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Direct from Arizona

Wambach, USWNT Hope Third Time Is the Charm

Women's professional soccer will once again rise up in the United States. As Jon Arnold reports, the ladies on the USWNT are cautiously optimistic, hoping that this time it's here for good.

BY Jon Arnold Posted
December 03, 2012
9:13 AM
GLENDALE, Arizona—The need for a strong women’s professional soccer league in this country was reiterated less than a minute into the United States women’s national team’s 2-0 victory against Ireland.

On December 1, three days after thumping the same team by five goals, Amy Morgan opened the scoring and in doing so erased any thought of an Irish uprising. The performance was a stark reminder that the USWNT is stocked with skill. And while doing a nationwide tour of friendlies that allows fans to see the team up close and lets the players play some matches and make some money is nice and all, they’re capable of more.

That’s why the United States Soccer Federation’s joint announcement with the Mexican and Canadian federations that they would be backing a league has been greeted with such enthusiasm.

“I’m excited. There’s a lot of unknowns and questions that haven’t been answered yet, but we know that if U.S. Soccer is behind it and supporting it, we know that it’s going to be something that other corporations, bigger time corporations, Nikes, Gatorades, hopefully will get involved and keep it more of a solid, stable ground,” said veteran forward Abby Wambach.

With that enthusiasm, though, comes caution. Many players have been through this before—some more than once—with other doomed start-up leagues. It’s important, Wambach said, for the federations to end their involvement with the league once it’s ready to have the training wheels removed, though she noted a timetable for such a move would be difficult to pin down. “Obviously it gives you a little bit of a backing, but we don’t want to rely on them to be running our professional leagues forever. That would be a mistake,” she said.

So how can this league succeed where others have failed? Have people of greater wealth get involved in team ownership. “Sign richer owners,” Wambach says. “I’m not kidding,” she continues when some reporters start to chuckle.

Finances are always a concern for women’s sports and ownership failures, whether through a lack of funds, legal disputes with the league, or somewhere in between, are often the downfall of franchises and leagues. With financial and logistical uncertainties still abounding, many players are considering a move to European leagues where an infrastructure is already in place. Keeping young talent, then, becomes an important challenge for the new league, but having even more of a role in building the game is enough to lure at least one player to stay Stateside.

“I’ve considered both options,” said Sydney Leroux, who was the number one pick in the Women’s Professional Soccer draft before the league canceled the 2012 season two weeks later and later folded. “I’ve decided to stay here and help build women’s soccer in the States, so I’m staying here.”

It will take a convergence of these various influences for a women’s league to finally break through and succeed. “It’s great to see (a commitment on the federation’s) end,” said Alex Morgan, Wambach’s usual strike partner. “I think that we just need to continue to see the commitment on all sides, that’s players and ownership and fans included.”

Jon Arnold (@ArnoldcommaJon) is a freelance writer based in Phoenix and the co-host of MLS in 30 on NASN.TV.

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