Soccer  > General Soccer  > WPS gives U.S. another edge, but how much?
October 27, 2010, 03:01 PM
After two years of the Women's Professional Soccer league, the United States enters CONCACAF Women's World Cup Qualifying with another advantage over its regional rivals.

How much of an advantage - especially in the future - is up for discussion.

The eight-team league, which boasts some of the best women's soccer players in the world, including four-time FIFA Player of the Year Marta, endured some difficult times this past year.

WPS lost not one, but two franchises -- the defending champion Los Angeles Sol prior to the season and Saint Louis Athletica midway through the year -- giving many soccer observers and the league's proponents a serious cause for concern for its prospects.

Attendance was down by 18 percent.

Commissioner Tonya Antonucci, the WPS's driving force and founder, resigned. Anne-Marie Eileraas has assumed the job of chief executive.

There is little doubt a professional women's league on this side of the world -- there several competitive leagues in Europe -- is needed for the players to continue to develop. After the Women's United Soccer Associated folded in 2003 after three seasons, the WPS was seen by many as women soccer's last best hope for a league on this side of the world.

It allows players to earn a living playing the sport rather than coaching or directing soccer camps.

For the Americans, all but two on its 20-player roster competed in WPS this past season, enabling them to stay match fit year-round while awaiting international competition, including the Women's World Cup and the Olympics. It also has allowed U.S. coach Pia Sundhage to assess young talent and players who otherwise may not have garnered attention.

Ironically, the league could work against the U.S. in its preparations for the World Cup and Olympics. Because of its April-September schedule, the league denies Sundhage to get the team into a two- or three-week camp prior to the WWC and Olympics. But that's a problem Sundhage would rather have.

WPS, however, has not been a panacea for players from other CONCACAF countries.

Only a handful of players from other countries in the region competed this past season. The list includes goalkeepers Erin McLeod (Washington Freedom) and Karina LeBlanc (Chicago Red Stars), defender-midfielder Candace Chapman (FC Gold Pride) and midfielder Kelly Parker (Sky Blue FC) of Canada, and Mexican forward Monica Ocampo (Atlanta Beat).

But if the league survives and thrives, it could become a place for emerging talent from Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico.

While WPS tries to pick up its pieces and plans for next season, there has been no decision on whether the league will shut down when the Women's World Cup is held in Germany from June 26-July 17, given the number of internationals.

An expansion team in the Buffalo- Rochester, New York, area will join the league next season. There also has been talk of returning to Los Angeles in 2012 and adding a team in Dallas.

At halftime of the September 26 championship game, Elieraas admitted the season was a tough one to experience. Yet, she was upbeat.

"2010 was a galvanizing year for us," she said. "It was a test of our business model, of our teams, of our organization. I have to say coming out of that, I couldn't be more positive about WPS???Our model has proven that it's flexible and strong enough, and stable enough to withstand the challenges that a lot of young leagues have in their first years."


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