Just when you think things are looking up, reality smacks you in the face. Perhaps the proximity of the few journalists who regularly cover Women’s Professional Soccer skews our perception, but it seems like no league in this country has dealt with that more in the past year than WPS.
October brought unprecedented optimism across the league. The almost exclusively Northeast-based WPS exuded positive forethoughts during the unseasonably warm autumn.
Women’s soccer was and is still riding the high of this summer’s World Cup (just look at the 18,482 fans who showed up in Arizona for the United States’ match again Sweden on Saturday).
The renewed confidence has been tangible from league and team officials throughout the offseason. Even up until two weeks ago, it looked like Connecticut would be joining the league in time for 2012.
The termination of the magicJack franchise was brushed aside as a necessary loss for the betterment of the bigger picture. For the most part, I think the majority of us were able to buy that one.
Then, on Friday, word broke that magicJack owner Dan Borislow is suing the league for improper termination of his magicJack franchise. That in itself was worrisome.
Borislow has the money and the necessary attitude to put up a serious fight against WPS. I’ll pass on pretending I’m a lawyer who can evaluate just how much of a chance he has at reparations (or even reinstatement), but the situation at the very least draws WPS back into the muck of a legal battle that will only drain its time and resources.
When the magicJack-WPS battle first looked like it was headed to the courts back in July, one would-be owner of a franchise interested in joining the league told me that expansion candidates were wary of entering a league with Borislow in it, but that the one bigger turn-off would be entering a league in litigation.
It looks like things are headed that way, again.
But what’s worse, WPS is yet to be sanctioned by the United States Soccer Federation, as reported by Jenna Pel on Sunday.
USSF officials gathered in Los Angeles ahead of Sunday’s MLS Cup final for annual meetings and delayed their decision on whether or not to sanction WPS for 2012, reportedly giving the league two weeks to find a sixth team.
The league already in the past received passes on the minimum standards for a Division 1 women’s league, which require teams in at least three time zones and a minimum of eight teams. Six was enough temporarily, but the USSF’s stance coming out of Sunday’s meeting clearly indicates that five teams is not acceptable.
If finding a sixth team is what ultimately decides whether or not the league gets sanctioned, WPS could be in trouble.
A potential Connecticut franchise just 11 days ago decided, along with WPS, to hold off league entry until 2013, allowing the team more preparation time. Philadelphia Independence head coach Paul Riley has said in the past that a Long Island franchise could be ready if WPS needs it to be, but it’s now late November and that group of investors is slated to join the league in 2013 along with a host of West Coast teams (for up to seven additional teams, total, which would more than double the size of the league).
Detroit’s name has been thrown into the mix, but its late emergence makes a 2012 entry unlikely. Multiple sources said the Motor City is keen on a 2013 entry.
For now, though, there seems to be no likely candidate that can enter WPS and begin play just four months from now (not to mention the immediate needs of branding and marketing).
The implications of an unsanctioned Women’s Professional Soccer are yet unknown. So too is just how close such a situation is to becoming reality.
With rumors of a U.S. national team residency camp already swirling, the uncertainty surrounding WPS only further suggests that we may not see U.S. players in this league next season. Everything seems to be pointing in that direction, although there is still the case to be made that U.S. players may be willing to bear the pay cuts and chaos for the betterment of women’s soccer, as both they and their WUSA predecessors have done in the past.
Still, WPS as a sanctioned league is not a given at this juncture. WPS has coined the term, ‘11th hour,’ over the past two years to describe some of its shortcomings and contraction. It may take an 11th hour compromise to make sure the league is recognized by the USSF, a critical piece to both viability and credibility.