The U.S. Soccer Board of Directors will sanction WPS as a Division I professional league, granting the league’s waiver Monday to exist with five teams — fewer than the eight-team mandate. However, U.S. Soccer put conditions going forward.
“In order to be considered for Division I sanctioning beyond 2012, WPS must increase the number of teams in the league over the next two seasons to a minimum of six for 2013 and a minimum of eight for 2014,” U.S. Soccer stated in a press release. “Other conditions have to do with financial requirements — both at the team and league levels — designed to ensure continued operation of the teams though the 2012 season and to ensure the participation of a sixth team for the 2013 season.”
Going forward, the Atlanta Beat will be joined by the Philadelphia Independence, New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC, Western New York Flash and the Boston Breakers.
At the end of the regular season, Boston was looking for a new majority owner, but WPS CEO Jennifer O’Sullivan said the franchise “has solidified their investor group for the upcoming season.”
The WPS is currently at five teams after choosing to terminate the south Florida-based magicJack franchise in an ongoing dispute with team owner Dan Borislow.
This was not the first time WPS has received a waiver to operate, receiving one before the 2011 season, when it had six teams. The difference this year appeared to be the league’s commitment to expanding
“In a pretty well-publicized case the league made, we were convinced that, given the prospect they have in different markets, they will meet that target,” U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said Tuesday in a teleconference. “We think they will be met. Most conditions have been met, and we feel the rest will be met.”
WPS must expand within the next year or face losing its sanctioning, which could present a pitfall in the future. But Atlanta owner Fitz Johnson said the conditions from U.S. Soccer did not make him uncomfortable about the future.
“We are very comfortable with it,” Johnson said. “We have a robust expansion pipeline. As the sport becomes more popular, we have more that are looking to get back in, so we feel good about that.”
O’Sullivan wouldn’t confirm the location of any potential expansion teams, but said there is generally “at least one on the East Coast, at least one in the Midwest and at least one on the West Coast.”
Connecticut has been reported as one of the likely candidates for expansion, but O’Sullivan cautioned that WPS’ growth would be a deliberate process between potential markets and the league.
“Our focus is on adding teams as appropriate,” she said. “It’s about slow and steady growth. If we can add three (teams), that would be great, but we’re looking in terms of where the markets are.
“In the West Coast, we wouldn’t look to add just one. We would look to add more to be mindful of travel costs. To a Midwest team, that would be slightly easier. Just overall, it’s what market is, or what markets are, best for the league at that particular time.”
Beyond expansion, U.S. Soccer’s decision to give WPS sanctioning allowed its owners to continue with operations. That includes preparing for the rookie draft Jan. 20, signing a collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union, creating a schedule that will work around the 2012 Summer Olympics and filling out rosters for the upcoming season.
With regards to player signings, Johnson said the Beat would be very active.
“That’s the exciting part,” he said. “In the next few days, and weeks, to come, as we approach the draft, you are going to see teams step up and do a lot of signing. All of the teams have been talking to players, but (sanctioning is) a done deal, so you will see a fair amount of activity over the next three to four weeks.
“You’ll see some exciting signings in Atlanta. I can tell you that. The signing of Christen Press is just the beginning.”