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The Opening Whistle: WPS, magicJack need to figure it out

Dan Lauletta

The harsh truth is that among Americans who consider themselves passionate sports fans, the majority don’t know WPS even exists, let alone lending the league credence as anything close to a major sport on this soil.  None of that makes Thursday any less fascinating in the history of WPS, for Thursday was the day the tensions of an always suboptimal marriage began to boil over.

The story has already been told, on this site and others (here and here), as to magicJack having been docked two 2012 draft picks and one point in the standings for failure to comply with a series of directives, most of which should be unconditionally mandatory for all clubs.  Of course the very existence of magicJack has buoyed WPS for a third season, which was anything but certain after two teams suddenly dropped out last fall.  A third, the Washington Freedom, were on the verge as well before Dan Borislow came to the rescue, purchasing the club, renaming it magicJack, and then cloaking the team behind a veil of secrecy that is threatening to do irreparable damage to the credibility of the league.

Losing one point—the only point magicJack has dropped this season—is hardly Juventus being banished from the top flight and docked nine points for involvement in a match-fixing scandal (despite the sanctions, Juventus won the Serie B title in 2007 and returned to the top flight), but the penalties clearly signal the start of a crackdown by a league that kept quiet and let Borislow take them for a blindfolded ride through the odd-season.

In response to the penalties, Borislow called out WPS in an interview with and the club’s most visible player, Hope Solo, all but accused the league of favoring Marta before mysteriously erasing months worth of Twitter activity.

Borislow can pay his players, and from all accounts has taken care of them well, but it takes more than money to be a fully professional organization.  In the 1960s, Pete Rozelle convinced a much larger, much more bullish group of men to pool their resources in lieu of individual television contracts and the resulting prosperity launched the NFL to unprecedented popularity for any sports league in the United States.  A half century later the very existence of WPS is being threatened by a rogue owner who at best is on the right side of a childish, he-said-she-said exchange and at worst is intent on operating outside any sort of structured arrangement.

magicJack has ever so slightly loosened up on the media blackout, and there are promises about some sort of web presence in the next two weeks.  Then again, Briana Scurry’s January promise of announcements regarding player signings and the team’s venue never came to pass, and the team just sort of sprouted out of random bits of information and updates on the WPS transaction page.

There is an old saying that no publicity is bad publicity, but WPS has already had to sidestep the loss of four franchises in 2010.  It can ill-afford one of its current franchises reducing the league to a laughingstock.

Here’s how Week 6 is shaking out:

Friday:  Boston Breakers (2-3-0, 6 points) at Western New York Flash (3-0-1, 10 points)

This one essentially amounts to a reserve team match with many key players from both sides on National Team duty.  Adding injury to insult for the Breakers, Kelley O’Hara is listed as out for the match.  Meanwhile the Flash should have Yael Averbuch available after she was left off the US World Cup team.  All the pressure is on the Breakers, looking to put the skids on a slow start having lost three of their last four, including the home opener to the Flash.

KEYS TO THE MATCH: Averbuch and company could put enough pressure on the Breakers midfielders and defenders that Boston may not have many chances in the attacking third.  It will be up to Leslie Osborne to control things from her holding midfield role to keep pressure off what will be a makeshift Breakers backline.

Sunday:  Philadelphia Independence (1-1-1, 4 points) at AtlantaBeat (1-3-1, 4 points)

Here’s betting the Independence get on a bit of a roll after finally slotting one in the win column last week against Boston.  Their backline is mostly intact and Tina DiMartino is emerging as one of the best midfielders in WPS.  Amy Rodriguez won’t be there, but Tasha Kai remains a fast and dangerous threat up top.

KEYS TO THE MATCH: The Beat must win the midfield to have any chance at playing even.  All four of their points have been with the aid of Player of the Week performances out of goalkeeper Ali Lipsher.  That’s a nice feather in Lipsher’s cap, but it’s hardly a championship blue print.

Three points of interest

1)     MLS’s use of spray paint to mark 10  yards on free kicks has been a wonderful success.  Seems easy enough for WPS to replicate.

2)     In Jenna Pel’s All White Kit post about Dan Borislow, there was one soccer nugget, that being the team’s confidence in Brett Maron after first and second choice keepers Hope Solo and Jillian Loyden were both selected to the World Cup roster.

3)     Did we mention that Mike Lyons is no longer the coach at magicJack? And that “existing staff and senior players” will lead the team the rest of the season? Too bad we’ll never know what Lyons’s team looked like due to a lack of video uploaded by magicJack.

Roster Report:

Boston Breakers @ Western New York Flash (May 13, 2011)

Boston Breakers
Unavailable: Rachel Buehler, Lauren Cheney, Stephanie Cox, Amy LePeilbet, Alex Scott, Kelly Smith
Injured: Kelley O’Hara, Jordan Angeli
Not rostered: Ashley Phillips

Western New York Flash
Unavailable: Candace Chapman, Alex Morgan, Ali Riley, Caroline Seger, Christine Sinclair, Marta, Maurine
Injured: Kaley Fountain

Philadelphia Independence @ Atlanta Beat (May 15, 2011)

Philadelphia Independence
Unavailable: Nicole Barnhart, Veronica Boquete, Lori Lindsey, Megan Rapinoe, Amy Rodriguez
Injured: Allison Falk
Not rostered: Lauren Fowlkes

Atlanta Beat
Unavailable: Carli Lloyd, Heather Mitts
Not rostered: Katie Fraine, Lauren Sesselmann


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