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Buffalo, W-League move forward after championship

The Buffalo Flash won the 2010 W-League Championship 3-1 over the Vancouver Whitecaps Saturday in Santa Clarita, Calif.  In just the team’s second year of existence, the Flash picked up the W-League title as the only professional team in the 29-team W-League.

With Buffalo claiming it will look into moving up to Women’s Professional Soccer, the top flight in North America and perhaps the world, one has to wonder how Saturday’s championship victory influences the decision.

The Flash are the only team currently in the W-League operating under the professional model (players can be paid as long as the entire team is paid and there are no college players, otherwise they must all be designated amateurs), so a smaller-scale pro system is already in place.  Owner Joe Sahlen has already gotten a taste at the different expenses of paying, housing and supporting his players and with the final four being in Caifornia, he also got insight into what travel on a larger scale would be like.

Now boasting a championship, Buffalo could ride the momentum of a successful team into the more glamorous WPS.  The Flash should get at least some recognition from the City of Buffalo and its people.  After all, it is Buffalo, a gloomy Western New York city that endured four-straight Buffalo Bills Super Bowl losses from 1990-1993.  The Flash won a championship in just two year.

THE TALENT

While it would be a stretch to say the current version of the Buffalo Flash could step into WPS and compete, there are some very talented players on the squad.  As Gerald Barnhart notes, Veronica Boquete, Gemma Davison and 2010 W-League MVP Kelly Parker ran the show throughout the Flash’s playoff run and all three showed signs of brilliance Saturday.  Particularly impressive were Davison, who had her way on the right flank, and Boquete, whose speed and finishing ability were far superior to anyone else on the field Saturday night.

Talent would certainly need to be added to this Buffalo squad if it expects to compete at a WPS level, but keeping Boquete, Davison and Parker (a 2009 WPS Champion with Sky Blue FC) would be a good place to start.

For Buffalo to expect to enter WPS in 2011 is lofty to be nice and impossible to be frank.  An expansion draft would have to take place just two months from now and marketing the team, establishing bigger sponsors and a home facility takes much longer than the six months of lead-in time Buffalo would have.  If the franchise is serious about entering WPS, 2012 is the realistic option.  But hey, maybe this championship changes things.

W-LEAGUE MOVING FORWARD

Beyond just the championship game, there are a couple of talking points to be drawn from the 2010 W-League Championship.

From a business perspective, the most interesting thing to see surrounding the tournament was the support shown by the City of Santa Clarita.  It is clear that hosting the W-League Championship was an effort put on by the city, not just the first-year Santa Clarita Blue Heat.  In an interview with Scott French, W-League Senior Director Melanie Fitzgerald points to the model as one to use moving forward, and it sounds like a very good plan.  Events like this in smaller towns can be huge boosts to the local economy.  They get national television exposure on Fox Soccer Channel.

It is worth debating whether or not it is truly fair to have professional teams competing against amateur teams, particularly when there is only one professional team in the W-League, a definite advantage when it comes to luring players.  The bottom line is that 2010 W-League MVP would not be in Buffalo and possibly not even the W-League if she was not getting paid, and the same could probably be said for several players on the Flash (Boquete would conceivably fall into the category).  Last year, it was only Buffalo and the once dominant, now defunct FC Indiana that paid its players.  Of course, Buffalo cannot pick up the best college players with its professional status, so there are several ways to look at it.

Finally, the prospect of a W-League All-Star Game in 2011 was mentioned by USL National Technical Director Peter Mellor.  Realistically that may not happen, but the idea is exciting.  Just naming an All-League Team does not do justice to the best players in the league, and the NPSL showed that lower division all-star games are possible when it hosted its showcase Friday, which was also a pro-combine.  That seems like a pretty good model, and it would be great to see a W-League All-Star team take on a WPS team next year.  That would prove to be an attractive draw for fans (a.k.a ticket revenue) and it would serve for direct comparisons to the level of individuals and whether or not they could make it at the professional level.  Plus, W-League All-League selections could actually be at the year-end banquet to receive their postseason awards.

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