WAGS President to VCCL rebels: Don’t expect us to be your ‘placeholder league’
By Charles Boehm
The northward expansion of the Virginia Club Champions League sent shock waves rippling through the Potomac-area soccer community last week as parents, coaches and club officials contemplated the rise of a new challenger to the established elite led by the Washington Area Girls’ Soccer League (WAGS), Old Dominion Soccer League (ODSL) and the National Capital Soccer League (NCSL).
The eight clubs which officially announced their plans to defect to VCCL’s new northern division – Annandale, Arlington, Braddock Road, Fredericksburg Area Soccer Association (FASA), Great Falls, Loudoun, Prince William Soccer, Inc. (PWSI), and Southwestern Youth Association (SYA) – can all legitimately claim to rank among the region’s top youth programs, and their departure may well deprive their previous leagues of quality talent.
But in an exclusive interview with Potomac Soccer Wire on Friday, WAGS president Kathie Diapoulis fired back with some stern warnings for the eight rebels and cast doubt on their long-term prospects, even as she wished them well in their new enterprise.
“Somebody gets ticked off, if they don’t like the answer they got, they go create another entity so they can do exactly what they want to do, how they want to do it. Everybody ends up being the bad guy when they tell somebody ‘No,’” said Diapoulis, whose league has steadily grown more challenging for new teams and clubs to enter in recent years.
“I do wish them the best of luck, if this is really what they want. But they can’t expect me to be a placeholder league for them. And they have to remember that if they’re not happy with [VCCL], then they are going to have a tough time, at the age of U-12 and above, getting their [WAGS] slots back.”
VCCL North has pledged to take a coach-centric approach to competition that “provides soccer professionals the opportunity to maximize player development from within their member clubs” and, with no tiered divisions or relegation/promotion, reduces the importance of short-term results. But Diapoulis questioned the decision to leave WAGS’ diverse array of girls’ talent from across the Washington, D.C. region in favor of a much smaller, Virginia-only pool.
“If you look at youth soccer right now, all of the programs that are successful and the ones that people are wanting to join are the ones that give you a wider variety of talent, of like talent, so you’re not playing the same teams over and over again, and this group [VCCL] is closing that up – they’re closing their doors, and I don’t get that. What does that do from a developmental standpoint?” said the WAGS boss.
“[WAGS is] a league of 65 clubs – which, as far as I’m concerned, is a blessing, because there are so many teams that are able to play each other, you’re able to get the best of both worlds when you get to play Northern Virginia and D.C. and sometimes West Virginia,” she added.
“You get a good mix there. If you’ve got eight clubs, and they’re not all on level playing grounds, go ahead and take them all out to the same location, have them play each other – are those really the best matches you can get? I can see doing that at a younger age, but U-11 through U-14, what a queer group. What a bizarre group, age group-wise. Why wouldn’t they be starting this in the developmental stage of U-9 and U-10?”
Diapoulis acknowledged the inherent difficulties of managing such a large entity, but also defended WAGS’ treatment of its member clubs, which she believes enjoy top-class competition formats that have been tried and tested over many years. Pointing to the uneven quality levels of the girls’ teams in the eight VCCL North clubs, she also questioned the new league’s ability to provide all its members with enough challenging opposition to be ready for the high intensity of the Virginia State Cup.
“We’re big, we’re huge,” she said. “And that’s going to have some drawbacks. If you’re dealing with a mom-and-pop company and you don’t like the color of your shirt, maybe they can dye it by hand while you’re there. But if you go to JC Penney’s and they don’t have it, then they might ask you to pick another color. I mean, that’s the difference: we’re big, we’re very big. Even being very big, we try to do the best we can to accommodate people. But you’ve only got so much you can do.”
VCCL North plans a block scheduling format in which member clubs schedule matches for the same date and venue across all age levels, a system which is convenient for parents and coaches, but impossible for a league as large as WAGS.
“On a slow weekend, we’ve got 178 games. We have over 1500 matches every season and unfortunately we’re dealing with about 500 different fields for 600 different teams,” said Diapoulis of a league scheduling process she describes as “nightmarish” to complete.
“It’s going to be a lot easier for these eight clubs to get all their [scheduling] requests honored. I don’t think the matches are going to be as competitive. I believe they’re going to get sick of looking at each other, just playing each other. I really do. And I don’t see how they’re really going to be prepared for state cup. That’s the thing that really surprises me: how are you going to prepare for your state cup matches [by] playing Division 3 and Division 5 teams?”
Recalling the tribulations of Reston FC, which she describes as having left WAGS for VCCL several years ago only to return with hat in hand, so to speak, Diapoulis says she’s already received several calls from team managers who wish to remain in WAGS despite their parent clubs’ decision to join VCCL North.
“We’re certainly not going to displace the teams that are loyal to WAGS if they don’t like it and try to come back,” she said. “I’m not going to try and undermine anybody – but I am going to try to retain my membership and make sure these people understand that they’ve got a choice, and they don’t have to go. I’ve got plenty of clubs that would love to host them.”