Saturday, August 2, 2014
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U.S. Soccer Federation introduces new professional women's league

The U.S. Soccer Federation, in conjunction with its counterparts in Canada and Mexico, will announce today that a new professional women's league will launch in the United States next year.

U.S. Soccer Federation introduces new professional women's league

U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati has some big issues to think about. (Elise Amendola/AP)
U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati has some big issues to think about. (Elise Amendola/AP)

The U.S. Soccer Federation, in conjunction with its counterparts in Canada and Mexico, announced Wednesday afternoon that a new professional women's league will launch in the United States in 2013.

The league will have eight teams: Washington, Rochester, northern New Jersey, Boston, Chicago, Kansas City, Portland and Seattle.

There will not be a team in Philadelphia, which marks a departure from Women's Professional Soccer and the previous Women's United Soccer Association - though it's worth noting that the Independence did not join WPS until the league's second season.

There also will not be a team in Los Angeles, or anywhere else in soccer-rich California.

In a conference call with reporters, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said that there were 11 finalist cities for inclusion in the league. The decision to set the cut line at eight was made for geographic and logistical purposes - there are four teams in the northeast, two in the midwest and two in the northwest. That will make cross-country trips more straightforward.

Gulati was joined on the conference call by Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani and Federación Mexicana de Fútbol youth teams coordinator Dennis Te Kloese. All three made it clear that this league will have an emphasis on developing North American players.

To achieve that goal, the three federations will subsidize the salaries of a number of players from their respective national teams who participate in the league. The USSF will pay for up to 24 players, the CSA up to 16 players and the FMF a minimum of 12.

"I think it is something unique and working together, our three federations on this, on getting women’s soccer on a higher level," Te Kloese said.

Montagliani highlighted the fact that Canada will host the next major international women's soccer tournament - the 2015 World Cup. It's a long ways off, but this league will be a major factor in how well the U.S., Canada and Mexico perform on that stage.

"From a player development standpoint, from a business development standpoint and from the development of women’s game, period, it is something that is a win-win situation for us," Montagliani said.

Gulati also announced that U.S. Soccer will operate the league's front office. The clubs will not be responsible for contributing to those costs, which will represent a significant savings for investors.

"The most important thing is that we've got a commitment from the eight [investor] groups we've talked about [for] a sustainable model," he said.

Gulati also teaches economics at Columbia University, and he used an analogy you might find in one of his classes. He equated the three national soccer federations to governments, and the owners to private industry.

"We're subsidizing the private sector here to try to make this sustainable [and] try to make the investments by the private sector smaller," he said.

There was no timetable given for how players will be allocated to teams. Nor were there any details of how that process will take place. Gulati did say, though, that there have been substantive negotiations with a major national sponsor, and progress already on a television deal.

On the ownership front, four teams in the league will carry over ties from WPS: the Boston BreakersSky Blue FC (northern New Jersey), the Western New York Flash (Rochester) and the Chicago Red Stars.

But you won't see the Breakers and Red Stars in the stadiums where they played in WPS, as Harvard Stadium and Toyota Park have been deemed too expensive. Boston will play at Dilboy Stadium in Somerville, a nearby suburb; Chicago's venue has not yet been announced.

it's noteworthy that the Portland team will be operated by the Paulson family, which owns and operates Major League Soccer's Portland Timbers. The direct involvement of a MLS owner marks a first for professional women's soccer in the United States, as MLS teams were not involved in ownership or operation of any WUSA or WPS teams.

Previous MLS involvement in the women's leagues only went as far as Soccer United Marketing, MLS' marketing arm, which does work in a number of areas across American and international soccer.

The Portland women's team will not be called the Timbers, though, because of a contractual rights issue with the Timbers name. Word came out of Portland late Wednesday afternoon that the new women's league will sign Nike as an apparel supplier, and because Adidas supplies MLS, it gets the exclusive apparel licensing rights to MLS teams.

It's not yet known whether Portland will play at JELD-Wen Field or a smaller venue, perhaps the University of Portland's Merlo Field.

Washington's team name is also to be determined. The franchise will be operated by the group that ran the W-League's D.C. United Women, which had an agreement with the MLS team to use United's name and logo. But as with the Timbers, the United name won't carry into the new women's league.

Don't expect to see the old Washington Freedom resurrected either. Dan Borislow - who bought the Freedom in the WPS era and renamed it magicJack SC as part of a move to Florida - still owns the name. As Borislow is not involved in the new league (which is a good thing, if I may say so), I suspect he won't give up the rights easily.

It is known, though, that the Washington team will play at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, Md. Assuming that Sky Blue returns to Rutgers University's Yurcak Field, those venues will be the two closest ones for Philadelphia fans looking to get a women's soccer fix.

Seattle will be an interesting team to watch, and not just because of the popularity of the sport in that city. The Sounders ran a successful team in the W-League, and tried to win the rights to the new professional franchise. But they were beaten by a separate group run by a prominent local businessman. It will be interesting to watch the dynamic between the two organizations.

Finally, there's Kansas City, which also will have no ties to the local MLS club. That team will be run by a trio of investors who also run the Kansas City Comets of the Major Indoor Soccer League (yes, it still exists). As of now, the women's team is being called FC Kansas City. There is no information yet as to where it will play.


I and a number of other soccer journalists were very busy posting live updates on Twitter during Gulati's conference call Wednesday afternoon. You can read a compilation of the best tweets below. There's a full transcript here and an audio recording here.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
About this blog
The Goalkeeper is your home for the latest news about the Philadelphia Union, Major League Soccer, U.S. national teams and the rest of the world's most popular sport. It's also a place for fans to gather and celebrate the culture of soccer and its unique place on the sports landscape.

Reach Jonathan at jtannenwald@phillynews.com or 215-854-2330.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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