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Who's up, who's down ...
by Paul Kennedy, August 5th, 2010 3:52PM

TAGS:  soccer business, wps


[WPS] Women's Professional Soccer moves -- some would say limps -- into the homestretch. Just like last season, it has a runaway leader in FC Gold Pride and a tight playoff race for the other three berths. But with four weeks to play, doubts about the league's future grow with lousy attendance this summer and recent staff cutbacks at the league office. Here's a look at who's up and who's down ...

Who's up ...

-- First-place FC Gold Pride needs one more point to clinch a playoff berth. The Pride, who host Chicago on Saturday, is 11-3-2, made quite a turnaround from last year when it finished last with a 4-10-6 record. With seven points in its next four games, it will break the record of runaway regular-season champion Los Angeles, which went 12-3-5 in 2009. The connection between the Pride and Sol: Brazilian Marta (13 goals), Frenchwoman Camille Abily and Shannon Boxx. Marta and Abily were signed when the Sol folded; Boxx arrived from St. Louis after the Athletica's demise. Four other first-year players have started 10 or more games: free agent Candace Chapman (picked by from Boston) and college draft picks Kelley O'Hara and Ali Riley (both Stanford) and Becky Edwards (Florida State).

-- It's also been quite a turnaround for Amy Rodriguez, the No. 1 pick in the inaugural college draft. The 2008 Olympic gold-medalist scored just one goal in an unhappy season with the Breakers but has 11 in 13 games for expansion Philadelphia. She's an important reason the Independence is second in the standings

-- At 24, Jordan Angeli is finally breaking into pro soccer, and what a rookie year it's been. Angeli, who took six years to finish up at Santa Clara because of two medical red-shirt years, has been sensational for the Boston Breakers. She became the first rookie to win the WPS Player of the Month award when she scored four goals and one assist from her new midfield position to lead the Boston to a 5-1 mark in July.

-- WPS has prided itself being the world's best women's league, but it averaged only 2.14 goals a game in Year 2. Scoring is up more than 10 percent this year to 2.41 goals a game. Marta and Rodriguez have both already topped Marta's league-high 10 goals in 2009. Kelly Smith and Abby Wambach both scored twice on Wednesday to give them nine apiece.

Who's down ...

-- WPS's attendance woes continued Wednesday when the Washington Freedom drew 2,118 fans for its 2-0 win over Philadelphia -- the smallest crowd in its history and less than half its season average going into the game. Beginning the week, average attendance in WPS was 3,661 fans a game -- down almost 22 percent from last season's league average of 4,684. Much of the drop is attributable to the loss of the Sol, who averaged a league-high 6,298 fans a game, but crowds are down for each of the five returning teams.

-- WPS tried to put a positive spin on layoffs at the league level, saying "staff has been restructured" and "league marketing resources have been shifted to the team level." But the news is not good for what was already close to a bare-bones operation.

-- Washington's win over Philadelphia snapped a five-game losing streak and 10-game winless streak, but will it be enough for Jim Gabarra to keep his job? There was speculation that he'd be out if the Freedom lost, meaning both D.C. pro coaches would have been fired the same day. (Curt Onalfo was let go by D.C. United on Wednesday.)

-- In 2009, Sky Blue FC made two coaching changes and ended up winning the WPS title. This year's first coaching change has not had the same effect. Since firing Pauliina Miettinen and replacing her with assistant coach Rick Stainton, the team's fifth coach in two seasons, the New Jersey team has lost 4-1 and 2-1, extending its losing streak to four games.

  1. Robert Robertson
    commented on: August 6, 2010 at 10:21 a.m.
    I think attendence will pick up since, world cup is over and U18 and under games are winding down.

  1. John Riley
    commented on: August 6, 2010 at 12:28 p.m.
    With the WPS scoring at a rate of 2.41 goals per match over the season and higher in recent months if will be above the EPL (2.48) by the end of the season.

  1. Tyler Dennis
    commented on: August 6, 2010 at 12:36 p.m.
    I am a FC Gold Pride season ticket holder and here are the problems as I see them. 1) Games on Sundays at 3pm so they can be shown on FSC, sorry but that is a really hot part of the day, it's a bad day for families to attend games. The kids are miserable in the heat of the day. 2) Ticket prices are too high. Drop the prices some and you may see a higher return on attendance. 3) It is summer, families go away during summer for vacation. Soccer leagues are on break, so it's not as though they can market for you. 4) The Pride were playing at Castro Valley High at the beginning of the season, it is in the middle of town and everyone would see that there was a game. It's now on top of a mountain at Cal State East Bay... out of site, out of mind. I bet attendance was much more at Castro Valley High.

  1. David Huff
    commented on: August 6, 2010 at 1:02 p.m.
    I think it was a big mistake to let the Sol go and therefore vacating the largest soccer market in the country, Southern California. Of course AEG's fingerprints were part of this demise, a mental note has been made.

  1. John Schubert
    commented on: August 6, 2010 at 2:41 p.m.
    Lack of attendance to WPS games can be attributed once again to the prejudice that many people have (both male and female) toward women's sports. Many like to point at the fact that women cannot compete with men. Huh? Also, compared to Europe (especially the EPL) US Soccer still does not have a substantial following in this country. Compared to the MLS which sees its best players move to Europe to play (and not for any lofty reason such as competition or coaching but for the money), the WPS has attracted some of the best players in the world. I do not live in a city that has a WPS team (Chicago is the closest at 3+ hours away). I do watch every Sunday afternoon game on Fox Soccer and wished there were more matches to watch. I also would attend games if there was a team within a reasonable distance. I certainly hope the WPS does not disappear like it's predecessor. Otherwise, all those who denigrate women's sports will have one more example as to why women should not play sports.

  1. Mark Johnston
    commented on: August 6, 2010 at 4:34 p.m.
    I was affraid of this league when they attempted to go on their own. This really should have been "WMLS". With MLS up to 15 cities in the US and 16 next year, WPS could have chosen the best markets for the womens game and split many of the expenses.. double hitters would have been the obvious. I am affraid if WPS goes, it will only be the W-League to carry on, which may not really a bad thing, they have been around for a long time. OK for domestic players, but not sure how many foreign stars will want to come play W-League, rather than WPS. All of this of course affects the support of all levels of our Womens National Teams.. You can see other countries are catching up...Too bad, because I really like watching the womens game, as its more pure, not physical for the sake of phyical etc.

  1. C Nightingale
    commented on: August 7, 2010 at 11:12 a.m.
    Unfortunately, the WPS suffers from a lot of the same shortcomings that did in the WUSA. It's budget may be smaller, but it does precious little marketing. How else can you explain that the Sol drew more than 14,000 for the first game in league history last year, then half that much for the league championship game, despite a playoff system designed to allow the regular-season champion a berth in the final and a couple of weeks to market it? We were assured last year that the WPS only needed to average around 3,500-4,000 per game in attendance to break even; apparently, that wasn't nearly enough. Then you have the problem of some teams playing in facilities so small that even a string of sellout crowd wouldn't be enough to foot the bill. You're beaten before you even start . . . The sad truth is that we have a very crowded sports scene in the U.S. and it's hard for any new league to break in and be a success. Look at the WNBA. it's been around for more than a decade, is "established," had the advantage of years of stewardship from the NBA front office, yet still must fight for fans and media attention. Ticket prices are reasonable for WPS games, but only when compared to major sports leagues. Wouldn't it be better to reduce ticket prices to get more fans in the seats and build interest? Of course, that means you have to spend money on marketing to let people know you're reduced prices, and money is always the problem, isn't it?

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