Talking out women’s soccer’s future, with U.S. Soccer at the head of the table

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U.S. Soccer on Wednesday held a summit to discuss the immediate future of women’s soccer. The result? Reason for cautious optimism.

The meeting comes at a topical time — six weeks after Women’s Professional Soccer’s official closure and two days prior to the USWNT’s final domestic pre-Olympic friendly at Rio Tinto Stadium. Below you’ll find something of a primer.

 

So, what is it exactly?

A women’s soccer-themed TEDtalk? A closed-door summit? A brainstorm session? A think tank? A combination thereof, really.

And its raison d’etre?

Determining the best course of action to keep make a women’s soccer league sustainable in the U.S. The demise of Women’s Professional  Soccer was probably inevitable, despite the many residual effects supplied by the USWNT’s performance at the 2011 Women’s World Cup. Its reasons for folding are manifold, although, yes, this guy had a lot to with it.

Judging by USSF President Sunil Gulati’s comments in initial reports, U.S. Soccer seems quite keen to lend a helping hand to the effort – something U.S. women’s soccer fans have long been clamoring for as that sentiment was conspicuously absent throughout WPS’s struggles. The very existence of the so-called task force indicates a level of cooperation from those involved in every station within the WoSo community. That can only be a positive thing.

When was word of the task force first made public?

Gulati first floated the idea while speaking to a select group of media prior to the USWNT’s friendly match against China on May 28. That was 10 days after Women’s Professional Soccer officially closed shop after a five-month ‘hiatus’.

Who was in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting?

Details are sparse, but as per Jeff Kassouf’s report, “…Officials from WPSL, USL, U.S. Youth Soccer and [former Women’s World Cup winner and Boston Breakers head coach] Tony DiCicco.” Beau Dure shared news that representatives from MLS also had seats at the table.

What came out of the first meeting?

Again, details remain sparse, but there are faint signs of encouragement. For one, news that a brand new women’s soccer league is in the works with a launch date sometime next year. Again thanks to Kassouf’s reporting, we know the new coast-to-coast venture will apparently feature 12-16 teams. The league will take a ground-up approach and not apply for Division-1 status, thereby sidestepping exorbitant fees.

Boston Breakers head coach Lisa Cole offered more insight via Twitter. Cole underlined the need to start at a semi-pro level which appears to be the safest way forward. After all, WPS and its failed predecessor the Women’s United Soccer Association were the only fully-professional, top-flight leagues in the world during their respective tenures, and looked how that turned out. Modest…expectations…

But we’ve heard that line before. What’s to say it will be different?

Lessons learned from the failures of WPS and the templates provided by other top women’s soccer leagues around the world, all of which are semi-pro in all but name.

And the new league might have something else going for it. As the USWNT’s string of near-capacity crowds indicates, the  team’s recent surge in popularity is very real. The tremendous uptick in interest (Hope Solo! Abby Wambach! Alex Morgan!) translated to bigger attendances in the final two months of the 2011 WPS season. But by then it was too late. The start-up league could benefit from interest drummed up by the USWNT’s exploits at the Summer Olympics and its inevitable post-tournament friendly tour – if national team players agree to take part, of course.

Still, everything boils down to the pesky dollars and cents part of the equation. WPS and its original driving force Tonya Antonucci made an earnest attempt to avoid the excessive spending and oversized expectations that damned the erstwhile WUSA. While the WUSA overspent itself out of existence, WPS arguably did the opposite. Both leagues ultimately shared the same gloomy fate.

By eschewing the fully-pro route altogether, the new league will look to adopt a more modest, realistic approach – for real this time.

Off to slow start, Morris, Seattle know “things can change quickly”

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Both Jordan Morris and the Seattle Sounders are off to a rough start in defense of their MLS Cup title last Fall, and the USMNT’s star striker admits to recalling last season’s wild turnaround as an inspiration.

“After the game last week we mentioned that we have a lot of the nucleus from last year and we all know that things can change quickly,” Morris said to ProSoccerTalk this week.

Seattle won just seven games before Matchday 22 last season, rebounding with a burst after coach Sigi Schmid was replaced by assistant Brian Schmetzer. The Sounders went 8-2-2 down the stretch en route to an MLS Cup win over Toronto FC.

While he hasn’t scored in five matches and only has two markers in 12 games, he feels success is coming for the 3W-5L-4T Sounders. Morris said the club knows the results aren’t there, but also that they are producing chances.

[ MORE: Monaco star’s Man City medical ]

“It’s been okay,” Morris said. “Definitely not the start I would’ve wanted. It’s not an excuse but we’ve hit a lot of posts and had other near misses.”

Seattle has a huge opportunity to flip the script on its season when Cascadia Cup rivals Portland visit on Saturday. The free-scoring Timbers are dangerous in attack, but have been opened up 20 times this season. Only two teams have conceded more goals than Portland (which has played the most matches in the league, it must be said).

And it may or may not surprise fans that Morris’ focus has been one of his strengths: the final product.

“I’m working on the final third, whether it’s shooting or finding the open guy,” Morris said. “It’s a big deal for us to finish our chances. Scoring or the final pass in that final third.”

Despite his relatively cold start, it would be surprising if Bruce Arena didn’t tab Morris in his crop for next month’s World Cup qualifiers. The 22-year-old also seems relatively certain to be a part of the Gold Cup plans.

“I’m excited and hopefully I get called up,” he said. “These World Cup qualifiers are obviously a very big deal and Bruce has done a really good job of getting us on the same page.”

Morris is also participating in a unique promotional activity with Delta Air Lines for Sounders fans, as he and Cristian Roldan are among Seattle teams picking fans for “positions” in a Fan XI. Once assembled, they’ll travel to L.A. for a Sounders road match and even sign one-day contracts. Morris was happy to get on board with it.

“It’s for our fans, who are amazing,” he said. “Delta’s idea to make a Fan XI gives the fansa chance to have the behind the scenes experience of being part of a team put together by having different skills. We love rewarding our fans.”

Day Seven: All the action from the U20 World Cup (video)

Kim In-chul/Yonhap via AP
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Mexico has automatically qualified for the knockout rounds of the U-20 World Cup despite falling to Venezuela.

[ MORE: U-20 World Cup latest

Germany dropped below Mexico in goal differential after allowing a 3-0 lead to sink to one, though El Tri still likely would’ve advanced to the next phase despite Germany’s result.

Mexico 0-1 Venezuela

Caracas 19-year-old striker Sergio Cordova scored for the third-straight match in what is sure to make him a hot summer commodity as Venezuela clinched Group B with a perfect 3-0 record.

Germany 3-2 Vanuatu

Vanuatu’s potential name of the tournament Bong Kalo scored twice in the second half to sink Germany below Mexico on goal difference.

Guinea 0-5 Argentina

A brace from Lautaro Martínez gives Argentina hope of the knockout rounds with a third-place finish.

England 1-0 South Korea

Everton’s Kieran Dowell scored the lone goal of the match to give England the Group A crown.

Zabaleta staying in Premier League with West Ham move

@WHUFC
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A week after bidding Manchester City an emotional goodbye, Pablo Zabaleta has announced he’ll be staying in England.

The 32-year-old right back is moving to London, where he’ll join West Ham United on a two-year deal beginning July 1.

[ MORE: Three key battles in FA Cup Final ]

The San Lorenzo youth product went to Espanyol in 2005 to begin his European adventure, joining Man City in 2008. He won two PL titles, two League Cups, and an FA Cup, and was named the club’s player of the season in 2012-13.

From WHUFC.com:

“Manchester City gave me the opportunity to come to this wonderful league, the Premier League, something I’ve been enjoying a lot as a player and of course for me it was probably the right time to move on.

“Also, as a player, I thought I wanted to keep playing in the Premier League. For me, after being in this country for so long, this is a new challenge for me in the Premier League and I’m ready for it and looking forward to it.”

Maybe he just wanted 3G.

Young Sam Byram can learn plenty from Zabaleta, and the signing means that star right-sided man Michail Antonio likely won’t have to be wasted at right back in emergency situations. Good risk by the Hammers.

Valencia extends Man Utd deal to great Mourinho praise

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Jose Mourinho has made no secret of his Antonio Valencia appreciation, and the Manchester United manager has rewarded his fullback with a new deal.

Valencia is nine appearances away from 300 in a Manchester United kit, with 22 goals and 61 assists as a Red Devil.

[ MORE: Monaco star’s Man City medical ]

Valencia said United has “been my life” since arriving from Wigan Athletic in 2009, while Mourinho heaped praise on the Ecuadorian captain’s character with glowing praise.

“It is no secret that I had been an admirer of Antonio’s long before I joined the club. I knew what a fantastic player he was and he has not disappointed me on that front. However, what I could never have imagined was what a great person he is. I know I have said this before but I truly believe it is a real privilege for us to have such a good player and such a good man. I am delighted he has extended his contract.”

Only Ander Herrera and Eric Bailly recorded better tackle rates at Old Trafford last season, and Valencia was credited with a team-best 1.5 crosses per game.