WPSL Elite: The Show Must Go On; At Least It Should

The Chicago Red Stars enjoyed a big crowd against Western New York on July 14, but had to forfeit a game just five days later when they couldn't make it to New England.

“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – My first year coaching high school soccer, we were matched up with a clearly inferior team that was, unfortunately for them, inferior to just about everyone they played that season. They would soon be moved to a league where they could be more competitive, but on this day, the rookie coach (a.k.a. me) spent most of the second half figuring out how to manage the final scoreline.

I emptied the bench, switched positions, but still the score made it to nine, a total that is embarrassing to look back on, honestly. A few minutes before the end, a girl who had never scored before found herself alone on goal, and almost sheepishly poked the ball in. There was no applause, just silence. 10-0 was the final.

I met with the Athletic Director the next day and tried to plead my case: it was an accident, I was unprepared, I didn’t expect it to get that bad. He – being one of the finest people I’ve worked for and a former coach at many levels – cut me off. “It doesn’t really matter how it happened, it happened, and it makes us look bad. When they look in the newspaper, people are going to see the score. That’s it. Don’t let it happen again, please.”

Which brings us to the Chicago Red Stars and last Thursday’s game with New England.

Most of you reading this know by now that Chicago was forced to forfeit that game when they couldn’t make it to Massachusetts in time due to delayed and cancelled flights.

The intent here is not to kill the Red Stars (New England’s Ciara McCormack took a few shots at them in her blog already), who agreed to play in WPSL Elite this season despite the geographic trouble of playing in an east coast league. I met Arnim Whisler (whose responses you see in McCormack’s blog) two weeks ago in Chicago, and I can say with complete confidence that women’s soccer in this country needs people like Whisler and the market of Chicago. The Red Stars have been great for WPSL Elite, and should be great in whatever the league morphs into next season.

And it’s easy to criticize when it’s not my money at stake. I have no idea how much it would have cost to get the Red Stars to New England on Thursday or Friday for the game.

However, the bottom line is that the Chicago-New England game was never played and went down as a forfeit, the third forfeit of the WPSL Elite campaign. And to people that don’t follow the league regularly – people who might want to give professional women’s soccer a chance in the future – that’s all they’re going to see.

They might also notice that wins in their final two games would have given Chicago 34 points and the regular season title over Boston by one.

Ironically, the only two teams not to be involved in a forfeit this season were two teams that sacrificed chances at titles in lower leagues when they were asked to help: Chesapeake and Indiana. Neither of those teams will play this weekend, but they deserve credit for showing up with a full squad for every match, no matter where and when, like Indiana did Thursday in New York with much less at stake than Chicago had in New England (they had always planned on busing in, so had no problems).

Putting aside the decision to try to fly in on the day of a game, there has to be a way to play the game at some point, either Friday night, which I’m sure the Mutiny would have been amenable to, playing back-to-back isn’t ideal, but better than cancelling. Or they could have come back Monday. That certainly would have put them at a huge disadvantage heading into the playoffs with little rest, but at least they could have said that they played all their games. The integrity that comes with saying that should be important for a league that might hold the hope of future professional soccer in this country.

Look, everyone understands that things happen. I lost out when the game was cancelled Thursday just as Ciara did, as I had rearranged my entire schedule around the big game on Thursday night, and therefore missed out on some extra money from clinics I do. But you can’t control the weather, and – as judged by my 4-hour delay getting to Chicago last week – you certainly can’t control the airlines.

But, at the end of the day, people who have been dealt seemingly repeated disturbing news about the future of women’s soccer in the United States over the last couple of years will only see that Chicago – one of the top, most stable teams in WPSL Elite – had to forfeit a game because they couldn’t get there.

Hopefully, it never happens again.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

THURSDAY

NEW YORK 2:0 INDIANA

The Fury had a little trouble putting Indiana away, but may be playing their best soccer in a while, partly due to the play of Allie Long, whose return has helped immensely. Again, kudos to Indiana for making it through to play this game, not only through the storms, but to Hofstra, whose route to get there seemed to baffle WPSL Elite teams this season.

NEW ENGLAND 3:0 CHICAGO

Yuk.

SATURDAY

NEW ENGLAND 1:0 INDIANA

As most Mutiny matches were this season, this was extremely enjoyable. It was the team I saw most this season, and they treated me very well. Kate Howarth scored the goal, her 10th, and she’ll definitely be someone worth keeping an eye on at Miami (Fla.) this fall. New England never truly got the team they wanted on the field, but they got by anyway with players who may not have thought they were headed for a huge role, but played one anyway. Meanwhile, this was by far the best I had seen Indiana play. Much more on them later in the week.

SUNDAY

WESTERN NEW YORK 0:1 BOSTON

Elli Reed, of all people, got the winning goal off a scramble in front. The Breakers had to survive 16 corner kicks from the Flash, so they may have been somewhat fortunate to win this match, but over the entire schedule, they were the best team in WPSL Elite, so fitting that they pulled it out here and captured the regular season title.

CHESAPEAKE 2:0 PHILADELPHIA

I don’t know what will become of the Charge, who probably aren’t among the favorites to be included in the new and improved WPSL Elite in 2013, but they were fun to watch and played some good soccer, fitting that they finished the season with a win and in sixth place. All the best, Charge.

NEW YORK 1:1 CHICAGO

Paul Riley joked all year that he needed a striker by July 22, and – sure enough – on July 22, there was Casey Nogueira, whose FC Dallas team was ousted controversially from the WPSL playoffs by forfeiting to Oklahoma earlier in the week. Alas, although New York is hot, it might have been better served by losing here, the third seed means they will play host WNY in the opener Wednesday (why not the 8 p.m. game to get a bigger gate? I don’t know).

 

One thought on “WPSL Elite: The Show Must Go On; At Least It Should

  1. Greg

    In regards to the Chicago-New England forfeit, the conversation should be about what the league can do to help teams put in that situation and not about railing on Chicago. I’ve seen a lot of commentary that’s been very careful at first to state that Chicago found themselves in an impossible situation (split squads because of the Open Cup, players not available to travel, weather, flight cancellations, etc) but then proceeded to drag them through the mud. This is the same Chicago organization that was an original member of the WPS, knew when it was time to step back instead of driving their team into financial oblivion like LA or STL, was willing to participate in the Elite league which, like WPS, meant heavy and expensive travel for them, and was willing to move heaven and earth to play a game that can be described at best as “of minimal importance” to them (given that the entire playoff tourney will be in WNY and all the opponents will be tough, the final standings were unimportant).

    Yes, the Elite league looked woefully amateur at times, but that’s what happens when you put together a league last minute comprised of former pro teams and amateur squads punching above their weight, all working on shoestring budgets. I think we can afford to be a little more lenient with Chicago and with the Elite league in general and focus on how we can improve the league infrastructure so that we don’t have these types of incidents moving forward.

    Reply

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