Antonucci: Positive signs for Year 2

[WPS] Preseason begins Monday around Women's Professional Soccer a month ahead of its Year 2 kickoff. An impressive list of offseason signings confirmed WPS is the top women's league in the world. Off the field, it's been two steps forward and one step back, as the league has added teams in Atlanta and Philadelphia, but the Los Angeles Sol, the runaway winner of the 2009 regular-season title, folded. Commissioner Tonya Antonucci talks to Soccer America about the new season ...

"Depth on our teams is absolutely incredible," said Antonucci after listing off player signings around the league. "The product should be great."

Most of the American and foreign stars are back for Year 2 -- Brazilian superstar Marta has moved up the coast from Los Angeles to FC Gold Pride, now based out of the East Bay -- and other players have joined the league.

The Philadelphia Independence signed Swedish national team captain Caroline Seger and Lianne Sanderson, one of eight Englishwomen signed by WPS teams for 2010.

The Atlanta Beat landed Swiss international Ramona Bachman, widely regarded as the best teenager in the world.

College signings include Atlanta's Tobin Heath, one of four North Carolina players taken with the first eight picks, and Boston's Lauren Cheney, the top scorer on the USA's 2010 Algarve Cup championship team.

Antonucci says WPS offers foreign players the opportunity for full-time employment as professional soccer players and compensation that makes it affordable for them to leave home.

"Players want to come here for a unique American experience where they're play with and against the best players in the world," she says.

After the collapse of Los Angeles and heavy financial losses some clubs endured in Year 1, WPS front-office staffs have worked on the league's No. 1 goal -- long-term sustainability.

"We adjusted on operations side," said Antonucci, "to reduce costs and be more efficient."

She says there are some positive signs for 2010.

"We very excited that of the six returning teams five are ahead this year of where they were last year in ticket sales," she said. "All are ahead in sponsorship sales."

Antonucci said the 2010 goal is for teams to achieve a 5-10 percent increase in attendance from last year's average of 4,600 fans a game (regular season and playoffs).

She said teams are working on improving the fan experience at games, but she noted surveys show the most important factor fans express is their engagement with the game on the field.

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