Monday, May 28

Women's Soccer Summit: Add CONCACAF to the list

The United States Women's National Team delivered an emphatic win in front of a sold-out crowd in Philadelphia Sunday, downing a young Chinese team 4-1. But the bigger news to come out of PPL Park were the comments by US Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati that there will be a gathering of the nation's top soccer organizations by the end of June to discuss the future of the women's game.

“We will reach out to a number of people that are involved in the game, whether it’s, as I mentioned, the USL, or MLS or individual teams from the WPS and have a broader group come in and talk about it and see what is the best model that we can get consensus around going forward,” said Gulati. “And that may not be a model that starts off like the WPS, or the WUSA, or the W-League – I don’t know what that model is, but we’ll certainly look at it. And then what we do with the national team program will partly fit in around that and partly lead that.”

The individuals that owned and operated the WUSA and WPS, for the most part, always felt that the pro women’s league must be independent and not rely on the men’s game in order to exist. It was a philosophy even some of the star players were firm believers in.

But a decade later things have changed. Some of the clubs in WPS were former USL W-League teams instead of brand new start-ups; and now that the league is gone, some of the most high profile players are beginning to support the idea of support from the men’s side of the game. Count among them Julie Foudy.

“In 1999, I said no,” said Foudy. “MLS was only three years old. It was fully immersed in trying to get a men's pro soccer league off the ground; it was not in a position to add a women's component. And the women's national team wasn't willing to embrace MLS (read: the U.S. Soccer Federation) at that time. No need to rehash the details, but let's just say the U.S. Soccer Federation and the U.S. women's national team were not singing Kumbaya together around the campfire in late 1999/early 2000.

Ask me now if it would make sense to have a women's side to MLS, I would say yes. Yes, but ...

It may be a viable option for some MLS owners, but not all of them. And that really is the key moving forward for women's soccer to make it in this country over the long term. It needs a group of owners who want to do it because it makes sense financially and they believe in it, not because it is something they "should" do. For those of you who argue it doesn't make sense financially, I argue it does and will make financial sense for some MLS owners; they have their own stadiums, the staff infrastructure in place, a favorable local demographic and very deep pockets. They are at a stage when adding a women's team could complement and add to their current fan base and sponsorship potential. That was not the case 12 years ago. Back then, they were just trying to survive. Now, MLS is poised to thrive.”

Yes, MLS is poised to thrive, but it also has a long way still to go and a lot to make up for on the financial side. And the USSF, as always, will be there to help out as well.

But I can think of one more heavily financed soccer organization with plenty of power and clout that could be an asset and big supporter of the women’s game – one in need a major image reversal with some positive public relations work. That organization is CONCACAF.

Embroiled in controversy ranging from bribery to embezzlement for years, CONCACAF’s image regionally and globally has sunken to the lowest of lows. Last Wednesday the confederation appointed Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Islands to finish out the four-year term of Jack Warner, who resigned in disgrace nearly a year ago after allegations of being involved in both bribery and embezzlement.

While Webb immediately began calls to ouster American Chuck Blazer, who many in the confederation also believe mismanaged money, he also put forth a mandate to turn the focus back on the game. 

“Over the last year, our mission and our vision have been blurred, from lawyers, to audit reports to compensation, we have deviated from our mission,” Webb said. “I am here, we are here, because of our love for football; the passion for the game drives and motivates our every action.”

"What has our focus been? Politics and economics. Let us focus on our game," Webb said.

And there could be no better place to start than with the women’s game. The federations of CONCACAF are in no position to create a competition like UEFA’s Women's Champions League, but what CONCACAF can do, as a leader for all its members, is use its resources – now that they are no longer being siphoned off by corrupt officials – to make a North American women’s soccer league that everyone can be proud of once more.

The W-League has always had strong Canadian clubs, teams that were always in discussions as to whether they should join the WUSA/WPS. Mexico’s national team features burgeoning talent. If CONCACAF could provide its resources and coordinate with the USSF to create a confederation-focused league designed to develop the women’s game for all of the member federations, it would truly be showing it is doing what is good for the game and not the pockets of the individuals running it. 

Investing in the women’s game is the only avenue in which CONCACAF can help revitalize its image in a pure way. Continuing to issue grants and funds to small federations only leads to further corruption, because that is how this whole mess started in the first place. Helping to create something that can be beneficial to all federations without money going directly to them is the only way to sterilize a system that has gone bad.

And let’s face it, until the United States or Mexico win the World Cup, women’s soccer is CONCACAF’s biggest bragging point. Having a successful pro league keeps the top member nation's at their best, representing the confederation well on the global stage. So, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to say you are a part of forging the world’s best women’s pro league instead of letting it fail in your own back yard yet again?

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