A monthly column about the State of U.S. Soccer that takes a hard look at everything from the performance of the U.S. National Teams to pro soccer in the good ‘ole U-S-of-A . If you’re looking for a viewpoint that you won’t see in a generic, nuts-and-bolts U.S. Soccer press release, you’ve come to the right place.
This month, the Armchair Midfielder will look at Year 2 of the WUSA and predict who will win Founders Cup II, which will be played on Saturday, August 24 at Herndon Stadium in Atlanta, Ga., at 4 p.m. ET live on the PAX Network.
Unlike the formative years of its Major League Soccer counterpart, in which one team (D.C. United) ruled and you knew who the good teams were (L.A., Kansas City and Tampa Bay were good, while Colorado and San Jose were bad), the WUSA’s first two seasons have presented quite a different picture. Consider that the defending WUSA champion San Jose CyberRays missed the cut and the two cellar-dwellers from the inaugural season – the Carolina Courage and Washington (D.C.) Freedom – end up sitting just two points away from each other occupying the first and third spots in the eight-team standings. All in all, Year 2 was a season of change.
Ups and Downs
Change is good, especially for this young league. With just two seasons gone, virtually every team in the league has already had the opportunity to taste both sweet success and bitter defeat. In 2001, Brandi and the CyberRays rallied and could do no wrong toward the end of the season, but this year they’re down, sliding to fifth place and missing the playoffs altogether.
Mia and the Freedom were down last season, but this year they’re on a roll, going undefeated with a 7-0-2 record in their last nine games leading into the playoffs. Last year Tiff Milbrett was riding high, almost single-handedly leading the Power to the post-season, but in 2002 they woefully underachieved with the worst record (a painful 3-17-1) and most goals allowed (a whopping 62, or almost 3 per game).
Only the San Diego Spirit and Boston Breakers had similar seasons from Year 1 to Year 2, as both were mired in mediocrity and were left searching for that missing component that could get them to the playoffs, where anything can happen.
Where are the Golden Girls?
No, not Rue McLanahan and Estelle Getty. Looking at the standings, it’s somewhat shocking to think just how many of the big names from the U.S. Women’s National Team will be watching the WUSA Playoffs from home. No LaKeysia, no Brandi, no Tiff, no Lilly, no Sobs (Kate Sobrero), not even Loudy Foudy, Mac, or Joy. We’re talking about eight regular starters from Team USA relegated to couch duty. Let’s just thank Jesus that Mia is back healthy and in top form after missing much of the season to injury.
Instead, players that haven’t had a major or recurring role within the National Team of late are enjoying more professional success, including the likes of Bri Scurry, TR (Tiff Roberts), Dani Fotopoulos, Lorrie Fair, Abby Wambach and Siri Mullinix.
While it might be bad for post-season attendance, it’s potentially a great for situation for the league. Like MLS over the years, WUSA can continue to showcase some of the top international talent in the world and hope that fans respond to their level of play the way they do for our Women’s World Cup champs.
It’s been refreshing to see top foreign stars like Philadelphia’s Kelly Smith (pre-injury; England), Marinette Pinchon (France), Carolina’s Birgit Prinz (Germany) and Hege Riise (Norway), and San Jose’s Katia (Brazil) exhibit in the WUSA what European teams and U.S. WNT head coaches have known all along and lead their teams in search of the Founders Cup II.
Year 2 saw the first firing of WUSA head coaches, with the Power’s Pat Farmer, Spirit’s Carlos Juarez and, most recently, the Breakers’ Jay Hoffman falling by the wayside as all three teams under-performed across the league’s first two years despite the presence of marquee U.S. Women’s National Team players.
And sure, average attendance is down from 8,104 to 6,957, but much of that could be attributed to the fact that the league’s main attraction (Ms. Hamm, if you’re nasty) was M.I.A. (lame pun intended) most of the season.
At the end of the day, though, both the sackings and dip in attendance are just the nature of the business, just like any professional league. Teams don’t win, coaches get fired. Novelty wears off a bit, and crowds will diminish a bit. But after two successful seasons as the top women’s professional soccer league in the world, the stage is set for a solid Year 3 as the spotlight grows in the women with the 2003 Women’s World Cup just around the corner.
Now, the fun part. With the playoffs starting on Saturday (live on PAX; Washington @ Philadelphia at 1:30 and Atlanta @ Carolina at 3:30 p.m. ET), it’s time to put it on the line and make some picks about who will be hoisting the silver spaceship thingie (soccer Space Needle?) come August 24.
The Armchair Midfielder isn’t a betting person (Notice how I didn’t say man or woman. Who is the Armchair Midfielder???), but if he/she were, the Off Track Betting service would be placing a large sum of money on the Washington Freedom, who will defeat Carolina 3-2 in overtime on a golden goal by Abby Wambach.
What about the Charge or the Beat, you say? I just think that the Beat’s chance was last year, when they were the class of the league but underachieved in the final. And while Philly has been playing well all year, and will have the “home turf” advantage, and hasn’t lost to the Freedom yet this year (the Charge is 1-0-3 in ‘02) … wait, why am I picking the Freedom again? Oh, right, Mia.
While the Courage are the regular season champs and are without a doubt the team to beat, there’s no hotter team in the league than the Freedom. They’ve got perhaps the best playmaker in the history of the game, they have the odds-on rookie of the year who was fourth in the league in scoring, and a former U.S. Women’s National Team goalkeeper pacing the nets. Overall, they play solid defense, their midfield is stacked, they can score goals (tied with the Courage for most in the league with 40) and they have a secret weapon in the Little twins (Sklyar and Jacqui). Sure, the Courage have two of the finalists for 2002 MVP in Riise and Prinz, but my gut tells me that when it comes down to grabbing the prize, #9 will be adding more hardware to her crowded mantle.
Table of Contents
1) Armchair Midfielder (WUSA Version 2.0)
2) Word Association (w/ WNT midfielder Tiffany Roberts)
3) Desert Island Discs (w/ U-19 WNT midfielder Manya Makoski)
4) Queries and Anecdotes (w/ U-19 WNT forward Heather O’Reilly)
5) Making it in the Show (w/ U-23/U-20 MNT forward Devin Barclay)
6) Mark That Calendar (FIFA Women’s Under-19 World Championship)
7) "You Don’t Know Jack (Marshall)" (WUSA trivia x 2)
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