Stars like Alex Morgan will have to find somewhere else to play this year.
It's been a few days of highs and lows for women's soccer. Shortly after Sunday's CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament final in Vancouver drew a record-setting crowd of 25,427 to watch Alex Morgan and the U.S. knock off Canada 4-0, the news came out that the Women's Professional Soccer circuit would be suspending its operations for 2012 at least partly as a result of a legal battle with former franchise owner Dan Borislow. That's going to dramatically change the picture in the months leading up to the London Olympics, and not just for American players like Morgan who are now without a league, as WPS featured national team stars from Canada (including Christine Sinclair, Karina LeBlanc and Lauren Sesselmann), England, Brazil and several other countries. Without WPS in the picture, those national federations will have to significantly alter their plans for how they approach the Olympics.
Of course, those alterations aren't necessarily all bad from the specific perspectives of the national teams involved. As former American national team midfielder Julie Foudy wrote for ESPNw, while WPS' demise is a terrible blow for the women's game as a whole, it may actually benefit the U.S. in the lead-up to the Olympics:
The ultimate irony? Having no league is actually better for the U.S. national team as it prepares for the Olympics. The players control their training, travel and preparation schedule. No more shuttling between clubs and countries. No more challenges about when they would be asked to come into camp. No more questions about medical care and quality of trainers.
U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati told The New York Times that with WPS out of the picture this year, his federation will be doing more national team events and training sessions. Exactly what that looks like hasn't been decided yet, but Gulati said there will be an increase in U.S. women's team programming.
"As for how this affects the Women's national team's preparation leading into the Olympics, we have had discussions with the coaching staff and will be increasing our programming over the next six months."
To some degree, that will be true for other federations impacted by this as well. However, the U.S. women's team has substantially more financial resources devoted to it than most other countries do, and it's unclear if other federations will be able to follow suit in increasing their own programming. Of course, there are options for players if they don't, including semipro leagues like the W-League. LeBlanc told The Vancouver Sun that it's quite possible clubs in those leagues, including the Vancouver Whitecaps, will see an influx of talent this season:
"I think the W-League will absolutely benefit," she said. "I know some of my teammates have talked about the Whitecaps."
There are also options overseas, including semipro leagues in Germany, Sweden and England, so it's not like WPS' suspension suddenly vapourizes the women's game at the club level. It does take out the highest level of women's club soccer, though, and that will certainly impact preparations for London for multiple countries. The bigger impact may be after this summer's Olympics, though, as there's a considerable amount of time until the next big international women's soccer event, the 2015 World Cup in Canada. If WPS is able to return in 2013 as planned, this year's disruption may be just a bump in the road, but if not, national teams and players around the world will have to find new places to compete. Just days after an event that was such a positive showcase for the women's game, this is a rough blow for it.
- Sports & Recreation