Brainstorming as WPS deadline approaches

Update: Jeff Kassouf says on Twitter that the Monday deadline may be extended so that WPS can make a presentation to U.S. Soccer, which may not happen until Tuesday. I’m not sure that WPS had a representative in the room when U.S. Soccer’s board initially voted. I know Jennifer O’Sullivan (death in the family) wasn’t there.

Also an interesting interview with Christine Sinclair, who envisions a lot of players going overseas if WPS isn’t sanctions. The European calendar (see a colorful version) actually suits players pretty well, with the Champions League wrapping two months before the Olympics. I see German league games listed for May 28, still nearly two weeks before the Games kick off. Whether U.S. Soccer would let players venture overseas is an interesting question. (Sinclair’s Canadian.)

Original post: The U.S. Soccer board met Nov. 20 and gave WPS a 15-day extension (or ultimatum, though WPS CEO Jennifer O’Sullivan isn’t reading it that way) to come up with a sixth team to get Division I sanctioning for 2012. It’s Day 12. Deadline Day is Monday.

But since then, I’ve spoken with a few people who think Division II wouldn’t be the end of the world. By the letter of the law, that makes no sense — the same “eight teams or waiver” restriction for Division I also applies to Division II or Division III, unless there’s a bylaw amendment I don’t know. (That’s certainly possible.) Yet these people think Division II may be a better description of the league next season, and it would reduce some pressure to rev up spending in a year in which the league needs to retrench.

What would be lost? Some talent, surely. International stars would be less likely to sign, as would the top U.S. national team players. But those losses might be unavoidable, anyway. The Olympic schedule leaves little time for a full season with London-bound players, especially with the league’s current state of limbo making it unreasonable to kick off the 2012 season early in the year.

Another issue that has been kicked around — were U.S. players overtrained in 2011 between their clubs and the national team? Perhaps. And surely that’s something they can solve. MLS players operate on more compressed international windows than WPS players, and we didn’t hear rumblings that they were being stretched too thinly. Most of the rumblings I’ve heard pin the blame on WPS teams, but perhaps the WNT can scale back a bit as well?

But the communication lines to solve that problem well be better-established in 2015 than in 2012. For next season, the most reasonable course might be to let the national team players spend most of their time in residency with just one coaching staff monitoring their fitness.

Notice that I said “most.” Here’s an idea to keep national team players involved without overstressing their bodies or putting their medal bonuses/sponsorships in undue jeopardy.

In 2004, the WUSA played a few exhibitions, cobbling together makeshift versions of the Washington Freedom, San Diego Spirit and company to play a couple of games to keep the WUSA concept afloat. It didn’t work, of course — these were the last gasps of a dying league.

But now we’re in another Olympic year with a few teams ready to proceed with a league. The infrastructure is in place.

So how about playing a few exhibitions in which some national team players join existing teams as guest players?

Even in a best-case scenario, most national team players will be around only for a few games next season. So why not separate those games from the league schedule and sell them as special events? And if they’re called exhibitions, perhaps the risk of injury will be lessened — players shouldn’t be at any more risk in an exhibition game than they would be in a U.S. practice.

Here’s how it would work for all the people involved:

USWNT core players: They can spend most of their 2012 in residency but still get a few competitive games with club teams.

Other players: They keep playing. Salaries shouldn’t change too much. Without paying the WNT players for most of a season, teams should have enough money to pay everyone else what they were making in 2011 for non-Borislow teams.

Hard-core fans: They get a full WPS season with decent players and a few chances to see the top players in action as well.

The Abby-autograph cult: Think Sahlen might sell a few tickets if Abby Wambach made an appearance in a Flash uniform? Probably. Think the fans will be too distraught over the fact that the game doesn’t count in the league standings? Probably not.

WPS and its owners: One more season of continuity without breaking the bank, giving them time to line up the expansion teams and sponsors they seem confident of getting down the road.

The long-term goal is to have a fully functioning league in 2013. USWNT players should be less reticent to play in the league that year because there’s nothing significant on the international calendar, and they’ll need competitive club games to stay sharp.

So perhaps the “guest players” for those exhibitions aren’t really guests. Maybe they sign two- or three-year deals with their clubs now with the agreement that they won’t play league games in 2012. So when, say, Heather O’Reilly appears for Sky Blue in a 2012 exhibition, it’s a reminder of what’s to come in 2013.

I have to stress — I have no reporting to suggest that this modified 2012 schedule is one of the options WPS and U.S. Soccer are discussing. The idea came to me while I was making breakfast for my kids.

What I can say from reporting is that it’s going to take something creative to make this work for 2012. Everybody (well, almost everybody) wants a league. In 2013, that league should have at least 7-8 teams, with whatever salaries the market will bear. In 2012, it’s going to take a clever compromise.

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4 Responses to Brainstorming as WPS deadline approaches

  1. Gerry Marrone says:

    Beau:

    This is a very creative solution, and I think they should be thinking along these lines. Not trying to be negative at all – I want them to succeed – but from my experience here are a couple of issues that I know existed, but could certainly be overcome:
    1. National team players seem to want contracts for the full season, whether they are available or not. I believe only Yael Averbuch approached this differently last year.
    2. Having a national team player guest play is something the coaches of WPS teams would not endorse IMO – it can be very difficult to integrate certain positional players into a team when they aren’t training together – central defenders, central midfielders for example. Clearly you can do it with a Heather O’Reilly – because of her position and execution.

    I think your point of the multi-year deal is spot on – that’s what it is going to take for teams to build fan bases and get buy-in that they will be around for the future – however, these contracts tend to be guaranteed and that is tough to ask financially strapped owners to do – especially because they contain injury protection guarantees. Again, not something that can’t be worked out if both parties had a plan to execute against.

    Thanks for all your effort and attention to the cause!

  2. Diane says:

    @Beau – I sure hope WPS reads your articles, faithfully. You have come up with some of the most unique and insightful solutions to their scheduling difficulties. I think it was Ingrid who suggested a tour of exhibition games, but your combining that with league games and contracts really makes me like the idea.

    @Gerry – Integration of NT players for a game or two of exhibition play shouldn’t be too difficult, especially if the games don’t count in league play.

    I sincerely hope that USSF has used the idea of no Div 1 sanction as a wake up call to WPS to get serious and I hope that WPS is listening to all the free advice they’re getting from the internet. The league can survive, and should.

  3. Ben says:

    Hey Beau! I stumbled upon this blog because you linked to our Sinclair interview. Thank you for doing that! Browsing through a number of your pieces on the state of the WPS, your coverage is both insightful and reasonable — quality stuff.

    Part II of the interview series is with McCall Zerboni, and obviously with her, the WPS situation is a little more dire than it is for Sinclair. The interview will run Saturday morning! (There’s a final one with Ashlyn that should see the light of day on Sunday : ) Thanks again.

  4. Pingback: The Philly Soccer Page » US tops Brazil, more on headers & the brain, WPS deadline, Socrates RIP

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