Offseason changes are inevitable in sports but it appears as if the Washington Freedom are wasting little time.
After months of speculation, French midfielder/outside back Sonia Bompastor has reportedly rebuffed her 2011 option with the Washington Freedom and is set to return to former club Olympique Lyonnais. The move comes off the heels of French national teammate Camille Abily’s transfer to the same French Feminine 1 Division side.
In an article with French website La Nouvelle Republique, Bompastor reveals that the decision did not come easy. She had previously fallen out with then-head coach Farid Benstiti and administrative director Marino Faccioli. The conflict presumably arose when both Bompastor and Abily decided to take part in WPS’ inaugural 2009 season. Their decision did not sit well with the Lyon brass and they reportedly sued the players for €500,000 for “damages to the sport and image”.
Bompastor also stated that she was lured by offers from Paris St. Germain, for whom she was loaned to in the 2010 WPS offseason. Olympique Lyon won out, however, and Bompastor’s decision was influenced by the fact that new coach Patrice Lair was helming the club. She also stated that she would likely see out her final years as a professional with Lyon.
The prospect of playing alongside national team players in a World Cup year may also have been irresistible. It’s an issue that might become a theme this WPS offseason, as European players could very well be enticed to return home. Abily and Bompastor were amongst the first European players to join WPS when it launched and blazed the trail for others to follow. Are they going to set another trend?
There is also the temptation of UEFA Champions League glory. Lyon are the best European women’s club team outside of Germany. Lyon have won the Feminine 1 Division in four consecutive years. They have also reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Women’s Champions League in 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 before appearing in the 2009-2010 Final where they lost to Turbine Potsdam in penalties.
Club President Jean-Michel Aulas has not been shy in revealing the team’s ambitions of winning the Champions League. The club are arguably the biggest spenders in international women’s football. The squad has been bolstered by the likes of Camille Abily (fresh off a 2010 WPS Championship) and 21 year-old striker Eugenie Le Sommer from Stade Briochin, who was the French league’s top scorer last season.
Lyon are currently tied in first with Saint-Etienne in the Feminine 1 Division after three matches played. They will try to protect their 100% record when they travel to take on last season’s runners-up Jusivy this coming weekend.
From a personal standpoint, it’s very sad to see WPS lose a player of Sonia Bompastor’s standard. I still hold true to the notion that Sonia was the most technically gifted player in WPS. She made simplicity look sublime and the extraordinary look effortless. She was a major cog in the Washington Freedom and her masterful passing ability, tenacity, perseverance and overall class will be missed sorely.
One can not begrudge either Bompastor or Abily for wanting to make the move. I was privileged enough to witness the players’ personal friendship first hand and it comes as little surprise that they would like to attain European glory together as teammates, as compatriots and as friends.
WPS will struggle to find a suitable replacement for Sonia Bompastor. Perhaps because there isn’t one.
(Thanks to Charles for the initial tip)
Today the Freedom also announced the resignation of head coach Jim Gabarra. Gabarra began his career with the club back in August 2000. He led the team to the WUSA Founder’s Cup in 2003 and the W-League Championship in 2007.
Given his tenure and success with the Freedom organization (two playoff appearances and one title in WUSA, two playoff appearances in WPS), the resignation is certainly surprising. The Freedom had a calamitous dip in form this past summer and failed to find a win in 10 consecutive matches. Gabarra remained but long-time assistant Clyde Watson walked. Former Red Stars head coach Emma Hayes was appointed as “soccer consultant for the interim period”.
The team then bucked up (much to the inspiring play of Ashlyn Harris and Abby Wambach) and went on to collect 14 points out of a possible 21. The total was good enough to earn a return postseason appearance (the Freedom were the only team that appeared in the WPS in both 2009 and 2010). The Freedom’s championship dreams were vanquished in the First Round, however, by Amy Rodriguez’s goal in the final minute of extra time.
FC Gold Pride, the Philadelphia Independence and the Boston Breakers now stand as the only WPS three teams that have yet to make a change at the head coach position. They are also the three highest finishers in WPS this season. The Chicago Red Stars, Sky Blue FC, the Atlanta Beat and now the Washington Freedom have all parted with their respective head coaches in 2010.
Perhaps the team’s poor summer run had permanently soured the relationship between Gabarra and the Freedom organization. It seems as if Gabarra’s time had run its course with the team.
With the departures of both Sonia Bompastor and Jim Gabarra, the Washington Freedom are now in a period of transition. It will be interesting to see how one of the most storied clubs in women’s soccer (here in the U.S. at least) will cope in the face of change.