentions to do anything but preserve the Freedom brand or even keep the team in the D.C. area. And when you are dating the guy with a lot of money, you turn the other way and let him say what he wants, like WPS initially did.

That mood quickly changed.

In a matter of a few weeks, Freedom fans turned from thankful to outraged as they realize their team was facing more of a coup d’état than salvation. The coaching staff, front office and identity were wiped out as the franchise relocated to the sedate paradise of Boca Raton, Fla. and renamed after the internet telephone invention, magicJack.

In May, WPS docked magicJack a point in the standings for an accumulation of violations regarding stadium and team minimum standards. Borislow responded with a vehement public attack on the league and made accusations that “infidels” were leaking information.

By mid-July (and unknown to the public until early August), Borislow decided it was time to take the issue to court. By the August 27 WPS Championship, however, that lawsuit was dropped.

But the damage had already been done, both publicly and internally. There were clear rifts between Borislow and Eileraas as well as Borislow and Fitz Johnson, owner of the Atlanta Beat. Borislow singled out the Atlanta organization on August 3, saying:

“I just wanted to add, I know that Boston, New York, New Jersey and some degree Philadelphia’s heart is in the right place. They have been dragged around by a group of haters and bottom feeders. It is no wonder why so many teams bailed and two of the owners have stayed completely out of this mess.”

Around this time, somebody (I can’t take credit) jokingly referred to the situation as “tragicJack.” As cheesy as the pun was, it seemed to actually fit perfectly.

Now that the inevitable break-up of WPS and Borislow commenced, however, the term seems slightly off base. Borislow does not sound like he will be fighting the termination of the magicJack franchise.

For its part, WPS is not prepared to discuss why the termination occurred, a league spokesperson said. The termination comes just a week after team owners and WPS CEO Jennifer Pogorelec O’Sullivan spoke of optimism over returning all six teams from 2011.

U.S. national team forward Abby Wambach, who played for magicJack in 2011, said via Twitter that Thursday was a “sad day” for magicJack and WPS fans. Wambach has been supportive of Borislow since he took over the franchise, a position that stands in contrast to the majority of public opinion and even opinions of some of Wambach’s teammates who filed a grievance against Borislow. Wambach’s optimism was at times looked at curiously, but there are positives that come out of this.

Look, the relationship was rushed from the start. WPS was desperate for help when Borislow came along in November 2010 and the two parties tested the waters. It became clear as early as March that the two were destined for an ugly break-up. It actually went better than it could have.

The public squabble could end up just like that rushed high school relationship. The pairing was never a good one from the start and the break-up was ugly, but in the end it was necessary to learn from and to grow. One day, the two (in this case, at least WPS) will look back on it as a maturing point. Maybe that epiphany will come soon; maybe it will come years from now.

But the fact is that as ugly, childish and at times downright unbelievable the relationship between WPS and Borislow was (and there is blame on both sides), it is a big reason the league is still standing today. He consistently stated that he wants what is best for women’s soccer. Borislow proved that by stacking his squad with talent and and paying for the best players, including a $100,000 transfer fee for Megan Rapinoe. Had the team hired a proper coach (another point of contention with WPS), it probably would have been playing for a championship on August 27.

While he surely is not happy with losing his franchise, Borislow can rest assured that at least temporarily (and although very unconventionally), he did help keep the league’s pulse alive a little longer. That is certainly a help to women’s soccer.

WPS would not have played with only five teams in 2011 (had Sahlen not stepped up earlier in 2010, the league really would have been toast). The league seems like it is willing to move into 2012 with five teams, but likely will add a Connecticut team very soon before going west in 2013.

Next summer’s Olympics should bring more attention to WPS. While nothing is guaranteed, WPS at least lives on, and in the end that is what is important.

MLS may not have dealt with such maverick owners, but it did withstand near-collapse at the turn of the century before the expansion team and stadium boom started in 2005 with the addition of Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA. On a smaller scale, WPS may be able to do the same, but magicJack’s true place in history cannot be judged for some time.

  • Kevin

    Don’t compare the situation in the early 2000s in MLS to WPS. You should know better, Jeff. MLS had billionaires committed to losing millions to make it work. WPS does not have that. MLS had an infrastructure. WPS does not have that. MLS had a steady soccer audience here they could tap into if they got the thing right. WPS only has bandwagon fad fans who will disappear now that the WWC is long over. MLS was viable. And this point WPS is not.

    The fact is that WPS has now folded a team every year. Even though he was crazy, they just got rid of the guy who saved WPS and paid the players more than peanuts. Do you think anyone else is going to pay Hope Solo what she thinks she is worth? They’ll go bankrupt. Some new owners will come in with stars in their eyes because they saw the buzz from the WWC. Once they see the massive loses, they will bolt like the others.

    This league is not going to survive that much longer.

  • Mike Lyons

    it is clear that you are not at all aware of the facts. and the fact that you point blame at not hiring a proper coach shows that. not once did anyone ask me any type of question concerning the problems in Florida. I am not against Dan, I think he is a businessman with a businessman’s attitude. I understood that when i went there, I stated my view, we talked and I did what he wanted. it was that simple. I have no doubt that I would have won the championship if allowed to coach my way. I proved it when I took over Sky Blue, changed the shape of the formation, and had the girls playing great soccer.
    The real problem with the team was there were a few players who were undermining the whole situation. even though i didn’t believe in the formation, it would have worked if one of the players would have done her job and fit in with the concept. That proved to be their downfall.
    so the next time you decide to say someone isn’t qualified, you should take a little time to find out the facts

    • Jeff Kassouf

      The reference was to the team’s lack of a decision on a coach for 16 of the team’s 19 games and the carousel of people designated as “coach” that followed. It admittedly could have been clearer and was in no way a reference to the beginning of the season, before those things really got started.

      • Patty

        Jeff, i think it was clear that you meant the lack of an actual coach instead of Borislow and the Player coaches. At least it was clear to me.

        Great read. And I guess we’ll see what happens. Im still holding out for a return of a DC franchise

    • yankiboy

      Mr. Lyons, thanks for the personal insights. In all honesty, I never took the author’s comments to be directed as a swipe at you in any way. I also read it as being a comment about a ship that appeared to be missing a “rudderless ship” (my words, not anyone else’s) when the owner decided to go the player-coach route.

    • necron99

      I wanted to add that I also did not take the article as a jab at you Mr. Lyons, but as a statement on the coaching situation after you were no longer with the team.

  • Eba Jones

    One has to wonder if the level of soccer is even close to that being played around the world, in particular, in Europe. Will we see more U. S. players follow Ali Krieger overseas to play longer seasons in a much more organized and professional setting?

    • necron99

      The problem is that there are only a few “professional” clubs in each of the European leagues. The level of soccer is not higher on average. Many of the games are blow outs where one of the “pro” teams meets the rest of the teams in the league. In fact it might be lowering the quality of play when the stronger teams have an easy time of it. Add to that the fact that not all players are paid.

  • Gerry Marrone

    This is funny. I don’t recall Mike ever taking over at Sky Blue FC. The facts are Christie Rampone took overcast he Head Coach at Sky Blue and Mike was her assistant. I believe those are the true facts.

    We did finish the season strong in 2009 and the women were playing great soccer – also a fact.

  • Gerry Marrone

    Clearly my typing was a bit off. Should have read – Christie took over as Head Coach. Sorry.