A unique problem for U.S. soccer, on both the women’s and men’s sides, is that the vast majority of good players between the ages of 18 and 22 are busy with college soccer from August to December. Then they’re in school (and playing unmarketed tournaments) until May.
That leaves a narrow window for those players to participate in any league on the American soccer pyramid — the PDL, the NPSL, the WPSL and the W-League. They have to wrap up early to get their players back to school. (On a related note, congratulations to the league champions determined this weekend — Orange County Waves in the WPSL, the winner of this evening’s Atlanta Silverbacks-Ottawa Fury game in the W-League, and Jacksonville United in the NPSL. The PDL has one more weekend.)
And college players can’t play on pro teams. So if you want to pay your players a few bucks, you can’t have college players alongside them. College players can play against pros, but not with them.
In men’s soccer, the pro/am split isn’t that big a deal. Clubs that want to go pro can do so, either by spending megamillions to join MLS, or a good bit less to play in the NASL or USL Pro.
But in women’s soccer, we’re seeing some rumblings of lower-tier leagues that have already had a couple of pro teams exploring full-fledged pro divisions. The challenge will be getting enough teams willing to make the leap.
If they don’t, here’s a wild idea:
- Spend the summer playing in mixed pro and amateur leagues as we have now.
- In the fall, once the kids have gone back to school, play a Pro Cup. Take all the pro teams in the country, including WPS teams reunited with international stars who spent much of the summer at the Olympics, and play a short season leading to a couple of playoff games.
- The pro teams get enough games to make the season worthwhile.
- College players get to face pros in competition.
- The pro teams will have all their national team players together in a short season that should be perfect for capitalizing on any momentum from the Olympics, World Cup or any other tournament. (While I’m revamping things, I’d also like to lobby for a Copa Americas for Western Hemisphere teams, perhaps in odd non-World Cup years like the Euro championship.)
- Teams that want to just dip their toes into the pro waters can do so, playing amateur teams through much of the summer.
- Between the pro teams and amateur teams, we should have enough teams to split up into regions through most of the regular season, keeping travel costs down.
The necessary disclaimer: I have absolutely no reason to think this is under discussion anywhere. Just throwing it out for people to kick around. So go ahead …