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The Lowdown: This time is different…we hope

Abby Wambach

Abby Wambach is more optimistic about the NWSL than WUSA or WPS, in hindsight. (Copyright Patricia Giobetti |

As the National Women’s Soccer League continues to confound us all with the snail’s pace and guarded nature of important announcements, it is interesting to note that the launch of a third women’s professional soccer league in 13 years has been greeted by almost unflappable optimism. Even though the first two incarnations lasted only three seasons each, there is a feeling that this is the model that will lead to that much bandied about word: sustainability.

“The model that is on the table right now is in our opinion probably the best model in order to move forward,” Abby Wambach said during her introductory conference call with the Western New York Flash. Wambach was part of both WUSA and WPS and took the failure of WPS personally after being one of the biggest names in the league. “Where I think we went wrong in the past is that we started off too big and our salaries were too big.”

That is a refreshingly honest assessment albeit from a player who figures to be well compensated whether she plays in NWSL or elsewhere. That she will not be paid direct by the Flash is the carrot most are clinging to.

Allie Long is a level behind Wambach in the pecking order of U.S. players. She enters NWSL — where she is expected to sign with Portland Thorns FC this week — looking to win a spot on the national team.

“I think U.S. Soccer is one of the main reasons that it will work,” Long said, citing the commitment by U.S. Soccer plus the national federations of Canada and Mexico to play nearly one-third of the league’s players. “I can’t see it not working honestly. (Also), what the women did at the Olympics and at the World Cup has really stirred up a lot of interest for women’s soccer. I’m just hoping that those fans that come out and watch national team will all want to come and see their favorite players in each city.”

John Hendricks had that same hope watching the 1999 World Cup and so he rounded up some investors, ponied up some of his own cash, and the WUSA was born. When the league went out of business the week before the 2003 World Cup, Hendricks said, “I was intoxicated by what I witnessed in 1999 and I mistakenly believed that level of support would flow over into the league.”

There has never been a women’s sporting event to come close to the spectacle that was the 1999 World Cup, but it can be argued that the overall appeal of the national team is more mainstream and widespread than it was back then. And beyond Hendricks’s over-estimations, WUSA was undone by frivolous spending and a lack of investor depth.

When WPS came along the national team was still sorting out the post-1999 era. Expectations were lowered as were expenditures. The teams still fell into financial ruin and a series of disastrous franchise issues and decisions crushed the league over its second and third seasons.

“The toughest part of this new set-up could be how the teams and the league office operate together,” a former WPS employee, who is high on NWSL’s business model, told us. “I would actually contend that in 2009, WPS and its teams worked pretty well together. But it was a fragile trust and it all started to fall apart with the Saint Louis Athletica/Jeff Cooper affair.”

Cooper owned Athletica but had secretly sold off part of his team to silent investors and eventually folded the club during the 2010 season. Less than a year later a desperate league admitted magicJack and its rogue owner and that put the final nail in the coffin.

One main difference favoring NWSL over its predecessors is that only three of the eight teams are starting from scratch, and all of them are well grounded with strong foundations. Seattle Reign FC will be the closest thing to a brand new club and they hired Amy Carnell as general manager, who served the same role with the Sounders Women. Portland Thorns FC are part of the wildly successful Portland Timbers of MLS and FC Kansas City are run by the group that operates the Missouri Comets, one of the more prosperous MISL clubs. The other five teams arrived from the W-League (the Washington Spirit, formerly D.C. United Women) or are holdovers from WPS.

That four one-time WPS clubs have made the commitment to join NWSL is a significant indicator they think the current model can work.

Free Kicks

-Richard Farley of The Equalizer and NBC’s Pro Soccer Talk, has reported that Amy Rodriguez is pregnant and will not play the 2013 season. Rodriguez was allocated to Seattle Reign FC.
-The Red Stars will also be short a player this season. Amy LePeilbet will have surgery to repair and ACL tear and is out at least until late summer.
-The W-League announced its schedule earlier this week and a tweet from New York Magic hinted their May 11 game in Washington will be part of an NWSL doubleheader. So while we wait on a schedule, Spirit fans might want to free up May 11 on their calendars.


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