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Loans are key in WPS offseason

As a professional soccer player, it is important to stay in top form year-round. Although Women’s Professional Soccer is the highest level of the game in the world, a March through August season means many players are left looking for extensive offseason training.

For some of the best, that means going on loan to leagues that play during these months when WPS is out of session.Loan deals allow players to obtain year-round training and a consistent income as opposed to second jobs or idle offseasons. Loans also provide playing experiences outside of a player’s comfort zone.

“It is important that players are able to play not only a critical mass of games per year, but also in different environments,” WPS Chief Operating Officer Mary Harvey said. “National team duty accomplishes this, as do loans to other teams in other leagues in the off-season.” Some of the league’s best players are plying their trade abroad while WPS clubs diligently work to prepare for the 2010 season, looking to avoid any type of sophomore slump.

Brazilians Cristiane, Marta and Franceille recently played for Santos FC in the inaugural women’s Copa Libertadores, while the likes of Sonia Bompastor and Camille Abily are in their home country playing for Paris Saint-Germain.

With even more examples of players going home in the offseason, such as Eriko Arakawa, Homare Sawa and Aya Miyama playing Japan, there is a clear trend of what makes them happy: being close to home.

“It meant a lot to Marta to be a part of that,” Los Angeles Sol General Manager Charlie Naimo said of the Copa Libertadores. “So, we obviously did whatever we can to help our players – to make them happy. Obviously, we want to do that at all costs.”

One player currently on loan is Washington Freedom forward Lisa De Vanna, an Australian international who is playing with the Perth Glory in the Westfield W-League, Australia’s top flight of women’s soccer. According to De Vanna, it is great to see some familiar faces both on and off the field.

“It is great to be playing at home again,” she said. “I love Perth and I wouldn’t play anywhere else within Australia. The standard of the league is not as strong as the WPS, given that this is only its second year and that it is only a three month season, but it is great to be back at home playing in front of my family and friends.”

She also plays with Freedom teammate Alex Singer and WPS free agent Collette McCallum, another Australian international, on Perth.Australia is actually a hotspot for WPS players right now, with Jillian Loyden and Kendall Fletcher of Saint Louis Athletica also playing for the Central Coast Mariners and the Chicago Red Stars’ Julliane Sitch playing for Melbourne Victory FC. With so many recognizable names in the league, some might wonder exactly what the level of play is down under.

De Vanna said that it very different from WPS, straight down to how professional the two leagues truly are.

“It is hard to compare it to the WPS, as it is a completely different environment,” De Vanna said. “The Australian league (W-League) is regarded as amateur so hardly any of the girls receive any financial support. Also, the style of play is completely different. The WPS is intense and physical, where as the W-league is more technical and tactical.”

Even if leagues such as the one in Australia are considered to be less physical, there is still the risk of potential injury to star players while on loan. However, most WPS officials do not seem overly worried about that, agreeing that injuries can happen anywhere.

“The one thing about these players is that they could get injured walking across the street or training,” Sky Blue FC General Manager Gerry Marrone said. “So, I have less worries about injuries. I have more worries about players coming back not fit or not in shape. By being able to keep playing, it allows them to stay in shape.”

Harvey shared similar feelings, saying that the teams should take precautions with loan deals.

“That’s something pro athletes live with every day, and it is a part of sports,” she said. “We’ve advised our teams to take necessary precautions in their loan agreements to ensure that their players are taken care of in the unfortunate event of an injury.”

And of course, the loans are only temporary. Players will be back with their WPS squad in a few months to prepare for the 2010 season, and they may even convince some more high-quality international players to make the jump to WPS. That, of course, would further solidify the superiority of Women’s Professional Soccer.

“I think that so long as we keep doing a good job with attendance and the economic side of the league, competitively I think we are just going to create more of a gap between us and the second-best league,” Naimo said.

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