Timbers are 1st MLS club to join new women's pro league
There will be at least one MLS ownership group involved in the launch of the newest women's professional soccer league in the United States and there's a chance there may be more.
On a media conference call held on Wednesday, US Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati revealed that the new league would launch in early to mid-April of 2013 with eight clubs based in the following locations: Boston, New Jersey, Western New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, Kansas City, Seattle and Portland.
The Portland side will see the involvement of MLS Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson, whose men's top-flight club joined MLS in 2011.
"The Timbers are, and always will be, steadfastly committed to growing the sport of soccer in our region at all levels, and championing a new women’s league and operating a team here in Soccer City, USA, will be an important part of that growth," Paulson said in a club statement.
"What made Portland interesting," Gulati commented on the call, "is the Timbers have an extraordinary fan base, the city has been a huge supporter of the game and the investor group led by the Paulson family is as good as it can get. It's a terrific market with a great track record for the sport."
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There was no word of additional involvement of MLS owners in the other seven cities — the Seattle club will not be owned by MLS' Sounders FC, who have a team in the USL's W-League — but Gulati did indicate that there could be future involvement.
"How many MLS teams look in the future remains to be seen," Gulati said. "Since announcing the league, we've had a number of phone calls and inquiries and at least one or two of those have been from MLS."
In addition to the potential of MLS ownership involvement, Gulati cited the support of MLS Commissioner and US Soccer Federation board member Don Garber and also mentioned that there would be discussions with the league's marketing arm, Soccer United Marketing (SUM), about potential commercial representation.
In what is a novel set-up, the US Soccer Federation, the Canadian Association and the Mexican Federation will each be footing the bill for a specific group of their respective national team players who will see action in the league. US Soccer will fund up to 24 American players, the CSA up to 16 Canadian players and the Mexican federation a minimum of 12 Mexican players.
The players will be split up across each of the eight teams by taking into consideration player preferences as well as the use of a form of draft, according to Gulati.
But the participation of the federations to cover player salaries, which ensures that player costs incurred by owners are "a fraction of what it was" in previous leagues, is part of a "substantially different" operating budget and financial framework compared to what occurred in the past.
It starts with playing in smaller stadiums — the Chicago Fire's Toyota Park was ruled out as a venue — and not all players will be full-time in the offseason. There will be "guidelines" on team budgets and the league will take a more measured approach to international player recruitment and marketing.
Gulati confirmed that the US Soccer Federation will also be "absorb[ing] the costs of running the front office."
"We'll use like-kind services and more interns and those kind of things to keep our back-office costs down and still have all the requirements of fielding a professional standard operating model," said Boston Breakers owner Michael Stoller.
The yet-to-be-named league, which is expected to wrap up play in September or October, was capped at eight clubs in its inaugural season based on concerns of talent dilution.
"We need a sustainable model. Less hype and better performance," Gulati said. "True hype will come if we have performance."