The Western New York Flash announced on Tuesday that the club has signed five-time FIFA World Player of the Year Marta for the 2011 season. Western New York will pick up the third and final year of the contract Marta formerly held with the now defunct FC Gold Pride. That was reportedly a contract worth $500,000 annually.
“We are thrilled to bring Marta to the Western New York area,” Flash Head Coach Aaran Lines said. “This is an incredible opportunity for the community and youth soccer players to embrace one of the best female players ever in their hometown. She has incredible physical attributes matched with phenomenal technical abilities. She is an extremely exciting player to watch and is important to the women’s game, and we are excited for her arrival.”
The two-time WPS MVP and Golden Boot winner will join the club after she finishes her loan with Brazilian club Santos. Exactly when she will join the squad is unknown.
The news comes as a complete shock to the women’s soccer community. The magicTalk SC/Washington Freedom club was considered the only team willing to pay Marta after her demanding salary – one that is about 20-times the league average – factored into two teams folding. The Los Angeles Sol folded following the 2009 season and Marta moved to FC Gold Pride, which folded following the 2010 season.
With the Flash’s press release stating the team has inherited Marta’s contract from FC Gold Pride, the expansion team that has already faced a fee to enter the league and shelled out money for some of the best free agents (many of whom are former FC Gold Pride players as well) now takes on the biggest single financial burden to face WPS in its short history. The Equalizer has learned that while Marta was listed as a free agent, she still had one year left on her original three year contract with the Los Angeles Sol. The Flash has inherited that contract.
Exactly how the Flash plans to offset the cost of Marta’s salary remains to be seen. It is a risky move for a new team to take on in its inaugural campaign and will absolutely add significant red ink to the bottom line, but that is a given. Clearly, Owner Joe Sahlen is willing to shell out the money to win a WPS Championship just one year after winning the W-League Championship.
Where the Flash should have a leg up on the now defunct Sol and FC Gold Pride is in the local market. Rochester is a far cry from the Bay Area or Los Angeles, but that is exactly the point. In Marta, Rochester – a city that has long been crazy for soccer – is now home to the greatest women’s soccer player on the planet. For the first time, Marta is the big fish in a small pond, a pond that does not include competition with any of the big four professional sports leagues or Major League Soccer. In a soccer savvy town such as Rochester, the beauty of Marta’s technical ability should be supported by large numbers in the stands. That is the hope within the Flash organization, anyway.
So too is the hope that such a stacked squad (and one that parallels FC Gold Pride’s 2010 team) will win a championship. With Alex Morgan, Christine Sinclair and Marta running the show up top, the Flash will surely be looking at a 4-3-3 formation (another FC Gold Pride specialty). What is worrisome for the Flash is when the Women’s World Cup rolls around in June and July. Conceivably, the Flash could end up losing over half of its starters to World Cup training camps and actual tournament competition. That entire front line of Morgan, Sinclair and Marta will surely be in Germany.
That problem is probably a good one to have for the Flash. For now, it is still sinking in that perhaps the woman who is redefining greatness in women’s soccer is headed to Rochester. And as much as WPS spent the off-season saying Marta is not bigger than the league, it is a true face-saver to be keeping the best player in the world in a league calling itself the best in the world.
“As the league MVP in our first two seasons and the FIFA World Player of the Year for the past five years running, it’s terrific for our league, our fans, our teams and all of our partners in WPS to have Marta playing in the U.S. for the 2011 season,” said WPS CEO Anne-Marie Eileraas. “Congratulations to Western New York, our 2011 expansion team, for signing one of the top stars – not just in soccer – but all of women’s sports.”
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