Women’s soccer goes from high point to low: WPS suspends operations

Less than 12 hours after women’s soccer hit euphoric heights in North America thanks to the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in Vancouver, it was brought crashing down to Earth Monday.

WPS announced that it will suspend operations for the 2012 season, claiming the legal costs of battling renegade owner Dan Borislow and his magicJack franchise were too much for the struggling league to bear. Already, WPS — down to five teams — needed special dispensation

And, no doubt, the suspension of WPS will have a massive impact on our Canadian women’s team as it prepares foe the London Olympics. Instead of being solely focused on improving the national side ahead of the Games, key players like Christine Sinclair, Candace Chapman, Lauren Sesselmann and Kelly Parker will have other pressing concerns — finding work. WPS announced that it plans for its five existing teams to survive when the league is scheduled to resume in 2013. But, it’s hard to find an example of a league that suspended operations and then came back to life. Usually, it’s the first step to… el foldo.

“We firmly believe there is a place in the global sports landscape for Women’s Professional Soccer,” said WPS CEO Jennifer O’Sullivan. “Making the decision to suspend the 2012 season was a difficult and painful one, but it is necessary to take the time to address current issues and solidify our business in order to provide appropriate support needed to achieve the league’s long-term goals. Those that take part in our league — players, partners and fans — deserve the best, and that is what we are taking the time to ensure we deliver when we resume play in 2013 and beyond.”

When she won the Canadian’s women’s player of the year award at the end of the 2011 season, Sinclair admitted that, as WPS struggled for survival in the offseason, she considered offers to go to Europe.

“I’m not ready to not play professionally,” said Sinclair in December. “When there were rumours that WPS might be shut down, for sure I thought about going either to Germany or to Sweden to play.”

Now, a move across the oceans looks to be inevitable. It’s likely a good thing — while the U.S. squad continues to be the “it” commodity when it comes to national-team soccer, the truth is that America is not the place for Canada’s top women to be plying their trades on a club level. Opportunites in Sweden and Germany offer more stability.

In fact, it will be kind of fun to watch teams in Europe race for Sinclair’s signature.

What went wrong? To suggest that it was the WPS vs. Borislow fight that was the sole culprit for WPS’ demise is foolish. After all, this was a league that was down to five teams, just slightly better than the Canadian Major Indoor Soccer League when it comes to retaining teams.

Sinclair and her FC Gold Pride won WPS in 2010, and the team promptly folded. Sinclair and Brazilian star Marta then went to the Western New York Flash, and won a title. Then the league suspends operations. This is not the kind of stability (as in, lack of stability) Canada’s best soccer player needs.

The W-League still has the elite Ottawa Fury and the Vancouver Whitecaps. But W-League is a developmental league. You can’t expect players to sit out the year with WPS, so they need to look at other options. And, for the mental health of the players, and the good of the Canadian national team heading into London, these issues need to be sorted out soon.

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About Steven Sandor

I'm currently the colour commentator for FC Edmonton broadcasts on Sportsnet, NASL.com and TEAM 1260. I've covered the Toronto FC beat for four years, worked for the Edmonton Aviators of the USL for a season, covered the Edmonton Drillers of the NPSL and started covering Canadian World Cup qualifiers in 1996. I've covered the CONCACAF Champions League and the U-20 World Cup. I'm passionate about soccer in North America.