We’ve seen this movie before. The housekeeper finds the jewels that the Fratellis missed in the marble bag and the Goonies don’t have to move. Eddie Valiant figures out where Marvin Acme’s will is, and Toontown won’t be turned into a freeway. It’s a tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, Beauty and th— oh, wait, that one’s a different metaphor.
And this is where Women’s Professional Soccer sits now. Waiting for a marble bag full of One Eyed Willie’s treasure or that curmudgeonly Eddie Valiant to do a song and dance number and figure out that he had the will the whole time and – oh em gee! – it was just written in disappearing and reappearing ink! 
Players and fans have been coming out of the woodwork to beg and plead and hashtag and make petitions and write heartfelt things . If Twitter existed in 1985, Mikey, Data, Chunk and the rest of the Goonies could have just done a quick #savetheGoonDocks hashtag and not had to worry about that whole pirate ship business. It’s pretty unlikely that anyone has an actual marble bag full of actual treasure, so we’ll call that the Dan Borislow and the League Kiss and Make Up Option. Otherwise, sometime in the very near future WPS’s fate will be decided.
First off, the league (or its coaches, at least) seem determined to trudge on, with or without the USSF’s blessing. The difference between sanctioning and not is more about what names are on the backs of the jerseys than if there will be jerseys for those names to be on the backs of. Without sanctioning from U.S. Soccer there’s a chance that the 2012 season will not feature players from either the USWNT or other National Teams, as playing in an unsanctioned league would put those players on rocky ground with their respective national federations. A 2012 season without those players is certainly feasible and really wouldn’t look that different from the large chunk of the 2011 season that was played while those players trained for and participated in the World Cup.
Of course, the league would have to do some serious work behind the scenes to bring in new investors and new teams for 2013 and beyond. But even one season of unsanctioned play doesn’t come without risk. While a rogue league might be admirable for its nobility, idealism isn’t the thing that’s going to make money, and at the end of the day WPS is still a business – not a charity. Committed followers of the league know that the level of play in WPS is extremely high, even without those big names. And once people come to a game and see that, they might come back, regardless of whether Abby Wambach and Hope Solo are on the field or not.
But 2011’s post-World Cup attendance numbers reveal an undeniable fact  – those players are the ones who get the first-timers and casual fans through the gates. Without them, the whole thing could come to a screeching halt. No stars, no new interest, no new money, no more league. I’m sorry if I made you sad with that last part, but that’s where we’re at. I’d love to think that Scrooge McDuck appreciated the play of McCall Zerboni and Jen Buczkowski , but he’s not even coming to check out a game in this “world’s best league” that can’t even guarantee the world’s best players.
So, how did we get here? Well…
U.S. Soccer has become the target of much of the anger of this whole situation, and certainly the federation’s decision seems on its face kind of like they’re just being jerks about the whole thing because they can. And there’s certainly some merit to that anger – hell, it was my initial reaction too, although I was far less eloquent about it . But it isn’t that simple. According to US Soccer’s official policy (on pages 14-15 of the PDF titled “Policy Manual” that you can find here):
(d) The competitive divisions referred to in subsections (a) – (c) of this section shall consist of professional leagues. Each professional league shall be:
(1) certified by the Board of Directors (BOD) based on standards established under these policies;
(2) subject to the authority of the Federation;
(3) comprised of at least 8 professional teams certified by the Board of Directors; and
(4) subject to all rules and regulations of the Federation, autonomous in its operations.
Oops. In the history of WPS the league has had played just one-quarter of one season with the required eight teams, the first six games of the 2010 season – when St. Louis Athletica was still a thing. Technically, the league once made it to nine teams, but L.A. never made it much further than the 2010 draft. If only that rule said “comprised of 8 teams ever in your history.” Because that number is eleven and then it would all be okay. But the USSF doesn’t roll that way, and it’s apparently based on teams that actually exist now. U.S. Soccer has, in fact, been letting WPS slide on the whole eight teams thing for three years. Why the federation made this decision now, why five is too low and six is okay, who knows. If the USWNT had really crashed and burned at the World Cup, U.S. Soccer could have made the argument that the league was somehow a problem for the National Team. Except the U.S. made it to the final and despite the loss in PKs, it was probably the team’s best complete game of the tournament and overall, one of the greatest World Cup matches ever. So, there goes that.
It is understandable that U.S. Soccer would want total control over its players heading into another major tournament – in this case the 2012 Summer Olympics – but would the federation really sink the entire WPS ship on a premise that’s already been proven to not really be a problem? Or is it that U.S. Soccer is asking the question that all of us are, maybe not out loud but in the backs of our minds – is anyone going to take a five-team league seriously? And is it worth risking injury and fatigue for USWNT players for that? Or maybe it’s that all the crazy infighting and wars of words do nothing to help the game and can you really blame U.S. Soccer, and the USWNT – who are still riding the good feelings of the World Cup – for wanting to distance themselves from a whole lot of nonsense and legal battles? Of course, the argument can certainly be made that U.S. Soccer doesn’t actually lose anything – and maybe even gains something (a better system for scouting players, a larger pool to cull players from, a way to avoid the costs of residency, etc.) by sanctioning a five-team WPS, even if it’s as a Division Two league. And it would be easy to blame U.S. Soccer, to say the federation is just flexing its governing muscles and reminding WPS who really is boss, but take a step back: U.S. Soccer didn’t really create this whole mess. Or really create this mess at all. In the end they’re the parent who’s got to come in and ground the kids because they just can’t. stop. fighting.