SAN FRANCISCO, CA (December 8, 2010) – Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) today announced the calendar for its 2011 WPS Season, the league’s third year of play featuring the top players from around the world. In 2010, over 20 countries were represented by players in WPS.
Well, at least there’s going to be a season. Perhaps that is the point of the announcement, since with the folding of the FC Gold Pride franchise and the continued uncertainty over the viability of the Chicago Red Stars (their escrow deadline has been extended to a week from today, Dec. 15) there have been serious doubts as to whether WPS would even match the three-year run of its predecessor, WUSA.
What their announcement of today does not answer is whether or not the Chicago franchise will be included, and because that huge variable is unresolved, they also have not announced an actual match schedule, since the number of teams that are operational will obviously impact the schedule.
All we know for now is that next season, WPS teams will play an 18-game schedule, comprised of nine home games and nine away matches from April through August. This is six games fewer than the 2010 season and two games fewer than in the inaugural season of 2009. Opening weekend has been set for April 9-10, 2011. Similar to the past two years, preseason will begin no earlier than March 1. The season will end with playoffs culminating with the 2011 WPS Championship presented by Citi , on the weekend of August 27-28.
The league’s Board of Governors voted to retain the existing playoff format used during the first two seasons. Retaining the playoff format will continue to see four teams qualify for the postseason. The last two regular seasons have seen exciting, down-to-the-wire finishes with teams securing their playoff berths on the final weekend of the regular season.
The winner of the regular season earns an automatic berth into the WPS Championship presented by Citi, and the regular season runner-up will host the WPS Super Semifinal against the winner of the No. 3 vs. No. 4 in the WPS First Round.
There has been a lot of criticism of this format, because the regular season winner gets an automatic berth into the championship match. The league used its website to solicit suggestions from fans for improving the existing format, however they have chosen not to make any changes.
If there are only six clubs in the league, the four playoff berths should make even the last place team’s games meaningful to the end, at least in the role of spoiler. Still, it seems that more could have been done to add to the value and competitive quality of the playoff by making significant changes.
Our suggestion, submitted to them for consideration, called for the first place team to play the fourth place team and the second place to play the third place team, each at the home pitch of the higher ranking club. Then, according to our proposal, the championship game would be held in the home venue of one of the clubs not qualifying for the playoffs, in order to provide a neutral location, and also in order to add value to the season for fans of clubs that were less successful in match competition. The host of the championship game would be the non-playoff club with the highest number of season ticket sales, thus offering a category for fans to compete with each other and win a significant prize. Obviously that idea didn’t light any fires in league offices in San Francisco.
Another issue to be managed is the Women’s World Cup, which will fall smack dab in the middle of the 2011 WPS season, June 26 – July 17. WPS will take the first two weeks of the tournament off from league play and thus will not schedule a 2011 WPS All-Star Game.
“Going into year three, we are refining and adjusting our schedule to put in place what works best for our teams, fans and national television,” said WPS CEO Anne-Marie Eileraas. “We are returning to our timeline from the inaugural season, which will accommodate the World Cup and hopefully boost average team attendance.” Over the past two seasons, WPS has attracted over 600,000 fans through the turnstiles.
The 2011 regular season schedule and national television schedule for “WPS Sunday on FSC” will be announced in February. Kick-off times for the WPS Playoffs will also be announced together with the league’s national television partner, Fox Soccer Channel, next year.