Abandon Hope (Update: It's Official: WPS Commissioner Out)

It appears that the problemwith Hope Solo is not, as some people would have it, that she's a misunderstood naif, making her sad and lonely way through a world that doesn't understand her intense competitive fire.

It's now obvious that the real problem is that she doesn't have the good sense - some would call it maturity - to shut the hell up.

After her Atlanta Beat team lost 1-0 to Washington on Saturday in what everyone agrees was an abysmally officiated match, Hope marched to the locker room, fired up her device of choice and started Tweeting:

Its clear the league wanted dc in playoffs. I have truly never seen anything like this. Its sad.

A goal taken away with no explanation, one offsides call against dc, many against atlanta. An amazing all ball tackle for a red

We play with 10, DC with 12. Players punched in the face. Free corners. I am done playing in a league where the game is no longer in control of the players.

Is she saying she's quitting? And what league is it she plans on going to where "the game is in control of the players?"

She continued:

Multiple choice question...why did the refs call back our goal? Is it... A. Free kick taken before the whistle B. Indirect not direct C. Offsides D. Foul on unknown player Those are all the reasons we heard, so I think E is the only one that really makes sense.

E. We just want washington to win regardless

It should be noted that even if the goal in question had counted the Freedom would still have been in the playoffs and Atlanta would still have been out. In fact, if the Beat had won the game 50-0 they STILL would have been out.

(And unfortunately no one else seems to have observed any of the face punching to which she refers. Pity.)

Leaving aside the fact that Miss Solo, like far too many MLS fans, seems not to grasp the fact that game officials are assigned by the United States Soccer Federation and not the league, the larger issue is that no professional league allows you to trash the officials like this without taking a nick in the paycheck.

Which leads us to the even bigger issue here, namely that - are you sitting down? - WPS seems to be in trouble.

A week or so ago they pared their already thin league office staff of 12 people in half in an effort to cut costs.

Now comes word that apparently League Commissioner Tonya Antonucci HAS RESIGNED with an official announcement due sometime today.

UPDATED: WPS MAKES IT OFFICIAL. News release exerpted below.

Reportedly she will be replaced by a Board of Owners although the leagues' head lawyer will serve in some kind of as yet undefined executive capacity.

And in the middle of all of this comes the ludicrous announcement that the WPS players have formed:

Yes, that's right: a Union.

It's unclear what they could possibly gain from this or, for that matter, who in hell they plan on negotiating with and how much more of a non-existent pie they think they are owed but for what it's worth I'm thinking that a strike threat might not be the best of strategies right now.

Maybe it's just me.

For good measure, STEVEN GOFF IS REPORTING that the Hendricks family, which owns the Washington Freedom, hasn't decided whether to keep pumping in money to keep the ship afloat.

And yet, in the midst of all this, a group in Western Upstate New York - Buffalo/Rochester - apparently intend to start up an expansion franchise and other cities are reportedly seriously discussing it although at the moment it's not clear just who they are discussing it with.

Now speaking personally, I'm standing by my thoughts on NASL hitting the wall - if I'm wrong it won't be the first time - and yet I'm still optimistic on WPS.

I'm just not sure why. There's not a lot to hang your hat on right now besides blind faith.

Maybe the saddest part of it all is the exit of Antonucci, who single handedly dragged this league kicking and screaming into the world. She swam mightily against the river - perhaps floodwaters would be more apt - of doubts created when the WUSA came crashing to the ground.

She had more doors slammed in her face than a Seventh Day Adventist peddling the Watchtower, and somehow got this thing off the ground anyway.

It wasn't business, it was personal.

To have to walk away after not even two full seasons is surely heartbreaking.

Something that Hope Solo might want to remember the next time she starts thumbing a tiny keyboard,indulging her gross immaturity:

It's not all about you.

UPDATE: As I was posting, WPS was issuing the following:

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (September 13, 2010) – WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci, who guided Women’s Professional Soccer from its earliest stages of infancy to the world’s best soccer league for women over the past six years, is stepping down from her role as league Commissioner following the 2010 WPS Season.

Antonucci will be replaced by WPS General Counsel Anne-Marie Eileraas, who will take the title of CEO, Women’s Professional Soccer. Under on-going league restructuring, Eileraas will head up the business and organizational aspects of the league office, working with the WPS Board, which will guide the strategic direction of the league.

“For the league overall, it’s a time of transition from early stage growth, now that several of the key building blocks are in place,” said Antonucci. “For me personally, it’s been a great honor to launch and lead the league through its first two seasons, and the timing is right to move on to new challenges and opportunities ahead. The league will continue to evolve with new leadership – and new ideas – that can carry out the vision of the Board as they look to the 2011 season. Through all of our changes, which have demonstrated our flexibility and ability to adapt as an organization, I’m confident that we will maintain continuity and stability with Anne-Marie Eileraas in her new role.”

“Commissioner Antonucci’s contributions to this league and to women’s soccer on the whole are too numerous to list,” said T. Fitz Johnson, Chairman of the WPS Board of Governors. “No other person did more to bring this league from idea to fruition over the past six years than she did. WPS would not be here without Tonya Antonucci and without her tireless work and unending passion for launching this league.”

During Antonucci’s time overseeing the rebirth of women’s professional soccer in the U.S. – following a five-and-a-half year absence with the suspension of WUSA in 2003 – the former Stanford soccer star and Yahoo! executive pulled together many disparate pieces to successfully launch the league at the 2009 WPS Inaugural Match in Los Angeles on March 29, 2009 in front of nearly 15,000 fans. Among those highlights include:

· Writing and designing the league’s franchise business model
· Identifying and bringing together team ownership groups in at least nine cities, while cultivating potential groups in other expansion cities
· Bringing in league investors to fund its launch
· Opening the league’s front office in late 2007
· Securing the league’s first founding partner, PUMA, in 2008 and its second founding partner, Citi, in 2010
· Negotiating a multi-year television deal with Fox Soccer Channel and regional TV agreement with Comcast
· Bringing most of the world’s best players to play in WPS including 4-time FIFA World Player of the Year Marta, top U.S. National Team players, and international stars from more than 20 countries

The Commissioner’s final event with the league will be the 2010 WPS Championship presented by Citi on September 26 after which Eileraas will begin her new role as CEO.

“The Board is incredibly excited that Anne-Marie Eileraas has accepted our offer to take over from the Commissioner as the CEO of Women’s Professional Soccer,” said Johnson. “During her nine months with WPS, Eileraas has proven herself as an adept executive and trusted voice for the WPS Board. Her restructured role as CEO will manage the league from a business perspective with the on-field elements assigned to the Manager of League Operations and strategic direction set by the league’s Board on the whole. We are excited about this new structure of governance and believe it’s the best way forward for sustainability and steady growth, as we look towards the 2011 season.”

As part of the on-going restructuring which has seen a reduction of league staff and the elimination of national marketing, Commissioner Antonucci has worked closely with the Board on the transition over the last few weeks of the 2010 WPS Regular Season, including the transfer of league partnership management, expansion procedures and player/labor relations to others at the league and Board level.

“This has been my passion for the past six years and I have thrown everything into making it a success,” said Antonucci. “There have been so many special moments: to watch our players step onto the field the day the league launched; to see Sky Blue FC capture our inaugural season championship with such a tremendous run; and to regularly witness long lines of hundreds of adoring fans—girls and boys—several rows deep, waiting eagerly for autographs after a WPS match. I am just so proud of the incredible athletes in this league and the world class soccer we had on the field week-in-week-out.”

Key dates in Antonucci’s tenure include her appointment as Commissioner in September 2007, the opening of the league office one month later and the launch of the league logo in January 2008 at the NSCAA Convention.

“There is still a lot of work to be done, but we have laid the groundwork from which the owners can continue to build towards a long-term and sustainable league,” said Antonucci. “I’m leaving this in the hands of some incredibly passionate people who are doing everything they can to grow the league and ensure its success. But we absolutely need support from grassroots soccer fans and young female players. I’ll continue to do my part to support the league, by staying involved to assist the owners through the WSII’s seat on the WPS board, and perhaps equally as important, as an avid fan who buys tickets to WPS matches.”

Soccer Executives Comment on WPS Commissioner's Announcement
“I’ve known Tonya for many years, and her range of expertise in the soccer and business worlds made her the ideal person to lead the charge to bring back women’s professional soccer. During these past few years, her knowledge, passion and vision were the driving forces behind getting the league started and moving in the right direction. I certainly hope she will continue to be involved with the game going forward.”
- Sunil Gulati, President, U.S. Soccer Federation

"There may be others who wish to claim a prominent role in the launch of WPS, but let me be clear about this; Tonya Antonucci single-handedly brought women's professional soccer back into our sports landscape. She has brought so many interested parties, who want to see women’s professional soccer succeed and thrive, to the same table over the past six years and anyone who had a seat at that table was there because of Tonya. Her passion, commitment and efforts to the goal of having a women’s league return to the U.S. are unrivaled.”
- Joe Cummings, former Boston Breakers executive and current CEO & Executive Director of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA)

“Bringing professional women’s soccer back was a mission of passion for Tonya. She had a vision and worked tirelessly to bring disparate groups and individuals together. She achieved the goal of providing a platform for the world’s best players to play, for young girls to aspire to play and for fans of the sport to watch being played. WPS simply would not exist without her leadership, drive and talent.”
- Peter Wilt, former Chicago Red Stars executive and current President/CEO, Milwaukee Wave