Knowing Your Roots; or how the WPS paved the way for the NWSL
If you've been watching enough NWSL games, by now you've surely heard one of the commentators reference the WPS. It's usually along with a fun fact like "Marta used to play with Christine Sinclair for FC Gold Pride" or "Paul Riley used to coach the Philadelphia Independence."
Perhaps some of you are wondering "What's the WPS?"
The WPS - Women's Professional Soccer - is the middle child of women's soccer presence here in America. With quite possibly the worst - and most scandalous - growing pains of any league that has started up, this league laid a major foundation for the NWSL as we know it.
If the WUSA crawled so the WPS could walk, the WPS walked so the NWSL could...speed walk. This series will delve into the history of this truly eclectic league, how it came to be, the major financial issues, the embarrassment that is Dan Borislow, the teams, and finally, how the NWSL rose out of the ashes of this madness.
Let's start with how this league came to be.
The first game wouldn't kick off until March 2009, but in 2003 - months after the Women's United Soccer Association folded - the beginnings of an idea for a new league were slowly hatching. After years of planning (and one last failed attempt to get the WUSA up and running again), a new version of the league was finally announced in June 2006. Behind the relaunch was Women's Soccer Initiative, Inc., a non-profit organization run by Tanya Antonucci, a businesswomen who had played collegiate soccer. Six tentative team owners in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., and an unnamed sixth city all agreed to have teams. Boston and New York/New Jersey joined the party as well.
To avoid clashing with the 2007 Women's World Cup and 2008 Olympic Games, the season would begin in 2009, giving teams plenty of time to get everything together. Sadly, despite all the time given, Dallas couldn't get its act together and withdrew. The seven teams kicking off the inaugural season of the WPS were the Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, FC Gold Pride, Los Angeles Sol, Saint Louis Athletica, Sky Blue FC, and Washington Freedom. Atlanta Beat, Philadelphia Independence, and Western New York Flash would later join the chat.
With most of those names well known to NWSL fans, some of them may be surprised to hear a few of these cities. Atlanta has been floated to be one of the next expansion teams for a while now and LA just created their "first" team- or is it a resurrection? Los Angeles had not one, but two teams, bringing to mind a rivalry much like the one between LA Galaxy and LAFC. In many ways, the WPS was giving a glimpse into the future with these teams, sowing the seeds for leagues of future past. While soccer hadn't quite captured the national attention at the level they were hoping for, having teams in major metropolitan cities was a good testing ground. If they could survive there, there was hope.
As we've seen here in the NWSL, every league has a rough start, even some false starts, before finding its groove and providing quality entertainment for soccer fans here in the United States. With enough investments finally secured (for the time being), it was time to get this party started. Next week, we'll take a look at the inaugural season.