[PREVIEW]What's to believe that the National Women's Soccer League, American soccer's third attempt at a women's pro league, will be any different than the first two? WUSA and WPS, were launched with great fanfare in 2001 and 2009, but were spectacular failures. Here are six reasons why we believe the NWSL will make it ...
1. ALEX MORGAN.WUSA had Mia Hamm and the women's stars of 1999 and WPS had Brazilian Marta. The NWSL has a host of young American stars, but none like Morgan, who has 42 goals for the USA in her first 65 games. Morgan, who will play for the Portland Thorns, is still only 23, so fans across the NWSL will be able to watch as she surely becomes the greatest women's player in the world, greater than Hamm ever was and as good as Marta was at her peak.
2. MERRITT PAULSON.WUSA had John Hendricks, founder and chairman of Discovery Communications, WPS had, well, the infamous Dan Borislow, and the NWSL has Merritt Paulson, the most colorful of the new breed of MLS owner, who has thrown his wildly successful Portland Timbers organization behind the Portland Thorns FC, whose season-ticket total was approaching 7,000 as the season was about to start. Paulson is an optimistic guy, but even those ticket figures were not what he expected when he threw his hat in the ring.
3. NO ONE-HIT WONDER.By the time WUSA launched in 2001, some of the allure of women's soccer had already worn off from the widely successful 1999 Women's World Cup. Crowds for women's international matches began to dip in 2000. Interest in the women's national team has remained strong since the latest uptick, beginning with the excitement generated by the 2011 Women's World Cup.
4. U.S. SOCCER.WUSA had the backing of cable operators, but the league quickly burned through its seed money. WPS's name investor, AEG, bailed after one season, and other owners quickly followed. U.S. Soccer launched this latest venture. Its financial support -- underwriting the salaries of national team players -- means that teams can operate with minimal salary budgets -- about $200,000 a year. And U.S. Soccer isn't likely to give up easily. It has too much at stake to allow its reputation to be tarnished by another failure. It also brings a lot to the table -- beginning with the pool of national team stars.
5. EUROPEAN COMPETITION.Neither WUSA nor WPS perceived European leagues as much competition. Indeed, teams in WUSA and WPS raided big European clubs of many of the best players. European leagues are now stronger and the NWSL doesn't offer the money clubs in its predecessors did to attract foreign players, so there's a bit of a role reversal. Some of the USA's best players -- notably Christen Press in Sweden -- haven't joined the NWSL, and others like -- Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath -- are playing in France until the summer. European competition will mean NWSL clubs will need to work hard in terms of offering playing and training opportunities if it wants to be competitive and keep the best American players.
6. LOWERED EXPECTATIONS.Perhaps the best thing the NWSL has going for it is lowered expectations. There's no national television contract, so there's no chance the league will be slammed when the ratings are minuscule. All the teams -- with the possible exception of Thorns FC -- are starting small. Salaries paid by the clubs themselves for the five-month league will range from $6,000 to $30,000. Budgets are about a third of those in WPS. "Sustainability" for Washington is 3,000 paying fans a game, according to its owner, Bill Lynch. Everything WUSA and WPS -- especially WUSA -- did was immediately compared to MLS. That's not going to be a problem with the NWSL.