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Karina LeBlanc of Maple Ridge B.C. (CP FILE PHOTO/Richard Lam) (Richard Lam/CP)
Karina LeBlanc of Maple Ridge B.C. (CP FILE PHOTO/Richard Lam) (Richard Lam/CP)

Beverley Smith

Women's soccer league in jeopardy Add to ...

Canadian soccer star Karina LeBlanc sighs when she thinks she might have to pack up her suitcases and move somewhere else again.

Last month, while the veteran goaltender from Maple Ridge, B.C. was helping the Canadian team win a gold medal at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, officials from the Women’s Professional League, terminated the magicJack franchise in South Florida of which LeBlanc was a member.

She saw a few tweets and e-mails about the issue the morning of the gold medal game, but was too focused on the job at hand to think about it. When she returned, she had no team.

The collapse of the team has led to the league becoming in danger of losing its sanction from U.S. Soccer, the governing body of the sport.

According to U.S. soccer bylaws, all professional leagues must have a minimum of eight teams, but the WPS was issued a one-year waiver to play with six teams in 2011.

Now with only five teams, WPS has requested a waiver to take it through the Olympic season. But the federation has given the league 15 days to find a team to replace magicJack before it decides about an extension.

Dan Borislow, the team’s owner, has filed a lawsuit against WPS.

Borislow markets a device called magicJack, a product that can be plugged into a computer’s USB port and allows for unlimited calling from regular telephones. He lives in Florida.

Borislow was also the owner of the 2005 Queen’s Plate winner, Wild Desert, which created a stir when he won the event after a 10-week layoff while showing only one published workout and a slow jog around Woodbine two days before the race.

The horse went off at odds of 3 to 1, and Borislow said he made $100,000 betting on the horse. The ensuing storm over Borislow’s windfall caused two racing commissions in the United States to investigate.

LeBlanc says she does not know why the soccer franchise folded except that the league had decided “magicJack wasn’t what they wanted,” she said.

If the league loses its D1 status, it would be unlikely to attract top national players from the United States, Canada, Sweden, Japan and France – as it does now – because they would fear losing their international and Olympic eligibility by playing for an unsanctioned league.

Canada has had as many as seven players one season that played for the league, now in its third season. This week LeBlanc was swiftly snapped up by the Sky Blue FC in New Jersey, as was Candace Chapman, of Ajax, Ont., a defender who also played on Canada’s gold medal team at the Pan Am Games.

The Western New York Flash – based in Rochester, N.Y. – signed up Canada’s top player Christine Sinclair last year, in hopes of attracting fans from north of the border.

LeBlanc has seen all of this before. She played for the Los Angeles Sol for another women’s professional league (The Women’s United Soccer Association) that was set up after the 1999 Women’s World Cup in the United States. But it folded after three years, just like the L.A. Sol.

The WPS started up a year after the U.S. team won the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics. Many of the top players in the United States play in the league.

“I remember how gutted I was [in 2003]” LeBlanc said. “So many people would come up and say: ‘Why weren’t we told?’ It was almost like a little secret. But at this point, we have time to make up some ground.”

She’s heard talk that perhaps the league could expand into Canada, with Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal being likely candidates. “It could help build the sport in our country,” she said.

“It will be a while before somebody tries this again, because this is the second time that it would have failed. But it’s the future. It’s also the dream of the girls that are in college right now, in high school, and the girls who are five years old, kicking a ball around and screaming your name.

“They want to be like you some day.”

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