The most significant moment of the women’s Ballon d’Or presentation was not that Abby Wambach was finally honored as the best player in the world, nor was it that an American took down the sport’s highest individual honor for the first time since Mia Hamm a decade earlier.
The most significant moment happened the day before at the pre-event press conference when Wambach snuck in an announcement that the national team players have committed to playing in NWSL this summer. Unlike 2001 and 2009 when the best American players jumped at the chance to play in a domestic league, the response to the latest effort to go pro had been decidedly guarded.
Wambach quelled some of those fears when she said, “Our national team has committed to participating in the NWSL and it’s exciting for us. It’s another reason why we wanted to bring back gold because we knew that it would give our country the best opportunity to get a league started again.”
The holdup appeared to be the lack of an agreement between the national team and U.S. Soccer. The two parties also have a Collective Bargaining Agreement to ratify.
The commitment set forth by Wambach is an indication that whispers of a deal being done are true (The Lowdown did not independently confirm this). And that should pave the way for the announcement of player allocations for what should be 52 players that will be subsidized by the United States (24), Canada (16), and Mexico (minimum of 12).
“It’s a great opportunity for us to be able to put our namesake on this and try to make this work,” Wambach continued. “We are really, really looking forward to 2013, getting to eight different cities around the United States and continue to spread the word of soccer.”
Having the U.S. national team on board is key for the league to develop both visibility and credibility. But that will be tough to come by without some news nuggets to chomp on. The college draft is a week from Friday, but all eight rosters are empty. Coaches will want to know where they stand with roster building with enough time to reanalyze the field of college players. It would not be impossible to hold a draft before the allocation process plays out but it would be extremely impractical.
A more pressing issue is the fate of the players who are neither subsidized nor waiting to be drafted. That large and diverse group has been declared free agents but it is impossible for teams to commit to players or vice versa without an idea of what teams are going to look like.
Let’s compare the current scenario with the ill-fated WUSA and WPS. The WUSA announced their allocations May 24, 2000, almost 11 months before the league kicked off. WPS made their announcement September 16, 2008; that left seven months until the start of the season.
All that said, let’s not get too carried away comparing NWSL to a pair of leagues that couldn’t get to a fourth season. In other words, five years from now it won’t matter how long it took to put rosters together. It will only matter if the league and its clubs are still around and at the very least approaching sustainability.
-Portland Thorns FC owner Merritt Paulson tweeted that there are more than 3,500 season ticket deposits have been taken. Keeping in mind that those deposits are fully refundable, it looks like Portland is preparing to raise the bar for attendance in women’s soccer. The Pacific Northwest has done wonders for Major League Soccer. Maybe a similar impact lays ahead for the ladies?
-Wambach made her comments standing next to Alex Morgan who was sandwiched between Wambach and Marta. That’s an ironic pair. Marta was the top drawing card in WPS and Morgan might be her heir apparent. One person we spoke to who was involved in WPS believes Morgan could be a marketing trump card for NWSL. Marta finished 2nd in the voting, Morgan 3rd.
-The US was represented in the coaching department when Pia Sundhage was named Women’s Coach of the Year. Sundhage is the first US coach to win the award which was first presented in 2010. She is now the head coach of Sweden having resigned from the US post shortly after the Olympics.
-Someone needs to explain to me how John Herdman finished 6th among coaches when he changed the entirely mentality of the Canadian team, won the Bronze medal at the Olympics, and came within a whisker of upsetting the US in the semifinal match.
-The same goes for Christine Sinclair. Does anyone believe she was only the 5th best player in the world last year?
-Other US players receiving votes were Carli Lloyd (6th) and Megan Rapinoe (10th).
–Past winners of the FIFA Women’s Player of the Year/Ballon d’Or are: 2001 – Mia Hamm (USA); 2002 – Mia Hamm (USA); 2003 –Birgit Prinz (Germany); 2004 – Birgit Prinz (Germany); 2005 – Birgit Prinz (Germany); 2006 – Marta (Brazil); 2007 – Marta (Brazil); 2008 – Marta (Brazil); 2009 – Marta (Brazil); 2010 – Marta (Brazil); 2011 – Homare Sawa (Japan)