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Professional Jan 10, 2010

Setback for Women’s Professional Soccer as LA Sol fold

Multiple sources are now confirming rumors we have been hearing for days – that Women’s Professional Soccer’s marquee team has collapsed, and will make a public announcement Friday to that effect. The story went from rumor and whispers to print today when the LA Times and Washington Post’s ‘Soccer Insider’ published reports almost simultaneously around 2 pm this afternoon.

Holders of the best record WPS in 2009, and with the best player in world on their roster in Brazilian Marta, the demise of the team may be a short term gain for other WPS teams in terms of talent becoming available, but is also a major political blow to a league yet to begin its second year of operation.

Things in LA have been going down hill for a while, with the biggest ‘what the?’ moment coming at last week’s WPS draft when head coach Abner Rogers did not show up to the draft despite having been listed in official media information. The team later revealed Rogers had left the team three weeks before.

The team also was not included when the league schedule was released recently, with stadium issues being cited by the league – evidence of how much WPS officials were trying to avoid the potential embarrassment of losing its marquee team after just one year into its existence.

The last sign was earlier this week when U.S. National Team midfielder Aly Wagner decided toretire from WPS/LA – apparently after being told she wasn’t in the team’s plans, although now it appears that was true of all the players.

The main reason for the demise stems from part owner Anschutz Entertainment Group’s (AEG) desire to sell its stake in the team. After seeking a buyer for months, and nearly closing a deal last week, they have ultimately been unable to close a deal. The remaining owner is apparently not able to support the club on their own, leaving no choice but to cease operations.

Though it is still possible the team will be saved, if the fat lady sings on Friday as expected, Marta – along with her shirt sponsor Amway – would likely be sold to the highest bidder, or could leave the league. The remaining players on the roster would then be dispersed to the remaining teams, presumably via a lottery.

Three of those players represent first round draft picks from barely a week ago, and must be reeling at the news. Forward Nikki Washington was chosen 5th overall, while her North Carolina teammate and strike partner Casey Nogueira went three slots later in eight. LA also had the ninth overall pick, with which they selected yet another forward in Washington State’s Kiersten Dallstream. Those three should end up on rosters elsewhere this season, but the same can not be as easily said for LA’s picks in later rounds, who were already expected to have to compete hard for final roster spot.

AEG’s unwillingness to carry the team for another season for a fraction of what it has lost with Major League Soccer teams in that league’s early years appears to send a clear message that they do not believe there is a profitable future in women’s professional soccer in America. If true, they certainly would not be alone in that feeling, but it also is not easy to launch a new sports league in the throes of the worse economy since the Great Depression.

For the remaining eight teams in the league, 2010 will likely be a make or break season. If attendance doesn’t increase, and new sponsors aren’t found, more teams could easily follow LA’s path, putting the league’s very survival in jeopardy despite the tremendous effort by so many dedicated people to resurrect women’s professional soccer “the right way” in America after WUSA’s much publicized demise after just three years.

The irony is the only thing it would take for WPS to survive, and remain the dream for every young female player, is for each one of those players to attend just one game per season with a parent, for the league’s conservative business plan to succeed. If the remaining WPS teams can turn the real fear of league demise into a marketing “call to action” to get those pony tail posses to the stadiums, then the loss of LA could end up being what saves the league, not what doomed it.