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Sol sets in Los Angeles
by Paul Kennedy, January 29th, 2010 7AM

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[WPS] Women's Professional Soccer survived the worst economic downturn in modern sports history to complete its first season, but it suffered a severe blow less than three months before the start of Year 2. The Los Angeles Sol, WPS's marquee team, host of its first game and 2009 championship, folded on Thursday. What makes it such a blow is that the move was not unexpected.

As early as last May, two months into WPS's first season, Tim Leiweke, the president and CEO of Sol co-owner and Los Angeles Galaxy owner AEG, indicated his group did not intend to be around for the long haul.

The Sol's opening game in March 2009 drew 14,832 fans at the Home Depot Center, but despite the presence of the league's biggest star and highest-paid player, Marta, its attendance slumped.

The final against Sky Blue FC drew 7,218 -- less than half the crowd that had witnessed WPS's opening game.

WPS took control of the team in November, but efforts to find new owners ultimately failed.

The Sol's coach, Abner Rogers, left the club in the offseason but as of Thursday was still listed as the head coach on the league web site.

French star Camille Abily was recently dealt to FC Gold Pride in a surprise trade.

The Sol was WPS's only team owned by a group also invested in MLS, though two other teams played in MLS stadiums -- Chicago and FC Gold Pride -- and a third, Washington, played several games at RFK Stadium, the home of D.C. United.

FC Gold Pride has since abandoned its co-sharing arrangement, moving from Santa Clara University's Buck Shaw Stadium to the East Bay, while the Red Stars enjoyed an uneasy relationship with MLS's Chicago Fire, the owner of Toyota Park.

Needless to say, the synergy WPS hoped to get from MLS didn't materialize.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of Year 1 was the difference between what clubs had projected in terms of revenues and what they brought in.

WPS's seven teams averaged 4,493 fans per game -- within the league projections of 4,000 to 6,000 for Year 1 -- but losses in some cases were twice what were projected.

And this in a league that kept costs at minimal levels, mindful of the millions its predecessor, the WUSA, had burned through in its first season.

WPS is still optimistic about 2010, during which teams in Philadelphia and Atlanta will debut.

"While it's regrettable to lose the Los Angeles market as part of our WPS footprint, we are pleased to have two new teams coming into the league in 2010," said WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci. "The league and our ownership committee worked incredibly hard over the past month to complete the transaction. In the end, we ran out of time and came up short of where we needed to be funding-wise for the Sol in 2010."

Philadelphia has dropped plans for playing in the Chester, Pa., stadium being built for MLS's expansion Union team, and will instead call West Chester University's John A. Farrell Stadium home.

Atlanta will play at an 8,300-seat soccer stadium being built in Kennesaw, located northwest of Atlanta.

"All the team owners and members of the Board are confident that this setback will be quickly overcome by the exciting developments that the league has in store for the 2010 WPS season," said WPS Board Member and Atlanta Beat Chairman T. Fitz Johnson. "This includes two new franchises, the debut of a brand new stadium built specifically for WPS, a longer regular season and an even better product on the field with incoming talent from the college ranks and the many top internationals that have been signed in the offseason."

The Beat holds the first pick in the Sol dispersal draft, meaning that Marta will most likely join Japanese star Mami Yamaguchi and Swiss teen sensation Ramona Bachmann, former teammates at Swedish club Umea, in Atlanta.

The draft will be held on Thursday.

 



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