On Monday, Women’s Professional Soccer suspended operations.
Jennifer O’Sullivan, the league’s CEO, said an ongoing legal battle with Dan Borislow, who owned the WPS franchise in Florida until the league terminated the team in October, had made it impossible for WPS to continue. A Florida judge ruled in January that the league had failed to follow its own procedures when it ousted Borislow, who, according to the league, had failed to fulfill his obligations as an owner and had embarrassed his players and the league.
Both O’Sullivan and league chairman Fitz Johnson say they intend for the league to return in 2013. Kristine Lilly, who played for the Boston Breakers in the WUSA until that league suspended operations in 2003 and then for the same team during the first two years of WPS, is among the optimists.
I believe in it. I believe in the product. I believe there is a place for a women’s professional league,” Lilly said. “You know, everyone says, ‘Well, if I would have known, I would have helped more.’ [The] fans’ job is to buy tickets to come to the games and support the league. And it’s not just supporting these women playing, I think it’s supporting the future. And if we want women’s soccer to be around we all need to be part of making it happen.”
Lilly, who also played for the U.S. Women’s Team from 1987 to 2010 and served as the team’s captain for four years, is concerned that the suspension of the U.S. pro league will make it harder to assemble a competitive national team.
“It’ll hurt. The national team you have a pool. You only have about 30-35 people in a pool that you can bring in to constantly compete. The league opens the door to over 100 players,” Lilly said. “Back in the day with the WUSA, Shannon Boxx and Abby Wambach were products of [that league]. So, [having a pro] league does have a value.”
Players coming out of college are not entirely without options. Lilly herself played in Sweden for a time, and there are women’s leagues in England, Australia, and various other countries. But except for a very few stars, the women who play in those leagues can’t make a living at it. They have day jobs, and as Kristine Lilly notes, those leagues offer limited opportunities for players to develop and improve.
“[These pro] leagues just [aren’t] leagues where we’re trying to have people have full-time jobs [playing soccer]. They’re leagues where players work throughout the day and then go practice at night and maybe have some compensation,” Lilly said. “We want our players here [not in leagues overseas]. We are players developing here, competing here to help our national team.”
Meanwhile, by beating Costa Rica last week in the semi-finals of their regional tournament, the U.S. team earned a trip to the London Olympics. On Sunday the U.S. beat Canada, 4-0, to win that tournament.