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WPS shows promise in debut

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CARSON, Calif. – Women's Professional Soccer will not live or die by the outcome of its opening weekend. Suspicion and doubt about its future will not be quashed by positive early vibes, either.

However, while the second attempt at a North American pro women's league faces challenges in its bid to get established, one thing emerged from Day 1 with clarity.

WPS deserves to succeed.

Whatever the pros and cons of the concept – whether the business model is another version of its flawed predecessor or a perfect example of fiscal prudence, whether this is the right product at the right time or the polar opposite – all those serious issues cloud the reality that there is something pure and wholesome and downright likeable about this new league that is trying so hard to gain footing.

As a lifelong follower of men's soccer who grew up in Europe, I have held as much suspicion as anyone about the women's game. However, at the Home Depot Center on Sunday afternoon, I witnessed something refreshing and positive, and so did 14,832 others.

The Los Angeles Sol's 2-0 victory over the Washington Freedom was far from being the most exhilarating soccer I have ever seen. But it was fiercely competitive and entertaining. These athletes were battlers and, most of all, professionals who deserve the right to earn a living doing what they do best.

The public will vote with its feet and its remote controls over the coming months and years, but the skeptics can give WPS a shot without fear of getting burned.

WPS has fun and fan-friendliness, realistic pricing and a genuine superstar in Brazil's Marta. The weekend might not have been the birth of something that will change the North American sports landscape forever, but hopefully for women's soccer, it was the start of something lasting.

Weekend First XI

1. Let's see some action

The tragic events in the Ivory Coast on Sunday, in which a reported 22 people were killed following a stampede at a World Cup qualifier between the host nation and Malawi, will strike a chord with soccer fans everywhere.

Sadly, crowd safety continues to be a major issue at African stadiums, as inept security forces combined with inappropriate facilities all too often create a deadly cocktail. Now it is time for world governing body FIFA to step forward and threaten nations that do not adhere to stringent safety guidelines with point deductions and suspension.

With the billions that FIFA rakes in from the World Cup, some money could be diverted to the poorer countries to secure the well-being of the supporters who love the beautiful game. However, the impetus for these changes must come from the national associations themselves to avoid more heartbreaking scenes like the one witnessed in Abidjan.

2. Get him a beer

Frankie Hejduk could congratulate himself on a job well done as he headed back to the United States on Sunday.

The 34-year-old Columbus Crew defender produced perhaps the most important performance of his international career against El Salvador, setting up one goal and scoring another as Bob Bradley's side clawed back from 2-0 down to earn a 2-2 draw.

Hejduk is in arguably the best form of his career and is emerging, surprisingly, as one of the most vital members of the U.S. side.

3. Get him some earplugs

Brazil head coach Dunga is under more pressure than ever after his star-studded team was held to a 1-1 draw in Ecuador. Brazil dropped to fourth place in South American World Cup qualifying and the knives are being sharpened for the charismatic but struggling former Brazilian captain.

4. Four corners

• How can Cesc Fabregas possibly believe Arsenal can still win the English Premier League?

• If Diego Maradona sees Lionel Messi as his heir apparent, surely that's enough for the rest of us, right?

• Can David Beckham's England caps record really compare to that of Bobby Moore, who played every minute of his 108 international appearances?

• Did you really believe the Cristiano Ronaldo/Real Madrid circus had ended?

5. Catch a flight to …

Istanbul. Turkey plays host to Spain on Wednesday night in a vital Group 5 World Cup qualifying clash, but the European champion won't have time to admire the city's stunning ancient architecture. The Spanish have won all five of their qualifiers so far and are in no mood to break the streak.

6. A round of applause for …

Kevin Hartman. The Kansas City Wizards goalkeeper broke the all-time saves record in Major League Soccer on Saturday, reaching 1,139 in the Wizards' 2-1 defeat to the Colorado Rapids.

7. Get him a Kleenex

Ali Daei. The Iranian soccer legend was fired as his national team's coach after his team lost 2-1 at home to Saudi Arabia.

8. Get ready to say hello to …

Ade Akinbiyi. The much-traveled striker has beaten a path around the English Championship for several years but looks poised to complete a move to the Houston Dynamo of MLS.

9. Get ready to say goodbye to …

Dan Califf. The United States defender is likely to be back on the bench for Wednesday night's home meeting with Trinidad and Tobago due to Oguchi Onyewu, who's expected to return from injury.

10. Get excited about …

CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. The weekend's tense action showed that no team, including the United States and Mexico, will have things all its own way on the road to South Africa next year.

11. Why it's good to be a soccer player

Take a look at Alena Seredova, wife of Juventus and Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.