A sign of things to come: Optimism abounds for new league as USWNT win 5-0
The U.S. Women’s National Team came to town and put on a quite a show of backheels and flicks. Headers and crosses. Goals and more goals. Could this all be a sign of things to come?
The Yanks throttled the Republic of Ireland 5-0 in a friendly Wednesday night at JELD-WEN Field as part of their Fan Tribute Tour. Fan favorite Alex Morgan had a clockwork-like hat trick scoring in the 24th, 34th, and 44th minute while second half substitute Sydney Leroux posted a brace with goals in the 62nd and 81st minute.
But much of the energy on the night was around the recent announcement last week by US Soccer of a new professional women’s league and Portland’s new team in it.
“This is going to be a lot of fun,” said Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson in a halftime press conference. “If you look at the University of Portland’s tradition with women’s soccer and extending that to the highest possible levels in Soccer City, U.S.A., it is going to be a great process for us and it’s going to be a fun experience.”
POSTGAME: USWNT coaches & players talk about the win
The national team players echoed much of that sentiment Tuesday night following their training session ahead of the friendly.
“We need a women’s professional league that is solid and stable so that it can be a feeder into the women’s national team,” added forward Abby Wambach. “We hope that this can be a success and the women’s national team will do all that it can so that most of its players stay home rather than go overseas and play.”
Wambach, who recently bought a house in Portland and just happens to be second on the all-time US Women’s goal-scoring list, also wouldn’t mind playing close to her new home either.
“I want, first and foremost for this league to survive. It makes it a lot easier to want to play in your home city,” she said. “Of course, I would love to play here but we’ve just got to make sure it’s right, the right fit for me, the right fit for the city. I’d love to call JELD-WEN Field my home base.”
With US Soccer funding 24 players for the new league—as well as the Canadian federation contributing up to 16 and the Mexican federation adding 12-16—there’s a good chance players like Wambach could end up in Portland.
Paulson is eager to have high quality players with local ties on the team but was also quick to caution that it is still early in the process of figuring out the details as to where everyone will end up.
“We expressed preferences,” he remarked. “There’s eight teams and the players have expressed preferences and then all the players that are with national teams are going to be allocated by their respective national teams.”
Given the fact that this is the third attempt in the last decade in creating a women’s professional league, players and Paulson both know that they have their work cut out for them.
When asked about her first reaction upon hearing the announcement, Wambach said, “I’ve been a part of two folding leagues so I think, ‘Oh gosh, what are we getting ourselves into?’ But at the end of the day, this is what the United States needs.”
Paulson also has a sense that having an MLS team like the Timbers involved will help the new league.
“I think it’s a good thing to have an MLS team involved and ultimately there will hopefully be more MLS teams involved,” he said. “We’ve got the best market and so if it can succeed anywhere, it can succeed here.”
Moreover, he believes that this endeavor has to be built for the long term.
“There’s a lot of star power on this team. It’s a great team but there’s still got to be fundamentals in place where the league can succeed without the halo effect of whether it’s an Olympic gold medal or World Cup,” he said.
According to Paulson, the league will have 22 games with a season that may begin as early as April. While a team name has not yet been finalized, he did say that the organization was close to selecting one as well as already working on a team crest with some local help.
“I think we’ve pretty much internally decided on a name and we’re working with one of the Timbers Army members who’s a quality designer on a team mark and logo,” he revealed.
On a cold crisp Wednesday in November, it was a testament as to what things could be with an energetic crowd of over 10,000 watching their USA stars battle it out. Optimism and excitement remain high both about this team and its role within the new league. Though many of the small details are still being figured out, the big picture remains paramount.
“We’ve got to make sure that this is the right fit for the national team because first and foremost we’ve got to make sure that we’re at our best for World Cup,” said Wambach. “Hopefully this league can be the right league. Hopefully it will be the right talent. I know US Soccer is really excited about it so we’re going to back it as much as we possibly can and see how it goes.”