When I read the official news today about W.P.S., I did not first think of the teams that folded, the issues that arose along the way, or the lawsuit with Dan Borislow. I thought of how fortunate I was to be a part of something successful — a league that was home to many of the best players in the world, where soccer was our full-time job. I feel sad that this opportunity is no longer available to me and other elite female players.
Although I had come to terms that there would be no 2012 W.P.S. season, and knew it was highly unlikely that the league would be back in its original form for 2013, these words hit me hard: “W.P.S. ‘Permanently Suspends’ Operations, Dissolves League.”
As a player who was fortunate to participate in the inaugural season of the league in 2009, I can’t help but feel a sense of ownership that I think is shared by others, especially those who played in all three years of the league’s existence. We vowed to do everything possible to “make it work.” And in that sense, I think that all of us involved feel a sense of failure.
But I differentiate between a “successful” and “sustainable” league. W.P.S. was not sustainable, but it was successful in many ways.
I remember receiving the call from Sky Blue letting me know that they were drafting me as their first-round draft pick. At that moment, I had achieved my dream of being a professional soccer player. I could play my sport, make a living, and do it in my home state.
The first year was quite an adventure. I played with and against women on the U.S. national team, international stars, and players who had been a part of the W.U.S.A. (the first women’s professional league). We traveled to Los Angeles and beat Marta and the L.A. Sol in the beautiful Home Depot Center to become W.P.S. champions. Two years later, I played in a sold out stadium in western New York for the Flash, in which extra seating had to be brought in to accommodate the fans. I got experience doing appearances with youth players, being interviewed by the news media, for radio shows, and TV segments.
It’s easy to assess the shortcomings and how each faction could have done better. We can place blame, but bottom line: it is extremely hard (if not next to impossible) to build a league from nothing, have individuals fronting large sums of money, and make it sustainable.
It’s natural for women’s teams to evolve out of male clubs (the model in most of Europe) and have the support of those multimillion dollar businesses. It’s natural for a professional league to be formed out of a semipro setup, where the teams who have the money can afford to pay the best players. The truth is, women’s soccer is not leaving this country. When I read the comments on Facebook and Twitter, it reminds me of what I already know: there is a dedicated fan base, dedicated team owners and dedicated players in this country. Maybe those entities could not sustain W.P.S., but women’s soccer will be here, just in a different form.
When I read the word “folded” it makes me cringe. I prefer to look at it as a clean slate. Yes, there were aspects of W.P.S. that were not ideal, but if we take from these past three years the positives, and move on with a smarter, more sustainable plan, then although Women’s Professional Soccer will not exist, women’s professional soccer will.