KANSAS CITY, Mo. - On the eve of the Women's Professional Soccer draft, I spent quite a bit of time talking with Philadelphia Independence owner David Halstead and head coach Paul Riley.
Most of those quotes didn't make it into my story in this morning's Inquirer. So I thought I'd provide a transcript of what we discussed.
There has been a lot of legalese in the stories written about what’s been going on with the Dan Borislow case. Can you explain it in more layman’s terms, and what the effect on WPS might be?
The best I can explain it is that there are four components to the lawsuit. The judge has rendered a judgement on one of them, and there are still some decisions to be made on the other ones.
The one that had a decision had to do with the process by which MagicJack was terminated. That’s all I know.
And what are the other three aspects?
One has to do with reinstatement, one has to do with the penalties and fines that were imposed – I’m not even certain [as to the other].
There is a fear that the suit may disrupt and perhaps even cancel the season if, for lack of a better way to put it, Borislow wins this case. Do you share that fear?
I’m thinking about sponsorships, the draft, ticket sales, player signings. That’s where my head’s at. I don’t want anything to disrupt the momentum and the exciting things that we have going on. Honestly, I’m not thinking about it.
Along the lines of ticket sales, the rumor has gone around that you all are looking at playing some games at PPL Park this year. Any comment on that?
We’re very excited about that. I’ve told you a number of times that Nick [Sakieiwicz] has been fantastic at providing the stadium to us under very reasonable terms. I give them a lot of credit for doing that. I think that will result in the Independence playing multiple games at PPL Park this year.
Assuming everything goes as planned league-wide, do you have any sense of when the schedule will come out?
I would say between two and three weeks from now. They’re going to issue some home opener information probably in the next 10 days, and then they’ll go with the full schedule a week to 10 days after that.
How are ticket sales going so far?
Better than year one and better than year two. I’d like to see thousands and thousands of people. We’re not there yet, but it’s better than the first two years.
What are your thoughts on Women’s Professional Soccer commissioner Jennifer O’Sullivan, what she’s done and what her potential is?
I think that Jennifer’s bringing some fresh ideas and some great leadership. One thing – and I told her this in a meeting – I’m very excited about her capability, interest and ability to sit before CEOs and talk about our mission and our vision, where we’re going and what we’re doing.
She provides good guidance to us as owners, and has the capability to reach out and get some of those sponsors, and bring some credibility and legitimacy to the league. I think Jennifer’s doing a great job, and I’m excited she’s CEO of the league. I think she’s helping a great deal.
Some of the casual observers of Women’s Professional Soccer who I know have asked where U.S. women’s national team stars Hope Solo and Abby Wambach are, and where they are going to end up. Right now, they are free agents.
You don’t have to worry about your goalkeeping situation because of Nicole Barnhart, but where do you think Wambach and Solo will end up? Would you consider signing Wambach?
Well, there are some fantastic senior national team players who are free agents and have not been signed. Will they end up being signed? I don’t know. I don’t know who will pick them up. It would be great to have them in the league.
The Olympics is, I’m sure, playing some part in their decision over whether to sign or not. I don’t know where Abby will end up. Hope, I don’t know [either].
We’ll have some breaking news in the next couple of weeks about a national team player that we’ll have besides Barnhart. We’re excited about that. But unfortunately, it’s not going to be Hope Solo or Abby Wambach.
To what degree do the financial situations of the teams in WPS affect the fact that Wambach and Solo are un-signed?
The owners always talk about being the best women's league in the world, and I think oru quality of play has proven that out. I think one thing we need to make sure we're doing in WPS is building business enterprises.
So I think we need to spend a lot of time doing what Paul [Riley] does, which is play on the field, but we need to do a good job building businesses better. I think that each year we gain lessons learned and implement best practices that we can.
I think that in year one and year two, we had some player contracts out there that probaby aren't going to be seen in this Olympic year. Is that a lesson learned? Well, yeah, probably. Is it a belt-tightening exercise? Yeah, probably. We're not going to make the mistakes we made in the past.
How much of a boost would it be for WPS if the United States wins the gold medal this summer in London, and is it necessary for the U.S. to do so in terms of the sustainability of WPS?
It would be great for them to. I want them to. We're all supportive of them doing it. But I don't think it's necessary.
What I think the World Cup showed us and the Olympics will show us is that women's soccer in this country and abroad is growing. It's active, it's robust. We'll get a big boost out of the Olympics. I think we're still enjoying a big boost out of the World Cup.
What do you make of Hope Solo and Abby Wambach being unsigned?
I think it just shows the market. Nobody's going to pay silly money for players who are only going to be here part-time, and maybe aren't committed to the final product for us. That's winning three points at the weekend.
I want players who are totally committed. I don't want players who are coming in and out. I'm not saying that Hope or Abby are like that - they're both tremendous professionals. But you want your goalie there, don't you?
We don't have [Nicole Barnhart] around [for the Olympics], and that's going to be tough for us even though she's a local.
Abby Wambach - she doesn't fit our style. She fits a couple of styles in the league, and I think she'll end up with a team in the league because I think maybe her price will come down as we get closer to the start of the season.
But I think the main thing for Abby and Hope right now is that they need to be supportive of the league. I think it's a really important element, because the league is sill around for [Whitney] Engen, and A-Rod [Amy Rodriguez], and [Lauren] Cheney, and all those players.
They're the next generation for the Olympics and the World Cup. If they want to be ambassadors for the sport, they've got to support the league whether they find a team to play on or not.
At this point, I don't know if they'll find a team to play on - especially Hope, because of the goalkeeping situations across the league. I would want to have Hope in goal if she told me she didn't want to play in the Olympics. I'd be very happy with that. But it's not going to happen.
Have you personally been unsettled at all this week by the court stuff that's been going on?
No. Not at all. Not one little bit. Dave [Halstead] said to me, even during the sanctioning [process], you put your team together. We bought into that pretty quickly and got verbal commitments early.
We haven't signed the contracts because Dave wanted to wait until the sanctioning, but all the verbal agreements were made way back.
He just told me very early on, don't worry about anything else. Don't read newspapers, don't give a hoot. So I'm not going to read anything.
He texted me the other day and said there's going to be something coming out about the club, but don't worry. Just keep picking your team. What more could you ask for from an owner? Just put the best team together, and hopefully he can pay for it, and we'll go from there.