[WPS] The Saint Louis Athletica became the second Women’s Professional Soccer team to fold in four months when its owners closed shop on Thursday. Athletica players, including such U.S. national team stars as Hope Solo, Shannon Boxx and Lori Chalupny, will be available as free agents to other WPS teams as of Tuesday. For now, AC St. Louis, the D-2 Pro League club operated by the same ownership group, remains in business.
The move came after WPS covered the team's last two player payrolls. WPS will redo the remaining schedule for the 2010 WPS season as a seven-team league. The 2009 regular-season champion Los Angeles Sol folded before the season started.
“It’s incredibly difficult to lose a team in mid-season like this,” said WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci. “We looked at a few options as a league together with our Board and U.S. Soccer, but the operational hurdles and finances just didn’t work out. In the face of a severe funding gap in St. Louis, the local ownership group is shutting down the team at this point.”
Athletica's financial problems came after owners Sanjeev Vaid and Heemal Vaid, British-based investors, defaulted on a contract to fund Athletica through this season.
AC St. Louis remains in operation for the time being.
"Saint Louis Athletica is a painful outcome from the funding shortfalls and ultimate default by the investors who had the obligation to fund and operate the team on a day-to-day basis,” said Athletica founder and chairman Jeff Cooper, who was instrumental in bringing pro soccer back to St. Louis. “I’ve given this matter my complete attention since returning to a more active role in the last few weeks, and numerous parties have spent a lot of hours during that time exploring what options or solutions might be available. Despite best efforts, nothing was found that would answer the immediate needs of the franchise. With more time, it is possible the answer to the financial challenges Athletica faced would have been met, but unfortunately we do not have the benefit of extra time."
The problems Cooper's group encountered are not surprising. It had for several years sought an MLS franchise, but the Division I men's league had expressed concern about the group's financial resources and turned instead of Portland and Vancouver as its 17th and 18th teams, set to launch in 2011.