Sandy • It’s not just pride and country and personal achievement that Alex Morgan, Hope Solo and the rest of the women on the U.S. national soccer team will be playing for when they compete at the London Olympics next month.
It’s their future.
With the collapse of Women’s Professional Soccer earlier this year, some of the brightest Olympic stars — many of them pioneers in women’s sports — aren’t sure what will become of their sporting careers once the flame is extinguished next month. The WPS was the second pro league for women in the United States to fold in the past nine years, leaving the players with fewer options for advancing their careers, making reasonable money and staying sharp for international duty.
So what’s next?
“That’s a great question,” veteran forward Abby Wambach said, “and truthfully, I wish I had an answer. I do know that this team is conscious of the fact that we indirectly can have something really positive to do with that, whether it be a new professional league or a semi-professional league here in the United States. We believe that bringing back a gold medal will do nothing but good things for that venture.”
Certainly, the women hope that winning gold will generate enough excitement and interest to ignite the creation of another domestic league.
After all, it was the American victory in the Women’s World Cup on home soil in 1999 that spurred the creation of the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA), a league that lasted three years before it folded after reportedly burning through $100 million.
It was relaunched as the WPS in 2009, on the heels of the 2007 Women’s World Cup and the 2008 Beijing Olympics — the Americans were third at the WWC, and won their second straight Olympic gold in Beijing — but that lasted only three years, too.
The league folded last month, abandoning plans to start up again next year while citing a lack of resources that included an internal battle with one of the franchise owners.
“I hope there’s something formed in the next year,” Morgan said. “But I think if there’s not, players will need to look elsewhere to play.”
One option is overseas.
Women’s leagues in Germany, Sweden and France are considered especially strong, and generally pay respectable salaries to supplement the $50,000 to $70,000 the players make as members of the national team.
And there are domestic options.
It’s just that they’re far from ideal, and don’t usually pay well — which is a bigger problem for the players not on the national team, who will comprise the bulk of any league.
Several national-team players such as Morgan, Solo, Megan Rapinoe and Sydney Leroux have signed on with the handful of women’s teams affiliated with Major League Soccer teams, such as the Seattle Sounders (but not Real Salt Lake), which play in the short-season, pro-am “W-League.” And the minor-league Women’s Premier Soccer League has added an eight-team “Elite” league that aspires to fill the void left by WPS.
Some players are convinced that nurturing the existing minor-league framework is the only viable way to grow the women’s game in the U.S., however much they might want — or deserve — something better.
“Is the level at an international standard?” midfielder Megan Rapinoe said. “No. But it’s still a place where we can get better, we can get 90 minutes, we can train consistently and have a place to play, and that’s huge for us. I think we’ll see other things popping up, and hopefully we can show well at this Olympics and create much more buzz.”
U.S. vs. Canada
P Saturday, noon
TV • NBC
Tickets • USSoccer.com, RioTintoStadium.com
The U.S. women’s national team will hold an open workout on Friday at Rio Tinto Stadium. The session is free and open to the public, starting at 11 a.m.
The U.S. women’s national team will hold an open workout on Friday at Rio Tinto Stadium. The session is free and open to the public, starting at 11 a.m. It is expected to last about an hour.