Canada won’t have a team in the proposed new women’s pro soccer league but it has found a U.S. home for at least 16 of its internationals.
U.S. Soccer announced Wednesday that an eight-team league will start play next spring. Canadian players will be spread among the U.S. franchises, with the Canadian Soccer Association footing the bill for up to 16 of its internationals.
The American federation will pay for up to 24 of its internationals while the Mexican federation will fund at least 12 internationals.
That means each team could field some seven internationals from the top-ranked American national team, No. 7 Canada and No. 24 Mexico.
“Immediately you’re going to see one of the best leagues in the world ... You’re going to see a lot of top players,” said U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati.
“There’s no doubt there will be top players coming from elsewhere.”
The league is set to start in March/April next year with eight franchises: Boston, Chicago, Kansas City, New Jersey, Portland, Seattle, western New York state and Washington, D.C.
The schedule will probably run through September/October but could change depending on international competitions such as the World Cup or Olympics.
Some questions weren’t answered Wednesday — the league’s name, for one. Organizers said there have been “preliminary discussions” with a TV partner and a “handshake agreement” with a national sponsor.
It’s the third attempt at a U.S. women’s pro league, following the demise of Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) and the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA).
U.S. Soccer will also serve as the new league’s front office, all part of a plan to “create an economic model that’s sustainable,” said Gulati.
“We’re subsidizing the private sector here, to try to make this sustainable, to try to make the investments necessary by the private sector smaller,” he added.
That includes playing in smaller stadiums and relying on smaller team frameworks.
It’s timely news for Canada, which is hosting the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
Canadian women’s coach John Herdman called it “a major strategic step for Canada women’s soccer.”
“The opportunity to have players now playing at the highest levels in professional leagues will make sure that our players are going to be ready to perform at that (2015) World Cup and Olympic Games,” he said from his Vancouver office
The Canadian women, currently ranked seventh in the world, are coming off a bronze medal performance at the London Olympics.
Herdman estimates that only 40 per cent of his squad has been playing for pro clubs. The goal is to have 80 per cent of the squad in a pro environment in 2015, 2016.
Herdman had his team in a residency camp in Vancouver prior to the Olympics. Given the limited alternatives, it was the best possible option. But Herdman says it was not the best option.
“Players need daily training environments, best with best,” said Herdman. “And I think when you bring players into Canada, into residential programs you end up creating a ceiling effect.
“By having them in a pro environment ensures that we get the best training and playing with the best on a regular basis and players get to live their lives as footballers, as soccer players.
“So playing in Europe or playing in the U.S. is where our players need to be. The beauty of this new system ensures we get our players on one calendar on one continent.”
His goal is to have the players involved with the U.S. league for seven months and then have them come to the national team.
“In the past, we may have had players on five different calendars — their seasons starting and finishing at different times.” he said. “We may have had players who just weren’t available for international activity because of the way their season are going or their contracts have been constructed.”
Herman will be responsible for selecting the 16 Canadian women to be assigned to the league.
Herdman noted that getting a pro contract overseas doesn’t always come down to talent. It can be determined by who has the right agent or what positional needs a club might have.
“With this new approach, we definitely give more Canadian women a chance to become professional players,” he said.
CSA president Victor Montagliani said some Canadian markets were looked at a possible franchise.
“I think some of them have looked into it (but) weren’t quite ready,” he told a media conference call.
He shot down the suggestion of using the Canadian international contingent to fill a Canadian franchise’s roster, saying it would “skew the technical part of this league.”
“I think having players spread out throughout the league is the best thing for the league and also the best thing for the players as well. But in terms of a Canadian team, it’s something the door is open to as we move forward.”
Gulati said the eight franchises were chosen from 11 groups.
He did not go into the makeup of the eight groups but they include the current owners of the MLS team in Portland.
“We are pleased to partner with U.S. Soccer to bring a new women’s professional team to Portland and to do our part to make a top-flight women’s league possible in our country,” Timbers owner and president Merritt Paulson said in a statement.
Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) was the most recent attempt at a women’s league, beginning in 2009 with seven teams.
It was down to six in 2011 before suspending the 2012 season and then folding.
The Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) folded in 2003 after three seasons, failing to capitalize on the success of the 1999 World Cup.
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