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Ten things to watch in WPS in 2010

With WPS First Kick 2010 just days away, several burning questions and points of discussion surround Women’s Professional Soccer in its sophomore year of play.  Business figures for the league have been trending upward and a general excitement seems to overshadow the unfortunate collapse of the Los Angeles Sol.

There are plenty of questions facing individual teams, but those will be explored soon enough with team previews.  For now, here are ten burning topics (in honor of 2010, of course):

  • New Digs.  The Atlanta Beat will open its world-class women’s soccer stadium in Kennesaw, Ga. on May 9 against Sky Blue FC and all eyes will be on Atlanta not only on that day, but throughout the season.  MLS has developed an ideology of getting its clubss in soccer specific stadiums that teams have control over, and the success of the Atlanta Beat stadium will affect future WPS teams making the same possibilities available in other markets (even future expansion cities).  How Atlanta and the Philadelphia Independence adapt to WPS – particularly off the field – will also be critical.
  • All-Stars unite.  The 2010 WPS All-Star Game will be played in that very stadium in Atlanta on June 30 with a unique format. The format of a playground-style pick-up game is unique and creative, and it will be interesting to see how the game and surrounding events play out.  Who will captain each team?  Which players will be selected first and who will be the last player taken?  There may be some kinks to work out, but the idea seems solid.  The big question is, will the format stick around?  That will depend on the response to this year’s game.
  • Marta, Marta, Marta! (To the tune of ‘Marsha, Marsha, Marsha’ from The Brady Bunch).  We know all about the Beckham Effect, and the Marta Effect has the same power on a smaller scale.  But, will it continue at a high rate or will fans in other markets not get as excited for a Marta appearance as they were in 2009?  At the very least, FC Gold Pride fans should be excited enough to fill the team’s new stadium (with a capacity of about 5,500) on a regular basis.  If not, something is wrong there.  Oh by the way, FC Gold Pride is shaping up pretty nicely on the field too.
  • See You in September.  WPS has decided to extend its season into September, with the championship match taking place on Sunday, Sept. 26.  The thought process was that with an extended regular season (24 games in 2010 versus 20 in 2009), there are extra opportunities to obtain revenue for teams.  WPS is also banking on group sales successes similar to those amongst MLS teams, which reportedly sell the best in September thanks to youth soccer teams.  Also, keep an eye on September 11 and how the league deals with honoring this infamous date on its first experience with the season overlapping the date.  All eight teams are in action on the day, which is a Saturday.
  • Staying Aware.  Season ticket sales are up for five of the six returning teams and there is a general positivity about ticket sales and sponsorships.  Will attendance rise in 2010?  Can the average attendance break the 5,000 mark?  Only time will tell.  With the cool “Celebrate Awesome” and “Defend Your Turf” advertising campaigns from WPS and Puma, there should be an increased awareness of the league and local teams amongst general soccer fans.
  • Go West My Friend.  Expansion is a big-time issue for WPS.  FC Gold Pride now sits alone out on the West Coast and the league’s main priority is to get back into Los Angeles for 2011.  Will there be enough breakthroughs in different markets to get two teams on board for 2011 to keep the league at an even number?  That remains to be seen, but that may be necessary if WPS wants to stay on pace for having 12 teams by 2012.  The talent pool is certainly there to add two more squads to the mix.
  • Growing Pains.  The folding of the Los Angeles Sol is an isolated situation, but all eight WPS teams will need to make sure they do everything possible to be viable businesses.  Yes, things are looking positive across the league, but the Los Angeles news blindsided everyone and teams (as well as WPS) will need to ensure that something like that does not happen again.  All eight teams currently in the league are critical markets and there are plenty more that are still untapped.  Getting to them and staying in them is critical.
  • First to Get the Boot.  Let’s be honest: Coaches around the league got the whole ‘year one pass’ for underachieving in 2009.  By year two, coaches will be expected to have figured out WPS and find a way into the playoffs.  If not, they might find themselves on a very short leash.  So, the big question is: Who will be the first coach fired in 2010?  Because of aforementioned reasons, I would be shocked if we didn’t see some changes by season’s end.
  • Game of Inches.  Will the parity continue in WPS?  Right down to the very end of the regular season, there were several possible scenarios for the WPS Playoffs, which were impacted by the final regular season game between Boston and Los Angeles (a 2-1 win for the Sol).  The talent seems to be pretty well distributed across the league and with no Los Angeles in 2010, we could see a wide open championship race.
  • One Year Countdown.  One thing that we should be hearing a lot about throughout the summer is the one year countdown to the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany.  WPS will be looking to promote the women’s game and the fact that many of the best players in the world (that will be in Germany in 2011) play in WPS.  It will be interesting to see what type of marketing pitch the league chooses for Germany 2011 and how World Cup Qualifying affects the availability of players for WPS matches.

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