In 2009 women's professional soccer will try its hand at restarting the enterprise that created soccer stars Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy. Starting in January the new league, Women's Professional Soccer (WPS), will fight the economic battle for fans and funds, but as Bill Littlefield comments, everyone loves an underdog.
During the New Year, women’s professional soccer will try again. This time the league is actually called Women’s Professional Soccer, or WPS, and since those engaged in restarting the enterprise apparently didn’t entrust their resources to Bernard Madoff, the league says the deal is still on.
Last week, WPS announced that PUMA had signed on as a founding partner. This week features a combine for hopefuls in Florida. Next month, the WPS teams will draft players from Brazil and various other nations to augment the members of the U.S. National Team already allocated. The league’s administrators maintain that they’ve learned caution from the failure of the new league’s predecessor, the WUSA, which lasted just three seasons, and Kristine Lilly, the most durable and determined soccer player of either gender in any era, will play for Boston. She will be a draw anywhere. On the negative side, Lilly’s former teammates, Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Julie “Loudy” Foudy and the rest of the cast that filled the Rose Bowl in 1999 are long retired.
Though it can’t have been on purpose, the league will begin play with just seven teams. Eight would have been tidier. So would six.
Has ever a sports enterprise tried to launch under less promising circumstances? Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NBA, and the NHL have all cut their staffs. This week, having assured their fans that it wouldn’t, the Arena Football League threw itself for the ultimate loss and closed up shop. The universities that will host some of the WPS teams have announced hiring freezes, so maybe they’ll spend the money to water the soccer field, maybe not. Notwithstanding how insensitive children can be, the fan base of the WPS may be too distracted wondering if their parents will be able to afford prep courses for the SAT’s, let alone tuition bills, to clamor for a season’s ticket to see the women’s games. Full disclosure: I was a fan of the WUSA. When it looked as if I might have the opportunity to become the P.A.
announcer at Boston Breakers games, I almost considered giving up my day job and going on the dole to take the gig. So I’m rooting for the new league as reporters can’t but commentators can. I’m for the underdog, and if the WPS does prevail, the result could be one of the brightest – if more unlikely - sports stories of 2009.