Women’s soccer league officially getting more official

Hi, I’m Alex Morgan. I played professional soccer for the Western New York Flash. (Photo: Andy Mead/YCJ)

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati talked with a few reporters yesterday (I had a conflict that involved cat-herding, I mean, youth soccer coaching) about the progress toward a new women’s soccer league.

The important takeaway wasn’t what was said. It was who said it.

If you read my last post on the matter, you know that there was some chatter suggesting that this new women’s soccer league was some sort of pipe dream of people who weren’t involved with U.S. Soccer. Gulati’s conference call made it clear: U.S. Soccer is at the table with the interested parties, with the most recent meeting taking place a few hours before the conference call. (That meeting did not include Dan Borislow or the WPSL, Jeff Kassouf reports. More about the WPSL shortly, but I’m not turning this post into another Borislow discussion thread.)

So what happened at the meeting, or what can we say so far? Let’s check Gulati’s comments: “quite positive,” “preliminary discussion with the National Team players,” “still being worked on” … in other words, nothing concrete.

But from U.S. Soccer’s perspective, things are changing. Support for a domestic women’s league has always seemed tepid. Now, Charles Boehm writes:

According to sources with knowledge of the situation, U.S. Soccer officials have concluded that the medium and long-term interests of the women’s program are best served by carefully fostering a pro or semipro league rather than maintaining a costly, and perhaps counterproductive, residency program for the core of the national team. Soccer Wire understands this to involve U.S. Soccer underwriting some or all of the cost of substantial salaries for established national teamers.

That’s not to say the new league suddenly has everyone following the same agenda. The WPSL, which tossed together an Elite League last year to include four pro teams (three formerly in WPS) and some of its top amateur sides, is still moving forward. The WPSL’s comment:

The WPSL Elite is still expanding for the upcoming 2012/13 season and expect a great season.

But the WPSL isn’t showing any outright hostility. Meanwhile, the USL is happy to move forward on multiple fronts.

USL continues to actively support the Federation’s leadership in the establishment of a viable women’s professional soccer league.  Simultaneously, we remain focused on strengthening the W-League for the 2013 season which was the home to many of the continent’s top players in 2012.

Maybe it’s impossible to make everyone happy in the women’s soccer turf wars. A better word might be “content.”

The skeptics are out on Twitter, with former Sky Blue GM Gerry Marrone asking this:

Then from the other end of the spectrum:

To which the Boston Breakers’ Lisa Cole replied:

The “better than nothing” argument (or, technically, the “better than the leagues that use college players and have to wrap up in July” argument) is hard to refute. Other leagues around the world have built on years of relative stability. Now they have enough cash to throw at U.S. players to lure them overseas. Lesson to be learned?

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Beau Dure

The guy who wrote a bunch of soccer books and now runs a Gen X-themed podcast while substitute teaching and continuing to write freelance stuff.

6 thoughts on “Women’s soccer league officially getting more official”

  1. “Other leagues around the world have built on years of relative stability. Now they have enough cash to throw at U.S. players to lure them overseas. Lesson to be learned?”

    Let’s be clear here, those leagues aren’t throwing cash at American players, wealthy ownership groups are. Lyon, PSG, and others aren’t making money off of women’s league play, their owners are wealthy enough, and financially generous enough, to lure players overseas in the pursuit of sporting glory.

    In response to Natalie Smith’s comment: I would argue that what people are asking players and fans to “buy into” is the economic, logistical, and cultural reality of women’s pro sports. That to get to where we WANT to be, we have to build from where we ARE right now. People bought into the fantasy that if we pumped a lot of money into WUSA and WPS that fans, and subsequently money, would come. Two failures have disproved that.

    In response to Gerry Marrone: That’s exactly why this new league will be semi-pro, there isn’t enough revenue (potential or otherwise) to pay everyone, and certainly not enough to pay everyone a liveable salary.

    Sometimes you have to go backward before you can go forward…or some such and such. Le’s give this new direction a try. Worse case scenario – players eventually go back to those “relatively stable” league abroad.

  2. @Wear Nikes Drink Gatorade — I’d take that with a grain of salt. It may be that the decision is we are going to pay some of the players so that means no NCAA players (they can’t play on a team with anyone who gets paid to play). The term “fully professional” gets tossed around — it might be everyone gets paid, but it may not be much.

  3. It’s a professional league.

    Gulati expressed it this way: It may not be a living wage for every player, but it’s professional.

    There were people who were insisting this league would NOT be pro. They were wrong.

  4. “Gulati expressed it this way: It may not be a living wage for every player, but it’s professional.”

    I’m starting to get it a little bit. Sort of like “NCAA athletes are amateurs”. There are those of us who would laugh at that statement. However, if we were to be using a LEGAL definition of the term, and not an economic definition or skill level definition then it would make sense.

    The confusion appears to be over semantics.

    I interpret what you said Gulati “expressed” to mean that the new American women’s professional soccer league will be PROFESSIONAL in some legal meaning of the term.
    Whether players actually get paid a decent living wage at American standards is a different matter…

    They are not creating another WTA or LPGA or even WNBA. We are talking National team development league. Sort of like the NBA D-league.

    WUSA had the ambition originally of superseding FIFA in women’s soccer and becoming like the WTA or LPGA, the premier women’s soccer league. Looks like that window of opportunity has closed.

  5. Guaranteeing some level of salary for all players certainly seems a step above paying only some players at first glance. I’m not sure this is a “line in the sand” issue for the league though, as it seems only some teams have committed to a “fully pro” set-up, with the assumption that all their players will be paid; is this even something the “league” will be mandating? Will they be able to find 8 teams with the resources and commitment to make that assurance to all of their players, and if not will they accept teams compensating only some players? And would it really be any different than having the players lowest on the pay scale working 5 days a week for their primary income while getting nothing in compensation from their team? It might be a nice gesture for the bench player to be guaranteed $2000 or so over the course of the season, but what practical problem does that solve if they still need a 9 to 5 to make it above the poverty line?

    I would hope that the league could find a way to guarantee a minimum salary that would – at the very least – allow players to focus primarily on training during the season. This may still require several days of work per week throughout the league season, but the decreased work load would allow players to train and perform on a much higher level, resulting in an increase in the quality of the soccer we see. Maybe a tight pay scale based on age/league experience, allowing players to make more as they accumulate experience. This set-up would be very dependent on players agreeing to a one-for-all type attitude.

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