MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Here's the good news for the many fans of U.S. women's soccer. The U.S. national team has secured a spot at this summer's Olympics with a commanding victory in the regional qualifying tournament. But now, the bad news. The top U.S. women's league, women's professional soccer, or WPS, has cancelled its 2012 season. League officials blame an ongoing costly legal battle with the renegade owner of Magic Jack, that's one of the WPS teams. The league voted to terminate that franchise after fights over everything from sponsor signs to uniforms to player grievances.
We called former national team star Julie Foudy for her take on why the WPS season was canceled. She's now a commentator with ESPN. And she says a number of factors came into play.
JULIE FOUDY: It's no secret that, you know, the league had had its struggles - they were down to five teams, for example. Four had already folded. You know, when the league was created, had wanted to create a national footprint. They were on both coasts and in the Midwest. And now they were down to five teams on just the East Coast. They had ongoing issues the players in terms of no collective bargaining agreement being signed. So, things weren't all rosy and then this lawsuit came along, I think is the fair thing to say.
BLOCK: It's interesting to think, you know, women's soccer was coming off that high from last year's World Cup, which had a huge - the final had a huge TV audience. And then there was all this attention, all this support and now this. What do you think the long-term effects will be?
FOUDY: That, I think, is the saddest part of it all is we were finally seeing the potential for this league coming off this exciting summer. I mean, attendance was great. They were playing fun, competitive soccer. Then, you know, this happens and what will be the long-term results is you just diminish your player pool that you're able to pull from, from our country. You have less meaningful games. You're not training as large a number of players and developing them.
And, you know, as we've seen in the past, once you get out of college, if there's no league to play in, you know, all these really good players that are on the bubble of the national team that typically would play in the league and would have another chance of making it to the next level, they just fall through the cracks, 'cause they have to continue on with life and work and careers and so forth.
BLOCK: Julie Foudy, why do you think it's been so hard for women's soccer to get on a sound financial footing? And would it be better for them to be attached, say, to the men's team in major league soccer, to be partners with those teams?
FOUDY: Well, I think having lived through now two leagues collapsing - our WUSA, which was the league we started after the 1999 World Cup and now this one - I mean, the model may be to link, as the WNBA did, with the men's side. And especially, I mean in the past, the MLS has been trying to just get its men's teams off the ground and building stadiums, and building their fan base.
And now you're seeing MLS has, I think, turned a corner on a lot of fronts in terms of having their own soccer-specific stadiums and creating models that work. So they're in a much better place to even consider it. Who knows if they will for the future?
BLOCK: Well, in the shorter term, the WPS says it hopes to be back with eight teams, up from five, in 2013. What do you think the chances are of that?
FOUDY: I am always optimistic - you know, and I say some will call me hopelessly optimistic. And I don't care.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
FOUDY: That there is an environment where women's soccer can survive in this country, I think there's no question about that. So, you know, whether it's up again in 2013 and what it looks like, who the owners are, I don't know. But I'm still optimistic a pro league of first-class quality and professionalism will exist in this country.
BLOCK: Well, Julie Foudy, thanks so much for talking with us today.
FOUDY: My pleasure, Melissa. Thank you.
BLOCK: That's Julie Foudy, formerly with the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team and current ESPN commentator.
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