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WPS will need six by 2013, eight by 2014


WPS CEO Jennifer O'Sullivan.

Three weeks of uncertainty regarding the future of Women’s Professional Soccer has ended. U.S. Soccer officially acknowledged on Tuesday that it has conditionally sanctioned WPS as a Division 1 league for 2012 despite WPS moving forward with only five teams. U.S. Soccer standards require a minimum of eight teams.

WPS found its very existence in question since Nov. 20, when U.S. Soccer delayed its decision to sanction the league. Following the termination of the magicJack franchise in October, no potential expansion teams formulated for 2012, leaving the league at an all-time low for teams and U.S. Soccer’s confidence in the league battered.

But over the past three weeks, WPS CEO Jennifer O’Sullivan and team owners successfully convinced U.S. Soccer that WPS is stable and growing despite featuring just five teams.

The sanctioning is dependent on WPS adding a sixth team by the 2013 season and featuring at least eight teams by 2014. It is also conditional on certain financial requirements to serve as evidence of a long-term plan.

“I’m not going to predict what we are going to do a year from now or two years from now,” U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said on a conference call Tuesday. “But going from five to six (teams) with the same owners returning, stability and growth would go a long way toward showing us that the model is going to work.”

U.S. Soccer has granted WPS a waiver for the past three years, but now the growth must be tangible.

The league was close to extinct this time last offseason when FC Gold Pride folded and the Chicago Red Stars dropped to a lower division. Dan Borislow’s purchase of the Washington Freedom (which he relocated to Florida and named magicJack, after his phone invention), kept the league at six teams.

Since its inception, WPS officials have talked about increased interest from potential expansion franchises, but the trend has been contraction.

WPS has had five franchises fail (magicJack being just an extension of the Freedom) since it began play in 2009. That does not include a Dallas franchise that was part of the league’s original plans before bailing out less than a year before the inaugural match.

Expansion promises will no longer cut it for the fledgling league. Real expansion teams are needed. Three potential expansion franchises have “risen to the top,” as O’Sullivan put it: One each on the East Coast, in the Midwest and on the West Coast.

However, O’Sullivan would not identify when any potential deadlines to add a sixth team might be, nor would she speculate on the leading expansion candidates.

“Our focus is on adding teams as appropriate and if we feel that an ownership group is right for the league at this particular moment and this particular time,” she said. “It’s about slow and steady growth.”

Right now, there is a collective exhale that the league has gotten over the three year hump and will go on as planned in 2012.

U.S. women’s national team players are expected to participate in WPS next season. That was in question while the league’s fate hung in the balance. Gulati said that whether or not players sign with a WPS team is an individual decision.

Defender Ali Krieger was the only player on the 2011 U.S. World Cup roster who did not play for a WPS team. Most players will likely play domestically in 2012 as well. They will need the match experience, too, as the Olympics approach this summer.

“Dan Flynn and I talked with Pia and I think certainly her expectation is that with the league going forward now, there would be a number of players playing in the league,” Gulati said.


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