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Seattle Sounders Women Speak Out on New Pro League

The Seattle Sounders Women are extremely proud of our representatives within the U.S. Women’s National Team and would first like to congratulate Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, and Sydney Leroux on their Olympic gold medals.

Recently there have been reports of a new professional women’s soccer league, and the awareness of this development are largely due to the fantastic momentum that Team USA has generated with their gold medal performance in London.

The Seattle Sounders Women, coming off an incredibly successful 12th season as a franchise in the USL W-League, will absolutely return to the pitch for a 2013 campaign. We are aware of the possibility to move to a different league or evolve with our current league. At this point, the Sounders Women are open to all options and evaluating what is best for women’s soccer in the United States as well as what is best for the Sounders Women and our unparalleled fans.

Whether we are dealing with our own league or outside interests, women’s pro soccer deserves a fair shot at surviving. What survival means is a dogged restraint to costs in such a way that can compel future franchise growth nationwide. Our league and owners must agree on realistic player salaries and franchise fees and conjoin them with knowledgeable soccer people and business infrastructure.

The Sounders Women encourage our fans and all supporters of women’s soccer to be patient in order to ensure a stable, sustainable, and prosperous model is chosen for the women’s game in the U.S. so previous unsuccessful models are not repeated.

The Future of Women’s Professional Soccer: A Conversation with Kristine Lilly

ISN had the privilege of speaking with USWNT legend Kristine Lilly, who currently serves as a brand ambassador for Korrio and assistant head coach of the Boston Breakers, about the future of the professional women’s soccer in North America.  No one knows the game better than an athlete with 352 caps with the U.S. national team, claiming 2 Olympic gold medals and 2 World Cup championships in the process.

1.  What was your initial reaction to the announcement of WPS folding?

Well obviously I wasn’t happy the WPS folded, but I wasn’t totally surprised. I knew they were having some troubles and then suspending the league didn’t seem too promising. It really stinks for soccer here in the U.S., but I know there are still talks and works to make a league happen for the girls to play in.

2.  What effect will the lack of WPS have on the women’s national team?

I don’t think there are immediate effects to the women’s national team, but if time goes on and we don’t have a place for the girls to play then I think that will hurt our pool of players. The league gives girls a chance to play, be seen and to try and make the U.S. team. I think the league plays a big role in giving a place for a player to play and grow.

3.  Does the WPSL or W-League model offer a viable option for the future of the professional game for women?

I think the WPSL or W-League are models that we need to look at. They have been around a while and maybe we need to start somewhere at a level that has worked and then grow from there. I think coming together with all of the spearheaders of the leagues and U.S. Soccer to come up with something that will help the players and the sport grow here is important to keeping our nation at the top of the women’s game.

4.  What could WPS have done differently to ensure long-term success?

I am not sure what was needed to be done differently, timing, could have been better. The economy taking a nose dive right when we launch didn’t help. But I am not a business woman, so I leave that part to those who know business. However, we need to find a way to keep selling the game and reaching our fans to let them know we need their support to continue to make little girls dreams a reality!

WPSL Responds to Announcement of Folding of WPS

Women’s Professional Soccer announced today that it has officially closed its doors, ending a second attempt at creating a professional women’s soccer league in America. The Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) would like to officially thank the owners of WPS for their valiant efforts on behalf of the women’s game. While this may be the end of one league, it is not the end for professional women’s soccer.

“At the WPSL we tried to do everything we could to help WPS to survive by providing a place for their players to continue to compete,” said WPSL Commissioner Jerry Zanelli. “Now that the WPS has ended, we want to step up and continue to provide that opportunity through the WPSL Elite League. Even though it is a tremendous disappointment, we see it as a huge opportunity to build a professional women’s soccer league in a very different way than ever before.”

Zanelli is dedicated to establishing a national professional league and has been a strong force in women’s soccer for many years.  One of the founding members of the W-League, Zanelli left that league to create the WPSL, which now has over 70 women’s soccer teams all across the USA, plus the WPSL Elite League.
While the announcement of the new league in early February was in response to the WPS decision, the plans for an elite-level WPSL league were already in the works, and had been announced at the 2012 WPSL Annual General Meeting in Las Vegas just days before the WPS announced plans for the 2012 season.

The original WPSL plans had a new elite league starting on the West Coast in 2013, but the need for a place for high-level women’s soccer pushed that up a year.

The eight-team WPSL Elite League includes former WPS teams Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars and 2011 WPS Champion Western New York Flash. Rounding out the league are WPSL sides ASA Chesapeake Charge, FC Indiana, New England Mutiny and New York Fury and independent Philadelphia Fever. The league began its inaugural season on May 10 and will continue through July.

“The legal entity named WPS went out of business,” said FC Indiana Head Coach Shek Borkowski, “but the sport of women’s football has been, is, and will continue to move forward, in a more realistic and sustainable form this time. This is not time for mourning but for renewed enthusiasm.”

Paul Riley, two-time WPS Coach of the Year with Philadelphia Independence and current head coach of New York Fury expressed appreciation for the efforts by WPS owners. “”I’m glad for the WPS owners that the legal issues are over. They have worked tirelessly, diligently and monetarily to make WPS work, so I would like to extend a huge thanks for what they did for the growth of women’s soccer.”

“We have tremendous female players in this country,” Riley continued, “and it is up to the powers that be to get around a table and provide all these professional players with a great avenue to resurrect and further develop their careers,” said Riley. “At New York Fury we are proud to have twelve previous WPS players, and we will spend this season in the WPSL Elite League working diligently to improve aspects of their game and give them a training environment where they can be competitive and prosper.”

“It is a sad day for women’s soccer,” said Boston Breakers Head Coach Lisa Cole, “but right now I am preparing for our sold-out game this weekend. We just need to find what makes sense for women’s soccer from a business perspective. The folding of the WPS does not mean the end of elite women’s soccer in the U.S. It just means we need to create a new, economically viable model.”

“I think it’s unfortunate that the WPS suspended their 2012 season,” said Ulises Terrones of Philadelphia Fever. “That being said, I believe they did a great job at laying down the framework for women’s soccer in America. As a member of the WPSL Elite League, I believe it is our responsibility to promote women’s soccer and continue to grow the sport.”

“Our goal is to create a sustainable professional league for women,” Zanelli explained. “The answer is to build from the ground up. That is how you build a league to last.”

Zanelli points to the overall strength of the WPSL and expanding interest in the Elite League for 2013. Since beginning as a six-team West Coast league in 1998, WPSL has grown to a nationwide league with over 70 teams in the two levels. Several of the original teams, including California Storm and San Diego SeaLions, continue to compete in the league. In that time two professional leagues have come and, now, gone.

“We are already in negotiations for expansion of the WPSL Elite League in 2013,” said Zanelli. “We have had several teams that have reached out to us about joining the league, and are working with groups in Miami, Houston, Dallas, Northern Virginia, Phoenix, San Diego, Sacramento and the Bay Area.”

An indication of the enthusiasm for the women’s game can be seen in the pre-season sellout of several WPSL Elite League matches and the expectation of more as the season goes on. “The fan base is there,” said Zanelli. “People need to step up and support women’s soccer if they want to see a professional league survive.”

“The WPSL has always grown from the ground up with the goal of being a sustainable league,” Zanelli pointed out. “We recognize the importance of having a high-level league to provide a critical showcase for top women players and to inspire young athletes. Our ultimate goal is to create a professional league that will last.”

WPSL Commissioner Jerry Zanelli on the Future of Women’s Soccer

Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) Commissioner Jerry Zanelli has seen many changes in the game over his more than two decades in women’s soccer. Fifteen years ago he joined with other team owners to create the Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) which now boasts over 70 teams across the country and recently added the WPSL Elite League and a U-20 League to its ranks. Prior to creating the WPSL, Zanelli was a founding member of the USL’s W-League.

With interest in women’s soccer running high on the heels of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the upcoming 2012 Olympics in London, Zanelli believes that the game is ready for intelligent growth. The creation of the WPSL Elite League, while in part a response to the suspension of the 2012 Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) season, is a step in the WPSL’s overall growth plan. The Elite League had originally been planned to begin in 2013 with several West Coast teams, but the need to provide quality competition for the women affected by the WPS decision moved that up. For 2012 the WPSL Elite League will include former WPS teams Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars and 2011 WPS Champions Western New York Flash. The league will also feature top eastern WPSL teams ASA Chesapeake Charge, FC Indiana, New England Mutiny and New York Fury and independent Philadelphia Fever.

What has made women’s professional soccer in America so shaky? While soccer in the U.S. has often been dwarfed by typically American-inspired sports such as football, baseball and basketball, soccer has begun to reach remarkably high levels of popularity recently among youth and young adult athletes. Even NBC has jumped on board to televise soccer, and now Major League Soccer (MLS) has a big boost in its TV exposure. Why then is the women’s game suffering as their male counterparts are reaching new heights in ticket sales, attendance and publicity?

“Having the building blocks in place is critical to the success of every business,” says Zanelli, “and women’s soccer is no exception.” He believes that the failure to create a solid financial foundation and put these building blocks in place has been at least partly responsible for the problems professional women’s soccer has had, with the collapse of Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) and the issues that WPS has had.

A mistake that Zanelli believes professional women’s soccer leagues have made is in setting their entry pricing and team salaries too high. “Women soccer players deserve the same salaries as men, absolutely. But professional women’s soccer is in its infancy. When the MLS launched, players in the indoor soccer circuit earned more money. Now look at what they earn in the MLS!”

“We want to make professional women’s soccer sustainable. We want the league costs to be at a price that is affordable for owners,” Zanelli says. “Overspending is ridiculous. The fees for the Elite League will be a fraction of the cost of the WPS. We want teams to survive and for this to be a long-term investment of time and effort so we can all enjoy steady growth.”

After twenty plus years involved in women’s soccer, Zanelli says, “We are most concerned with teams surviving economically and keeping our league costs reasonable.”

When the WPS suspended the 2012 season just weeks after the 2012 WPS Draft, the news sent shock waves through the women’s soccer community. “The heartache of the WPS suspending so soon after the draft was emotionally hard for everyone involved,” says Lisa Cole, head coach of Boston Breakers. The WPSL was determined that it would not be the end of high-level women’s soccer and that the players who had looked forward to the WPS season would have a place to pursue their passion.”

“We started off with the goal of having eight teams for our inaugural WPSL Elite League season,” explains Zanelli, “and we were able to reach that goal in three weeks from the initial announcement. Next year our goal is 12 to 16 teams. Right now we have teams from San Diego, Los Angeles, Sacramento, the Bay Area, Phoenix, Northern Virginia, Milwaukee, Houston, Dallas and Miami who have contacted us about joining the league for 2013. If there are other teams out there who wish to be considered, we would love to hear from them.”

“I look forward to the challenge of playing the former WPS teams as they bring a higher level expertise,” says FC Indiana head coach Shek Borkowski of the league his team has helped create. “The soccer competition will be a higher level than before in the regular WPSL, and we are looking forward to this.”

New England Mutiny owner Joe Ferrara agrees. “It is appealing to play against some of the best players in the world,” he says. “We look forward to showing that our team can perform at this level.”

The Elite League is an interesting business model: low cost fees, grass roots growth, a community-oriented approach and a mixture of U.S. National level and professional soccer players combined with some teams with predominantly amateurs from the college ranks.

While the WPSL Elite League is not a “professional” league, per se, that does not mean the quality of play will be any less. WPSL has chosen to keep the league non-professional, but to allow individual teams to be professional in all aspects, including having teams made up of almost all pro players. Allowing some teams to remain amateur will give collegiate players the opportunity to compete on the same field as professionals on other teams and gain invaluable experience while retaining their college eligibility.

“Will this be great soccer? Absolutely. There will be no difference in the caliber of play between the WPSL Elite League and a fully professional league,” Zanelli says. “The difference between the two will be in name only.”

The question that then arises is, “are the standards the same?” While obviously due to financial limitations head coaches in the WPS may also have to be coach, technical director and assume other responsibilities, the quality of the product will be the same according to Zanelli.

“When teams step up to play in the Elite League they had better realize that they need to play at a professional level and put out a professional product. This is an opportunity for those college athletes to play at a higher level and be recognized. Blending the amateur teams and professional teams provides an amazing opportunity for recognition and development.”

Professional players in the Elite League can not be paid the same salaries as promised in the WPS, but at least they have a season to play.

“Teams will have to do some adapting to allow their players to work and earn a living,” Zanelli says. “One of my goals is to find the corporate sponsorship to raise the funds to pay players. But first we need to create a sustainable program in America, a program everyone can believe in and bank on.”

After 23 years in women’s soccer, Zanelli has seen both success and failure, and has tried to learn from both as he moves the WPSL forward. “A five-team league is really not a national league. The Elite League will be national next year and steady growth is the key to future success.”

“When I helped found the WPSL, we decided that we were going to focus 100 percent of our efforts on the women’s game,” he points out. “I was one of the first owners in the W-League and I did not like the way they were organized. It seemed that with USL, 90 percent of the focus was on men’s soccer and only five percent was spent on women’s soccer, with the remainder on youth soccer.”

“It is important to support the WPSL and the Elite League,” says Ferrara, “so that our girls can see top level women’s soccer. If we want the sport to survive, the community needs to make this happen – teams, fans and media. Girls need to have something to aspire to.”

“We have to say that women’s soccer is important in this country,” Cole agrees. “It is important for our national team to have a professional-level league in this country.”

Right now Zanelli believes that the WPSL and the WPSL Elite League are “the best thing in the United States” when it comes to women’s soccer. “We welcome the challenge of competing with other leagues because it only makes us better,” he says. “I am very proud of what the Elite owners and coaches have accomplished in a very short time frame. This is going to be a great season for the fans, players and the sport.”

Chicago Red Stars Sign Ella Masar to WPSL Elite League Roster

The Chicago Red Stars have announced the signing of Ella Masar for the 2012 Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) Elite League season. The 26 year-old forward from Urbana, Illinois, played for the Red Stars of Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) in 2009 and 2010. Masar is currently playing professionally in France with historic club Paris Saint-Germain, with whom she signed in September of 2011. She will return to Chicago directly from PSG upon completion of her contract.

“I cannot wait to return home and help my teammates fight for a championship in the new WPSL Elite League,” stated Masar. “The owners and staff have done an exceptional job of assembling a team with some of the best players in the game.”

“I am highly anticipating reuniting with the dedicated and loving fans of Chicago. We are here to make a statement in the league and that is never possible without a support system. I am humbled to be a part of such a great group.”

Masar graduated from the University of Illinois in 2008. She was a team captain and All-Big Ten First Team selection during her senior year, as well as a Lowe’s All-America First Team choice. She was also honored with Big-Ten Offensive Player of the Year award during her junior year.

She was selected by the Red Stars in the second round of the inaugural Women’s Professional Soccer draft and quickly became a local fan favorite on account of her tireless work ethic and fearlessness on the field. She had a break-out season towards the end of 2010 when she found form and finished with a team-high 8 goals. Shortly after, Chicago’s WPS team departed from the league and Masar became a free-agent, spending one more season in WPS before heading to join the Division 1 Féminine French league.

“It has been such a blessing and honor to be able to play for PSG for the last 7 months. It is a club that needs no introduction and has allowed me to accomplish another one of my dreams,” she remarked. “However, there is a saying that I love, ‘there is no place like home!’”

The Chicago Red Stars will open the 2012 WPSL Elite League season on Sunday, May 20, when they host FC Indiana at Concordia University. Then on Friday, May 25, they visit IUPUI Stadium for a rematch with FC Indiana.