Imagine, hard as it might be, that Major League Baseball folded. There are two clubs, last year’s Series champs and another playoff team that have survived. These two join the International League. The International League creates a new division for these two and their “best’ six other teams. Now, play ball.
That’s pretty much the situation in professional women’s soccer in the United States. The major league (WPS) has suspended play for the season, and prospects for the league coming back in any recognizable form are said to be poor.
In the meantime, last year’s champions, Western New York Flash, have joined the next best remaining league, WPSL (Women’s Premier Soccer League) along with another former WPS club, Boston Breakers with six WPSL teams from last year in a new “Elite” division.
Boston opened their WPSL Elite schedule earlier in the week with a 3-0 victory over Chesapeake. The Flash kicked off the new season in the new league Saturday night at home in Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester, dominating FC Indiana in every respect en route to a 4-1 win.
Even these two clubs have been downgraded since last season, however. Because of the suspension of WPS play, all WPS players were released from any contractual obligations. Many former WPS players are actually playing in the W-League in order to stay closer to home.
Most of the USWNT players have taken the year off from club play in order to have a singular focus on the Olympics. Most of the foreign marquis players, such as WNY’s Brazilian star Marta, are playing in Europe this year.
However, the Flash does return four of last year’s champions. The most notable returnee from last year’s Flash season is McCall Zerboni, who was a frequent starter last year.
Fifteen of the 25-woman squad have WPS experience or were selected in the WPS draft held in January of this year, just before the league announced they would suspend play.
Bucking the sabbatical trend, three national team members: Lori Lindsey, Alli Lipsher, and occasional national team call-up Meghan Klingenberg, did choose to play for WNY.
With one game of the 14-game schedule in the books, the issue is, whether or not this cobbled “elite” league will be able to represent itself as a major league. If the small crowd in Sahlen’s Stadium is any indication, the answer may be no.
After a slow start, the Flash was drawing 4,000-15,000 in games after the World Cup last season. One would expect the reigning champions to pick up where they left off, but instead the spotty crowd couldn’t have been more than 1,000-2,000.
At one point there was some talk coming out of the Sahlen organization that Flash owner Joe Sahlen was considering buying up the entire WPS if necessary.
Although the WPS may be doomed due to an ongoing lawsuit, it might be a good idea for Sahlen to put his head together with others who have both the will and the resources to launch yet a third major women’s soccer league (after the demise of WUSA and WPS).
They could find a more viable financial model to make it work, since it seems the WPSL Elite League already appears to be unable to clear the major league bar.