XI from ’12: [No. 6] Leagues in transition

Meg Linehan December 29, 2012 1

Western New York Flash have won three-straight titles in three different leagues. In 2012, that was WPSL Elite. (Photo Credit: Meg Linehan/EqualizerSoccer.com))

The start of 2012 looked rather grim for the future of women’s professional soccer in the United States.  January was a whirlwind of news concerning the fate of the floundering WPS.  Teams announced a flurry of signings, including Kelley O’Hara and Yael Averbuch to Atlanta, Lori Lindsey heading to the Western New York Flash.  The league went ahead with the 2012 draft, which “lived up to its billing as a hotbed of forwards.”  The Atlanta Beat selected Sydney Leroux first, and Sky Blue FC selected Melissa Henderson of Notre Dame second.

Meanwhile, the specter of Dan Borislow hovered over the impending season.  A Palm Beach Couty, Fla. court ruled in favor of Borislow’s argument that magicJack had been improperly terminated from WPS.  While at the 2012 WPS Draft, league CEO Jennifer O’Sullivan answered questions about the state of the league, and referred to the ongoing legal saga as an “unfortunate situation” and “a distraction from what we’re trying to do in building the league.”

On Jan. 18, Borislow dropped his lawsuit against the WPS that sought a temporary injunction to reinstate magicJack into the league.  His price?  While magicJack wasn’t reinstated as the sixth member of WPS, it would continue to exist and would be scheduled into a series of exhibition matches against the other teams in the league.

The hopes WPS would go ahead with the 2012 wouldn’t last long.  The league suspended operations on January 30, with hopes for a return in 2013.  Those hopes would only last until May, when the league suspended operations permanently, via a press release on Facebook.  Additionally, the lawsuit with Dan Borislow was settled confidentially out of court.

The 2012 season was saved for some teams.  In February, Jerry Zanelli and the Women’s Premier Soccer League announced a new division, the WPSL Elite.  Three former WPS teams (the Boston Breakers, the Chicago Red Stars, and the Western New York Flash) were announced as participating, and would go on to dominate the season and the playoffs.  The USL W-League also helped fill the void of a year without professional women’s soccer, most notably with several national team players, including Hope Solo and Alex Morgan, choosing to sign with the Seattle Sounders Women.

Both championship games of the WPSL Elite and the W-League ended in penalty kicks after last-minute heroics sent each game into overtime.  But during the course of the season’s regular play, there were certainly moments that reinforced the need to return to a full professional league.

The start of 2012 gave the mainstream media plenty of fodder about the future of women’s professional soccer.  With rumblings of what would eventually become the National Women’s Soccer League starting before the Olympics, articles were still centered around past failures, rather than future hopes.  The Boston Globe ran a piece that simply started: “Even after the failure of two professional leagues in the last 13 years, an attempt will be made to start again. But can women’s soccer be successful in the US?”

We still haven’t seen the answer to that question.  But 2013 will be starting on a very different note than 2012.

Over the final few days of 2012, the staff at The Equalizer will countdown our 11 most memorable moments of 2012. Some were spectacular and some were disappointing, but one thing is common amongst all of them: they will be remembered for years to come.

No. 11: U.S. U-20 women win World Cup
No. 10: North Carolina wins its 21st NCAA title
No. 9: Lyon wins second-straight Champions League title
No. 8: Rapinoe comes out

No. 7: Pia Sundhage’s USWNT era ends

Next up, moment No. 5: NWSL is born

  • Steglitz49

    Thank you, Meg, for this fine summary of a sad history that, hopefully, will not repeat itself in 3-4 years time. It might be worth turning it around and looking at it from other angles, such as the impact on the rest of the world.

    The previous US leagues paid players good money so they attracted several foreign ladies. Indeed, it could be argued that the improvement in France’s WNT was much owed to several of their key players playing in the competitve US environment. Women soccer players all around the world and also FIFA’s top brass really want there to be successful professional women’s soccer in USA.

    Not surprisingly, fine foreign players accepted contracts for 2012 and many of their teams struggled to keep them. Then, as you describe, the show folded. These players were unemployed but their previous teams had signed replacements. That’s the way the cookie crumbles.

    A good example is Marion Mellis, who could not go back to Malmö but found herself in Linköping. Marta learnt that Umeå were not in the transfer market but some people in Tyresö got together to defray her salary for the club. This year Tyresö beat Malmö in the very last match to win the Damallsvenskan. Meanwhile, Yael Auerbuch, that you mention, has chosen to stay with Gbg rather than join the NWSL.

    Thus, what happens in USA does not stay in USA. Also, the focus of women’s soccer seems to have switched from the Pacific-rim to a Europe-Asia axis. Indeed, a not insignificant number of African as well as south-American players ply their trades in Europe, not to overlook the Japanese stars – while the Americans are succeeding in Japan as well as in old Europe.

    It is too early to tell, but should the wealthy men’s clubs of the world up the ante and start supporting their ladies’ at the percentage that Lyon (and PSG) do (please see postings under No. 9 in this series), women’s soccer could be changed forever and not necessarily for the better. This might be the true legacy of the debacle of 2012.