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Sadly, inevitable: WPS suspends operations for 2012

Western New York Flash
Western New York Flash

Is this the last time a WPS team will lift a trophy?

Monday’s news –the long-feared doom and gloom stuff that Women’s Professional Soccer was at its end – has managed to set in.

The news, as WPS has infamously trademarked, had a slightly optimistic but unrealistic spin to it: WPS has suspended operations for 2012, with hopes of coming back in 2013. That is the plan, but the realist in me knows that 2013 could really bring any number of scenarios, including the full-on end to the league.

WPS has cited legal fees and strained resources in dealing with the ongoing magicJack saga as a primary reason for Monday’s decision. That and the fact that team owners flat out were not willing to work with Dan Borislow, the team’s owner. They had managed to compromise, even if it was a wild conception that created a rogue team with which Borislow could have his fun.

I do not have the luxury of comparing the inside view of WUSA to that of WPS like Brian Straus, Steve Goff, Dan Lauletta and a few others, but my three years of covering this league in depth have taught me to be surprised by nothing.

If this is not the death of WPS it is certainly a coma-inducing heart attack with a seemingly imminent fate. Critical condition has been the prognosis for nearly two years. From my seat, this sadly seemed inevitable.

Things got a bit wonky with the collapse of the Los Angeles Sol, but the P.R.-savvy Tonya Antonucci, then commissioner, convinced us all that this “eleventh hour” meltdown was an isolated incident. It was in that it did not serve as a primary catalyst for the events to follow, but it did begin a very grim trend.

Jeff Cooper’s ‘gotchya’ style bookkeeping is what many truly look to as the beginning of the steep, slippery slope for WPS. The former Saint Louis Athletica owner suddenly stopped paying players, and funds – coming from a pair of brothers whom WPS apparently did not even know had ownership in the team – evaporated. Goodbye, Athletica (don’t worry, Atlanta picked up the pieces quite well).

Cooper’s antics were really the start of the pessimism, which spilled over into FC Gold Pride folding in the offseason. No, Cooper didn’t screw that up too, but former Gold Pride owner Nancy NeSmith did note that Athletica’s collapse made her doubt the league’s viability (by the way, imagine what a further fiasco it would have been if Marta had gone to Saint Louis in the LA Sol dispersal draft).

And then things got really fun.

The Chicago Red Stars dropped down a division and the Washington Freedom, in need of an investor after the Hendricks family decided they had enough, found the shining knight, Dan Borislow. So they thought.

I had the pleasure of interviewing him first, to which everyone scratched their heads. I actually had to make a few phone calls following our chat to make sure I wasn’t being pranked. No, I wasn’t. Then WPS CEO Anne-Marie Eileraas assured us that Borislow could, within the guidelines, do what he wanted with the Freedom.

This is all due to the fact that WPS needed six teams to even make it to the 2011 season and with Chicago unable to be the savior, the Freedom – a brand that spanned three leagues and 10 years – were the last hope.

It is important to note, as many seem to forget, that without the addition of Joe Sahlen’s Western New York Flash, WPS never even gets to that point. The tent would have folded right there in November 2010. (Many also forget that the Hendricks still own a reported 25 percent stake in magicJack and Freedom Soccer LLC is listed on the court documents.)

But Borislow bought the Freedom, changed the name to several variations of a phone device before settling on just “magicJack” and moved the team to Florida, among many things. Then came the failures to cooperate with just about anything WPS required – a list too exhausting to list here – and the public legal battle that followed.

The numerous aforementioned reasons are what make me say that this day has long seemed inevitable. I never wanted to see it come, but I continuously felt like it almost had to.

The point here is that while Borislow will be looked at as the main reason for WPS’ collapse (and players are pretty vocal about where to place the blame – see here and here…and here…..and here, but most of all, read Ella Masar’s blog now – you get the point), a lot of things went into this. His paradoxical stance of wanting to make women’s soccer succeed (something I think he genuinely wants, so long as it is his way) combined with an undying insistence to defy to WPS and allegedly torment his players was the last straw.

Sadly, even pitifully at times, WPS marched on for another year carrying with it so many burdens. The process of that slow, painful death brought the inevitable answers that everyone had a hunch about: No WPS in 2012. I want to see an improved, more organized league in 2013 and I have always been optimistic about WPS surviving, but I, like many, just won’t be holding my breath for a year.

It’s not that I don’t trust the very driven owners – Sahlen, Fitz Johnson, Thomas Hofstetter, David Halstead and Michael Stoller & Co., in Boston – but there is so much out of their hands. A year from now this league that was already struggling for any sort of attention might be a complete afterthought to Americans. Hopefully I’m wrong, but there is a lot of “hope” out there now, and that just doesn’t operate a business. Because at the end of the day, this is a business.

Here are some takes from others:

Andy Crossley, former Boston Breakers general manager

Jordan Angeli, former Boston Breakers player

Steve Goff, Washington Post

Julie Foudy, former USWNT and WUSA star

Beau Dure, espnW

Be sure to continue to check out my new show over at North American Soccer Network, “This Week in Women’s Soccer



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