The Los Angeles Sol, the marquee franchise of Women’s Professional Soccer and home of the world’s most recognizable women’s player, Marta, has officially discontinued operations. The Equalizer learned of the Sol’s potential fate Tuesday night and now the official announcement of the team’s disbanding will be made later Thursday night by WPS.
Anschutz Entertainment Group owned the team in 2009 before handing it over to WPS in November in order to find a new owner. AEG has maintained that it only wished to own the Sol for one year and the team has been operating for the short-term under the custody of WPS.
“The league took over continuing to run operations through November and December and we were searching for – with some assistance from AEG – we were searching for a potential buyer,” WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci said. “We had a group approach us and we began a process. And there were several weeks of negotiation, and again, that group had approached us and we went through a number of processes and regrettably – very unfortunately in the 11th hour – talks unwound and we were not able to close the deal. So, that is the situation that we find ourselves in very close to the beginning of the 2010 season. “
Unable to find an owner, the league is moving forward with a dispersal draft. The rights of LA’s 19 players will be dispersed via a draft that is expected to be held on Thursday, February 4 and will look similar to the recent 2010 WPS Draft. Sources say that Atlanta will select first in the dispersal draft. Superstars Marta (who would surely be the most coveted target as the four time FIFA World Player of the Year) and Shannon Boxx are among Sol players that have multi-year, guaranteed contracts and are expected to play for the team that selects them in Thursday’s dispersal draft. Roster limits will also remain unchanged, with five international slots (and the rights to one more international player) among the 18 roster spots and four developmental players.
AEG’s decision (and do not discount Blue Star) not to continue to own the team is one that comes with considerable question. This is the same AEG that has endured significant financial losses at the hands of Major League Soccer teams, but did not see the Sol as a viable option after reported losses of $2 million in 2009. The group’s role with the Sol was to “help us launch and establish the team,” according to Antonucci.
But the team now finds itself with no owner and no immediate future, far from anything ‘established.’ The league has been at the forefront of discussions and operations since taking custody of the team in Novemeber, with some help from AEG.
“Well we spent a decent amount of time with them trying to work together,” Antonucci said of AEG. “And then we really went into earnest on our own in November. So, I think that both sides certainly – you know, we have had many meetings with them in LA trying to think of solutions and come up with potential buyers, so yes, they helped. They did help. And, you know, at the end of the day this is on the league, though. This is not a Blue Star or AEG announcement. This is a league announcement that we had a buyer that fell through and we are the ones that are going to move forward from here.”
This leaves WPS, a league entering just its second season, looking to establish a national footprint with just one team on the West Coast. FC Gold Pride, playing out of the Bay Area in Northern California, now has no guaranteed ‘short’ road trips. Five teams lie on the East Coast, with Saint Louis Athletica and the Chicago Red Stars being more centrally located. That could present serious viability options for that team’s travel expenses and operation costs.There is still hope in Los Angeles, though. Antonucci said she fully understands that fans will be upset, but encourages them to follow their favorite players to the market that they end up playing in and not lose hope on the future of Los Angeles.
“I have to believe that if we do our jobs right and we get back to LA in 2011 that those fans are going to welcome the team back,” she said. “It is certainly not the players’ faults, it’s not the team’s fault, it’s not the market’s fault, so I hope that they open their arms to it. We are going to do everything that we can. It is a great market and we want to be back in it.”
The new ownership deal fell through at the last minute, so should an owner emerge in the coming days, a deal could save the team from leaving LA in 2010. That would have to happen before Thursday, which seems unlikely.
For now, it seems that players, fans and coaches will need to move on. Antonucci is excited about the future of the league, citing increased ticket sales and team sponsorships as encouraging factors. Most importantly, she assures that this is an isolated incident and is not indicative of the rest of WPS as many will (though should not) look to what happened with the failure of the WUSA.
“I think that is a human reaction and you want to try to draw conclusions and you want to anticipate different ways it could go,” she said. “Some people could conclude that. What we know, and what we want the public to know, is that we have eight committed ownership groups who are not wavering as a result of this. In their markets, regionally and locally, they are going forward as they have planned. They are in it for the long term.”
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