Saturday is the beginning of the U.S. women’s national team’s 10-game gold medal celebration tour, but it may as well serve as a media tour promoting (and questioning) the sustainability of professional women’s soccer.
Talk of how to stabilize the next professional women’s soccer league was a topic mentioned at Friday’s U.S. training session at least as often as the United States’ Olympic triumph. The topic is a revolving door – this will be the third attempt in just over a decade to start a women’s pro league – but this time, players seem more realistic than ever.
The plan is to have a new league of at least 10 teams begin play in 2013. To date, the U.S. women’s players still don’t seem to have many details about that (join the club), but they were sort of busy winning gold medals. They do, however, understand that more humble, modest times are ahead.
The league won’t be an instant success. It won’t pay as much money as the last two did. And the fandom definitely won’t be anything like it is for the U.S. women collectively, whose popularity is at its highest point since 1999.
The players understand that.
“This is only going to last so long,” U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe said. “We have the 10 victory tour games and I think the national team will always be popular, but the height that it is at now is going to be hard to sustain fully, in terms of bringing that right into a league. So there has to be more than just the national team hysteria.”
Whether or not the top U.S. stars play in the yet-to-be-named league will be a determining factor in the new league’s success or failure. Starting a new professional league without Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, Hope Solo & Co. is failure waiting to happen. A league without those stars may suffice as a semi-pro venture, but it will not be good enough for a league aiming to be a top world destination.
Wambach and Morgan, currently the best one-two forward punch in the world, both prefer to play in the U.S., assuming the opportunity presents itself.
“I always want to grow the game in the U.S.,” Morgan said. “I know that we have a lot of responsibilities on our shoulders, the national team players, to grow the game and continue reaching out to different communities and helping girls realize their dream and their passion and growing that passion. I hope to stay in the U.S. and play, but if I’m forced to look abroad then I will.”
Ever-honest Wambach knows that sticking around to see a U.S. league actually succeed is about more than just soccer, it’s about a lasting impact.
“I’m not getting any younger, so traveling from here to Europe, or here to Asia would be difficult for me and my family,” Wambach said. “But at the end of the day I want to leave a legacy and part of that legacy is to have a sustainable professional league. That’s what my dream has been; two have started and failed.”
League organizers seem confident that most U.S. national team players will participate in the new league, which would boost its credibility.
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