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Unread 23-07-2012, 08:20 PM
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Default London 2012 Olympics: USA women's team see hope after soccer league fiasco

The US women's soccer team has won Olympic Gold three times but this year has seen the demise of the Women's Professional Soccer League. Will the end of WPSL help or hinder the team?

For a glittering dynasty such as the US Women's Olympic soccer team, having your domestic league disband in the lead up to the Olympic games is not exactly ideal. But maybe this cloud had a silver lining.

Head coach Pia Sundage is aiming to lead the US to their fourth Olympic Gold since women's soccer became an Olympic event back in 1996. The Swedish coach believes that rather than being a hindrance, the legal dispute which left the Women's Professional Soccer League (WPS) in ruin may have helped her charges, as they seek more gold medal glory at London 2012.

"I can answer two ways, if I answer for the US team I would say this is okay. I would say this is good and even worked out better. Because now we have more days together than we would have had with a league."

But Sundhage does admit that losing valuable game time in the lead up to the competition has affected preparations, but the chance to spend more time with her team and to mould them into a unit has counteracted that disappointment.

"On the other hand we lost say 8-10 games, so the players who were still supposed to play in the WPS lost out on playing games and you know how important it is to be playing games. However, there have been more games and days together and it will be a more cohesive team and they will all know the playing style and so forth."

The WPS was suspended on 30 January 2012 and officially folded on 18 May, leaving the US players without a professional league to play in. This chain of events came after the league terminated the MagicJack franchise in South Florida in October 2011, citing their owner Dan Borislow's "unprofessional and disparaging treatment of his players to failure to pay his bills." A lawsuit was then filed against WPS by Borislow and an expensive and lengthy litigation process ensued, leaving the 2012 league season in ruin.

Many players switched allegiances immediately to a semi-pro league, the WPSL Elite, which was set up to give the players some form of competition. But a full-time professional league in the world's most successful nation for women's soccer, was no more.

That said it's not all doom and gloom ahead of this summer's games. The USWNT Olympic soccer record reads impressively: Four tournaments, four medals, three Gold and one Silver. The lone silver came after an agonizing extra-time "golden-goal" loss to Norway during Sydney 2000. So after reaching the Gold medal game in every single Olympic games since women's soccer was included, the goal for London 2012 is a simple one.

In order to claim Gold, the team needs to actually make it to London, the home of the 2012 Games. The squad is based in Glasgow for their first two group games, playing at Hampden Park on Wednesday against France and then on Saturday versus Colombia before heading to Old Trafford to take on North Korea. USA can't appear in London before the semi-final stage. Captain Christie Rampone fourth all-time in appearances with an incredible 260 caps believes the prize of reaching London adds an extra impetus for success.

"I think it is definitely tough for the first timers, that they're not really getting that glimpse of being in London and in the village. But at the same time it's also a great goal for us. We are looking forward to doing well to make it there, so it's almost like you get rewarded. The better we do, then we get there. So it's another goal we can add."

That goal to reach the final and be on top of the podium at Wembley Stadium on 9 August will resonate strongly, after having so many players embroiled in the WPS fiasco. As Sundhage stated, the breakup of the WPS inadvertently helped her preparations. But the US coach also believes the failed league has had a negative impact for women's soccer across the globe.

"As an ambassador of women's football I would say it's sad. Because at the end of the day the more leagues we have in the world the better it is for women's soccer," Sundhage said. "Because if you look at it in the States, for three years now I've seen Marta (star Brazilian forward) with Shannon Boxx, Pastore against Christie Rampone. That kind of mix improves the game tremendously. So hopefully there will be more leagues and stronger leagues. But WPS wasn't the only professional league, in Sweden some of the teams are professional, in the Bundesliga some teams are professional but not everybody. In WPS everybody was professional. So hopefully that comes back and in different countries as well."

One of the players who left the WPS was star forward and first time Olympian Alex Morgan. The 23-year-old striker played for the Western New York Flash in Rochester, NY, before moving to the Seattle Sounders of the USL's W-League (a semi-pro league which sits alongside the hastily founded WPSL Elite) when the WPS disbanded. Morgan also made famous after her head turning patriotic photo shoot in Sports Illustrated -- is ready to step up to the plate after playing a pivotal role from the bench in last year's World Cup. The youngster echoes Sundhage's sentiments about WPS' downfall giving the US Olympic side a better chance of capturing Gold this summer.

"I think if anything it gave me a little bit more time to rest and recover my leg's from last year's World Cup," said Morgan, looking relaxed and focused while lounging in a brown leather sofa at the team's hotel lobby in Glasgow. "Both mentally and physically it enabled me to prioritize correctly and focus solely on the national team. Rather than juggling a professional team and the national team."

That factor may well play into the hands of the USWNT, as they aim to bounce back from World Cup agony last summer,

Coach Sundhage believes a good showing in the Olympics from the US will help interest levels surge for women's soccer worldwide. And that out of potential US Olympic glory, a new professional women's soccer league will rise once again in the USA.

"It is what it is and right now and we can't do anything about it," Sundhage said, looking distressed yet hopeful. "Every big event, like the World Cup, the Olympics and next year we have the European Championships, is good for the women's game. And hopefully that makes it a little bit easier and a little bit more attractive to create more professional leagues in the world."

We will have live minute-by-minute coverage of USWNT's Olympic campaign.
Joe Prince-Wright

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