By Charles Boehm
After posting a single-page website as a teaser earlier this month, the United Soccer Leagues has finally shed a bit more light on its plans to develop “W-PRO,” a fully professional women’s soccer league, next year, suggesting that USL is ready to step into the gap left by the suspended – and perhaps soon to be folded – Women’s Pro Soccer (WPS).
For many years USL, which runs several lower-division and selective youth leagues on both the men’s and women’s sides, has operated the well-established W-League, a large but humble developmental league that does totally not forbid paid players, but describes itself as “pro-am” in order to protect the NCAA eligibility of the many college players that participate in it.
But shortly after The Soccer Wire broke the news that embattled WPS, which suspended its 2012 season amid rancorous legal proceedings with renegade owner Dan Borislow several months ago, is apparently set to close up shop for good, USL posted www.wprosoccer.com, which featured a brief animation highlighted by a W-PRO logo labeling it as “Women’s Professional Soccer” and promising “Kickoff 2013.”
This week The Soccer Wire received a statement from USL President Tim Holt which lays out his organization’s general plans for this new venture.
“W-PRO is being developed to offer an economically viable and sustainable model for professional women’s soccer in the United States and Canada,” wrote Holt.
“Distinguished by a business plan focused on team services, creative marketing, financial discipline and player development, W-PRO will establish an exciting, stable league platform for team owners, players, fans and sponsors. A formal announcement and additional details about W-PRO will occur in the coming months.”
That sets up an intriguing future for top-flight women’s soccer, whose advocates have been dispirited to see two ambitious, talent-laden U.S. pro leagues fizzle over the past decade – first the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA), and now, it seems, WPS as well.
The Women’s Premier Soccer League were quickest to respond to WPS’ 2012 suspension, almost immediately creating a new professional branch, WPSL Elite, which includes six WPSL members ready to move up to pro level – including former WPS members the Chicago Red Stars – as well as WPS refugees the Boston Breakers and New York Flash. WPSL itself is a less-structured counterpart to W-League which sits at the same tier in the eyes of U.S. Soccer.
In the wake of the WPS suspension of operations, several leading stars from the U.S. and elsewhere have since moved overseas to ply their trade in Europe and other locales around the globe, with some resembling soccer nomads as they seek paid opportunities in a variety of situations. The U.S. youth and college systems continue to churn out top talent, and the world’s best players remain eager to test themselves – and earn decent wages – in North America, the traditional cradle of the women’s game.
Can the U.S. and Canada support a professional women’s soccer league? It’s an economic and cultural question that many have wrestled with over the past year. And now, despite the discouraging setbacks of the past, it seems there are at least two more organizations ready to give it another shot.