Athletica Debacle Prompts Soccer Soul Searching

I think I may be a bad person.


Today a soccer team in the USA folded because of a “funding crisis.”  

I didn’t cry.   Frankly, I barely blinked.

It made me realize that while I care deeply about the success of soccer in the USA, if I’m honest, I care deeply about the success of men’s soccer in the USA.  

I don’t even like the fact that I just wrote that, but I can begrudgingly admit that it is my reality.

You see, the team that folded was the St. Louis Athletica of the Women’s Professional Soccer league.  The team was filled with great players like Shannon Boxx, Lori Chalupny and Hope Solo, among others.  These are players I’ve cheered during World Cups.

Do I dislike women’s sports?  No, not at all.

Do I admire the courage and skill of the women in the WPS and who play for our National Team?  Absolutely.

But do I think the league can be a success?  Wait, do I even want the league to be a success?  Not really.  In fact, there have been moments where I just wish it would go away.

Ugh, there I go again, having words come out of me that make me uncomfortable in my own skin. 

As a husband of a hockey playing wife and the father of a beautiful little girl who I hope can play whatever the heck she wants, I am ALL FOR equal sporting access, success and excellence.  In theory.

Then why on earth would I want a women’s professional soccer to just “go away” from time to time?

Because despite die-hard fans, improving quality, investments in stadiums and lots of good news and positive signs for the future, men’s professional soccer in America is still a second class citizen that is battling for its right to exist on the national scene.  

MLS is a league that still has trouble getting the kind of attendance it needs in key markets, like mine here in Boston.  The Portuguese Champion Benfica came to play the New England Revolution recently, and there were less than 14,000 fans in attendance.  The situation felt even worse when you realize that 10,000 were clearly there to cheer the opposition.

The New York Red Bulls have a brand-new, and apparently wonderful, stadium and still had less than 14,000 when playing a match against the storied Juvenutus of the Italian Serie A.

Despite New York having beaten Juventus, with similar victories having come across the league in recent weeks against storied clubs like Boca Juniors and (somehow) A.C. Milan, there still is lackluster interest, even from soccer fans who continue to prefer watching foreign leagues on plasma screens than supporting “a league of our own.”

My thesis here is that if men’s professional soccer is surviving only because of generous owners, gradual and excruciatingly careful planning and the hopes of marketers in big companies… then investment in the women’s professional league is both unlikely to succeed and draining resources from where it would have the most likely chance of long term value-add.   Note that we are on the second attempted women’s league during the brief professional existence of MLS, as the WPS replaced the failed WUSA that preceded it.

Do I admire, respect and (occasionally) cheer for the wonderful athletes in the WPS and US Women’s National team?  Sure. 

But I cannot really support their pro-league.  This fact makes me like myself a little less.   But I’m slowly becoming OK with that.

The day we can easily support a thriving men’s professional soccer leauge, please revisit this topic with me, and I may offer a much different view about this. 

Of course, I have promised my daughter a visit to a Boston Breakers game this season… so maybe I will still be won over.   But I wouldn’t hold your breath.