Women's soccer very much alive and kicking By Evans Erilus, Globe Correspondent | May 28, 2004 When the dissolution of the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA) was announced, many saw it as a death knell to the growth of women's soccer in America. Locally, it left Bay Staters with few options. For the Women's Premier Soccer League (WPSL), however, the move might be a blessing in disguise. Formed in 1997, the WPSL is an independent national league that develops highly competitive amateur women's soccer teams. The financial struggles of the WUSA offer the league an opportunity to grow in stature. "It's unfortunate, obviously, because [WUSA] was a full professional league," said Joe Ferrara, who is the Eastern commissioner for the WPSL. "We continue to support them and help them with a potential relaunch. "As to how it affected us, it increased our pool of players, and we're looking to keep them fit and active in the event of that revival." It's not as if the WPSL will be without assistance. The league has featured more than 80 former WUSA players, and many former and current national team members. Notables included Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain, Kristine Lilly, Joy Fawcett, LaKeysia Beene, Kylie Bivens, and Tisha Venturini. "[The WPSL] has a two-fold purpose: It is to get the top players out of college to play at a high level, and allowing collegiate players to participate so they report there in better condition and with sharper skills," Ferrara said. "The level will be better by having these players, but our goal and business plan remain the same." The WPSL season runs May 1-Aug. 1 and teams play 14-18 games. The WPSL is an open league run by the teams. "The owners are together for a common purpose; it's not money driven," Ferrara said. "There's not a commissioner here that runs a company like a CEO. One of the issues in the US is that leagues are operated like business entities. With this structure, it's better for the good of the game and for the development of women's soccer. We're the only stand-alone; there are no men's teams under our umbrella, so we support ourselves." The league's credibility is already established, as it is sanctioned by the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA) as an affiliate of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), the ruling body of soccer in the United States, and FIFA, the world's ruling body for soccer. The WPSL has two Massachusetts teams, the Massachusetts Stingers, who play out of Swansea, and the Springfield-based New England Mutiny. "Both areas are hotbeds for soccer," Ferrara said. "It creates local rivalries patterned after what they have overseas. It opens more opportunities for players, and it's terrific for the league and the game." The squads took different paths to the WPSL. The Stingers originated 10 years ago as an indoor team. The Mutiny left the W-League, where they were known as the Springfield Sirens. The Stingers joined the WPSL this year. Both share an expectation of immediate success. The Mutiny features former WUSA player Naomi Stone. As the Sirens, the Mutiny won a national championship in 2000. The Stingers have a blend of WUSA players and former and current college players. They were dominant in amateur play, winning three consecutive women's premier tournaments in the last three years. The teams have already played each other, with New England taking a 1-0 decision May 14. "I expect us to be one of the best teams in the league," said Stingers head coach Sara Overgaag. "It's tough being in the first year because you don't know what to expect. I thought we hung with the Mutiny -- who is the top team in the conference -- pretty well, and I expect us to have a pretty good season." New England coach Austin Daniels, a former Division 1 coach of the year at Hartford, said his goal is to try and win the title, noting his team lost in the semifinals last season. "We feel we've upgraded. We've gotten players from the WUSA, so the talent on our team has gone up tremendously, and it has added a level of professionalism as well." Any thoughts on an intrastate rivalry? "It was very intense, a great atmosphere," Daniels said. "They were very impressive for their first game, and for a first-year team. With the void left by the Breakers, to have two high-level teams in the area, it helps women's soccer to see players of this caliber." Overgaag anticipates success, but is unsure about a rivalry with the Mutiny. "Even though we're both New England, we're both far away. We're [closer] to the Rhode Island Rays than with any other team," she said. "They're probably the closest. We're not worried about fan base. As a first-year team, you never really know. It might be the Mutiny, you don't know." The rematch is July 6. For more information, about the WPSL and these teams, go to www.wpsl.info.