BOYDS, Md. — The scoreboard wasn’t the only thing that lit up at Saturday’s Celebration of Women’s Soccer at the Maryland SoccerPlex. An all-star team featuring the likes of Lianne Sanderson and Cat Whitehill beat the Maryland Capitols FC 5-1 in the charity match. Sanderson led the way with a brace. Sonia Basma, Zulia Menjivar and Tiffany Gales all added goals for the all-stars. Ali Andrzejewski scored the Maryland Capitols’ lone goal.
The scoreboard wasn’t the only thing that lit up Saturday night. Faces of young soccer fans lit up as they waited in line after the game for the chance to take photos and get autographs from the players. The atmosphere was light-hearted and fun. A feeling of optimism also hung in the air, as the crowd of 2,121 fans showed that there is still interest in women’s soccer in the D.C. area.
The event organizer, Mark Washo, Managing Partner of Playbook Management International and former general manager of the Washington Freedom, commented on the vitality of a women’s professional league in the United States.
“You can absolutely make professional league is this country work there’s no doubt,” he said. “You have just got to find the right people with the right business sense. If MLS can do it, they can do it, right?”
Washo believes that the key is understanding size of market and emphasized the need to start small, “The problem is you try to go too big with too big expenses, and think it’s going be bigger than it is, and think you’re going to get 10,000, 15,000 on a consistent basis it’s not going to be there. Maybe 6, 7, 8 years down the road it will be.”
He also added that another key element is ‘doing the math’ and fixing your expenses out based on the amount of ticket sales and sponsorships a team has. If expenses are controlled, Washo believes that a league can and will work in the right markets and venues.
“There’s nothing more popular than the U.S. national team on the women’s side, right?” Washo said. “There’s nothing more popular than them, so how can you not translate that into a professional league?”
Two failed leagues have already shown that the popularity of the national team doesn’t automatically translate to club teams. Given the failures of the past, the question becomes how quickly Saturday night’s air of optimism fades.
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