I have only the greatest respect for the good people who are struggling mightily - against heavy, even staggering, odds - to make a go of WPS.
They soldier on despite the buckets of red ink and the disappearing teams and the scoffing of not just the usual American Sports Slobberati but - unkindest cut - the majority of North American soccer fans as well.
I do however steadfastly refuse to become a Julie-Foudy-Come-Lately and scold everyone about what dogs they are if they don't do their moral duty and attend WPS games because little girls need role models. Hey, what's Rachel Ray for, anyway? Yum-O.
(I just stuck that in there to make sure you were really paying attention)
But at the same time I'm rooting like mad for the ladies to succeed on their own merits, which is of course the only success worth having. I'll proudly stand like a badly potted Scouser and sing "You'll Never Walk Alone" in solidarity with the good people of WPS any day, as will all true lovers of the game.
(Side question: Why is it that no MLS supporters' group has adopted that wonderful anthem? It's not just a Liverpool thing, although they do apparently have fair claim to being the first. Celtic fans sing it, as do two sets of fans in Holland (Feyenoord and FC Twente) and three in Germany (Dortmund, Kaiserslautern and St. Pauli) plus many more around the world including FC Tokyo.
The best part about "YNWA" is that it's one of those rare songs that actually sounds better when sung at the top of their lungs by a group of guys who are about ten minutes away from needing hospitalization for alcohol poisoning.)
And it sure doesn't help the ladies' cause one bit when the International President of a society whose goal is convincing women to wear garter belts, Sepp Blatter (go ahead, look it up) opens his mouth, as he did just the other day, and TELLS REPORTERS:
"Young women have a lot of passion for the game. It's a sport anyone can play, but when women reach a certain age or level they find there aren't any professional leagues around, which makes it difficult for them to carry on playing."
Thanks, Sepp. Always a pleasure, you blithering idiot.
Furthermore, it's really discouraging when the five time World Player of the Year, Marta, who has a valid contract in the US, SIMPLY SKIPS OFF TO PLAY FOR SOMEONE ELSE without so much as a by-your-leave. (Hat tip to BigSoccer guru "kool-aide")
As demonstrated by the recent unpleasantness between Dewayne DeRosario and Toronto FC, a player really can't just trot off and loan themselves out to another team somewhere without the appropriate parties, specifically the entity holding your contract and the local federation (in this case, USSF), signing off on the arrangements.
But apparently Marta said "Screw that" and signed up with Santos in her native Brazil for the off season. Now yes, the club she had a contract with (FC Gold Pride) ceased operations but, notably, did not go bankrupt or otherwise void their player deals and, as it happens, another club (Western New York) has since acquired her hefty $500,000 contract.
I contacted the good people at WPS HQ, and Communications Director Rob Penner replied promptly:
“Player contracts, transfers and loans are handled by individual clubs directly with players and their agents. While WPS and the league office assists on processing and procedure, the actual player registration and ITCs are under the auspices of the national federations.”
So I then contacted USSF who promptly responded:
"Who? That jackass? Tell him that maybe if he stops calling the boss "Spineless Sunil" and "Jack Warners' Toady" and "Professor Conflict of Interest" and all of that then maybe we'll get back to him. Maybe"
Well, OK, so I haven't exactly heard back from them but if I do I'll let you know.
All of which brings me to the observation that saying "magicJack FC" does not make me cringe.
They don't call me the King of Segues for nothing.
In case you somehow missed it, the Washington Freedom, which used to think of itself as sort of the DC United of WPS: just a bit better, classier and carrying more historical importance than the rest of the baggage they are forced to associate with, has been sold to the guy who came up with that VoIP (did I get that one right?) thing that sells you phone service for $19.95 a year.
And not only has he renamed the club after his product but he figures the team can split time between The District and (gasp) Florida. How the mighty have fallen. I mean, this was MIA'S team.
Purists - defined in this case as people with opinions but no money - are aghast. A team named after a product? Oh the shame.
But as Roger POINTS OUT IN THIS EXCELLENT POST not only is this not unprecedented, it's in fact historically correct and harkens back to soccers' roots in this country although I admit I'd much prefer "National Slug Rejectors" any old day. I'm having some shirts made up.
As long as we're into all this nostalgia crap and bringing back the Cosmos and Earthquakes and the rest, let's take it back just a wee bit farther and get really original. As long as it gets teams in uniform and out on a pitch, does it matter that you're buying tickets to see the Popeil Showtime Rotisseries play Pringles Potato Chips? Works for me.
In any case, don't fool yourself: it's merely a lucky happenstance that the Austrian drink guys' product has a noble animal in its name and thus everyone can pretend that RedBull refers to some kind of Crimson Bovine. A few minor slips of fate and we'd be looking forward to the big home opener between the Revolution and the New York 5 Hour Energy.
Bottom line, whatever it takes to keep these teams on the field, I'm just fine with it. When you've fallen overboard into the Atlantic Ocean you really don't refuse to grab the life preserver they toss you because it's green and you were hoping for a blue one.
Great-Grandad would understand. Go Slug Rejectors!
All of which is by way of introducing the product that has single-handedly saved Women's Professional Soccer for 2011 and, perhaps, permanently:
The Hot Dog.
More specifically, the hot dog as produced by Sahlen's of Buffalo, NY.
With the WPS having lost three of their eight teams after last season, it's unlikely that USSF, as desperate as they are to help WPS make a go of it, would have agreed to waive the eight-team requirement for US pro leagues (the same one they are currently beating NASL over the head with. Double standard? Absolutely, and bully for them. "Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds" says I).
Fortunately, as much for the sake of league morale as league numbers, the W League Buffalo Flash stepped up and entered the league for 2011.
The Flash was a new USL franchise just last year and promptly won the championship by, among other things, not losing a single match all year. Philadelphia Union, eat your hearts out.
Of course they did it by simply hiring an entire roster of full time professionals, something which no one else in the league (he said confidently) currently does.
But the Sahlen family, scions of the lowly frankfurter, does things in a big way.
For example, the head of the family business, Joe Sahlen, is a race car enthusiast, so he got into driving and then sponsoring race cars which led - naturally - to buying Wakins Glen. Doesn't everybody?
And since his daughter Alex played soccer, well, who wouldn't build an expansive Sports Park so she had a nice place to play?
And after Alex finished her career at Niagara University and a stint with a team in Rochester, what could be more natural than buying a W League team, making Alex the team President and her husband, former New Zealand international Aaran Lines, the head coach?
Keep it in the family. Nothing beats that.
True, it has to be odd to find yourself playing next to someone who could pick up the phone after practice and trade you, but I'm led to believe that Sahlen handled the whole thing as professionally as one could wish. Apparently it's still undecided whether she will make the team this season.
As noted above, when the league needed a team willing to pick up the half-million dollar salary of the best player in the world, the Sehlens stepped up, as they did when the league found itself in need of an additional sponsor; in 2011 every player will wear the Sahlen's corporate logo on her jersey.
The point is simply this:
One outfit will be named after something you plug into the back of your computer. Another one is a sort of family project (although how anyone can resist calling the team the Rochester Tube Steaks is beyond me).
The league could have relaxed their new, stringent financial requirements and kept a couple more teams for window dressing, but they've chosen a path they believe they need to in order to make the thing work long term, something which the NASL. with their smoke-and-mirros approach would do well to consider.
In a very real sense, isn't this better than the usual corporate bond trader vanity project that a lot of sports teams really are?
WUSA had eight teams, and a big pile of money from billionaire corporate movers and shakers. It lasted three years.
WPS is going to make it at least that long on the strength of owners like a phone gimmick peddler and a family of hot dog makers.
And, oddly, I give them a better shot.