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.