November 21, 2012
FULL SPEED AHEAD
U.S. Soccer will run eight-team women's pro league starting next year
By Michael Lewis
|Abby Wambach and her National Team teammates will have a place to play somewhere in the United States in 2013.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
There is no official name yet, the exact amount of money U.S. Soccer will give has not been determined and there are a lot of details still to be filled in. But it was full speed ahead for a third national women's soccer league.
U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati on Wednesday announced that an eight-team league would kick off in either March or April and conclude in September and October next year.
The eight franchises will play New Jersey, Kansas City, Chicago, Portland, Seattle, Boston, Western New York and Washington, D.C. An independent accountant looked into the finances of the owners. Other criteria included geography and attendances at U.S. Women's National Team games.
In an early afternoon conference call, Gulati said U.S. Soccer was "trying to create an economic model that is sustainable."
The Canadian Soccer Association and Mexican Football Federation will fund the costs of their players in the league.
U.S. Soccer will run the league.
"We're subsidizing the private sector here to try to make this sustainable [and] make the investments by the private sector smaller," Gulati added.
"What we need is a sustainable model: less hype, better performance. The hype will come if we have the performance."
Sustaining a league has been the biggest problem in the past two women's pro leagues as each lasted three years -- the Women's United Soccer Association (2001-2003) and Women's Professional Soccer (2009-2011).
U.S. Soccer will pay 24 U.S. Women's National Team players to play in the league.
The Canadian Soccer Association, which has a vested interest in seeing its players improve because it will host the Women's World Cup in 2016, will commit up to 16 players in the league. CSA president Victor Montagliani said Canadian women's coach John Herdman will pick those players.
Mexico have a minimum of 12 players, a MFF National Teams Coordinator Dennis Te Kloese said.
"It is something unique and working together, our three federations on this, on getting women’s soccer on a higher level," he said. "We’re trying to make a good effort of improving our women’s soccer in Mexico. I think we’ve made strides the last few years and I’m 100 percent sure that this initiative will be a very good next step for us. I’m very excited to be a part of it.”
U.S. Women's National Team players were consulted about the league. The international players will be allocated to the eight teams.
"They’re certainly going to participate and we’ve gotten very good signals from them, but they want to know what league looks like," Gulati said. "The same is true for the Canadian and Mexican national team players, [they want to know] that the quality is going to be good enough and we’re convinced it will be."
There will be a draft for additional players, and perhaps for some of the national team players, Gulati added.
"You’re going to see a lot of top players," he said. "There’s no doubt there will be top players coming from elsewhere. Whether it’s the same level and same number of players previously, I don’t want to confirm that. It may well be that some players on these rosters aren’t doing this on a full-time basis, at least in the offseason so they might have a part-time job, or they might be at grad school or whatever else it might be."
Gulati said a name had not been determined as well as some of the stadium sites. Very few financial details were revealed, such as how much U.S. Soccer will fund this project for and the range of player salaries. Gualti said that there has been a "handshake agreement" with one national sponsor."
Gulati said the eight teams have made a long term commitment. He said it was "a personal commitment and not a financial commitment where we’re asking, for example, for three years of operating expenses to be put in escrow. That’s never been the case in any of the leagues that exist in the United States."
The criteria included a number of factors, the U.S. Soccer president said. An independent accounting firm that looked at the resources of the individual investor operators. U.S. Soccer looked at geography, the importance of the market, the success of the markets for women’s national team games, for Major League Soccer, for youth soccer."
Some U.S. markets, however, were not among the eight cities, including Los Angeles.
"That’s something in the future that is possible," Gulati said. "Los Angeles is obviously an important market. I’m feeling much more like [NFL commissioner] Roger Goodell now having to answer why there’s no team in Los Angeles.”
Three cities apparently did not make the cut. "For a number of reasons, we felt eight was the best number," Gulati said.
There were no Canadian cities among the eight teams. Montagliani said that it was possible that Canadian markets were "not quite ready" for a team.
The group in Los Angeles was disappointed at not being selected.
"Without question we are frustrated and disappointed with U.S. Soccer’s decision to leave us out," said Charlie Naimo, vice president of the W-League's Pali Blues. "It makes no sense in the long run. When have we ever been able to field three West Coast teams in a professional women’s league in its inaugural season? Never… expansion would have been much easier in the future giving us our own conference. Coming from USL PRO and knowing the costs of an extra trip to California in a season is not a make or break cost to a ‘professional’ team. The group we represented had a turnkey operation, great stadium, rich history of on-field success and would have been in the top half of the league financially. That said, it is over and that is all we will say. I want to wish all the great owners the best of luck and success with their new venture. There are some great people/ friends running these teams and all the focus should be on them right now.
“Regarding expansion, who knows… but I can tell you the lead investor in this venture most likely will not be interested again. On a personal level, I think I have put enough time in trying to make these things work.”
At least one Major League Soccer team, the Portland Timbers, will operate a club in the new league.
“We are pleased to partner with U.S. Soccer to bring a new women’s professional team to Portland and to do our part to make a top-flight women’s league possible in our country," Timbers owner/president Merritt Paulson said. "The Timbers are, and always will be, steadfastly committed to growing the sport of soccer in our region at all levels, and championing a new women’s league and operating a team here in Soccer City, USA, will be an important part of that growth."
Gulati said MLS, through Soccer United Marketing, might also have a role in the new league.
Montagliani said discussions about the league began after the Summer Olympics. The U.S. captured the gold medal, while the Canadians won the bronze medal.