The Northwest Division of the Women’s Premier Soccer League has set forth the infrastructure for the 2013 campaign, expanding from five clubs to eight with four teams each in Washington and Oregon. New to the division will be a controversial third Seattle-based club and two new teams to replace the departed Portland Rain.
The Rain, saved and supported by the MLS Timbers last year, were scrapped with the Timbers ownership launching the new pro National Women’s Soccer League team, Portland Thorns FC. The Thorns will not be the only new women’s teams in the market though with the WPSL adding the Beaverton-based duo of Westside Timbers and Tualatin Hills United SC (THUSC), extensions of two youth clubs in the area, to the Oregon contingent with returning members Eugene Metro FC and Oregon Rush.
OSA Soccer Group (Academy and Consulting) are behind the new AC Seattle side. Pezzano has lofty connections having worked with the Montreal Impact of Major League Soccer and ACF Fiorentina of the Italian Serie A.
The import of players from abroad may be the only silver lining for the stretched player pool, which will be greatly tested with five teams in the market as the Sounders Women will continue to play in the W-League and the Seattle Reign will make their NWSL debut.
The division will be split into two groups with teams in the same state playing one another home and away (6 games) and the other state’s teams once each (2 home, 2 away) for a total of 10 games. The top two teams in each state will play in a four-team playoff event hosted by the higher Washington State side in 2013 with Oregon State’s top seed playing host to the division championship in 2014.
Almost as though it were a top secret event true to the city’s motto, the WPSL – which has not updated its website since last fall - quietly held its annual general meeting in Las Vegas last weekend, planning and preparing with its member clubs for the upcoming 2013 season.
Though women’s soccer is celebrating the launch of another pro league, things are not quite so rosy for the WPSL, which saw an increase in team rumblings last summer when league management virtually neglected the massive amateur membership base in favor of its hastily-formed WPSL Elite league of eight professional teams created to fill the void of the folded WPS. Discontent returned in Las Vegas and was voiced in person over several other issues.
The situation in Seattle was representative of a problem that occurred league-wide this offseason, creating issues at the AGM with clubs voicing displeasure of having unneeded or unwanted teams added within their markets, some without consultation from the league.
According to a source who was present at the meeting, a member of one of the two previously existing Seattle sides, both of which are unhappy with the addition, broached why there was a lack of consultation with league commissioner Jerry Zanelli at the AGM.
When reached for comment today, however, Emerald City coach and manager Niki Taylor, who was appointed the Northwest commissioner over the weekend, gave a positive portrayal of the division’s expansion.
“We see it as a positive that our NW Division is growing and is now up to eight teams,” she said. “Having four teams in Oregon and four teams in Washington allows us to split into two divisions, play more local games, and hold a Conference Tournament to determine our representative to Regionals...an event that should make the summer more exciting for players and fans. The league added a third Seattle team because they saw their player pool niche as different from the current teams in the greater-Seattle market.”
Discontent at the WPSL AGM was not limited to Seattle as clubs also reportedly questioned league finances and the lack of league and team standards in addition to expansion procedures.
The concerns raised in Las Vegas led to a proposal memo distributed Tuesday to key figures (WPSL staff and regional commissioners) around the league by ACF Torino USA owner and CEO David Jones, who bought the previously named Maryland Capitals a year ago and affiliated with Italy’s AFC Torino. The five-page missive, obtained by INWsoccernews.com, broached the aforementioned topics and provided some suggestions to raise the quality of the league, stating “as owners and league officials we need to enforce immediate change and improved infrastructure for this league.
|AGM at Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino (WPSL Facebook)|
Though he commended Zanelli at the beginning of the message, Jones clearly goes on to question league operations, particularly in the management and disclosure of the league’s finances provided via league fees paid by the clubs.
“OUR money needs to be accounted for, period,” he says in the Proposal For League Improvements. “We have a right to know where the money is going, with all due respect, you cannot just give a summarized profit and loss statement and not have the ability to break it down.”
After discussing / questioning two undetailed budget items in particular, Jones went on to say “These are just a few of the headings that provided more questions than answers, potentially, with no reasonable straight answers to the questions we asked, this is unacceptable in any business format.”
Another source that was at the AGM confirmed the league said one of those budgetary items was “misnamed” and that the league said they had approximately $320 thousand dollars in revenue and $300 thousand in expenses.
That is a surprising expense figure considering the league only has a few part-time staffers, if that, and has hardly any major operational concerns outside of the final four event – which is bid on by the host team – and the AGM itself.
“We have a right to know where every single penny of our money goes and has gone, we have a right to ask questions and receive answers, straight answers to straight questions,” said Jones in his proposal.
Another major emphasis of the proposal was in regard to the league’s “short and long term vision,” pondering whether the WPSL was merely adding teams just to add them, stating that it was noted at the AGM that the league lost a dozen teams (one of which is the announced switch of the Bay Area Breeze to the W-League) and gained 15 new ones. He raised the concern of some areas becoming heavily saturated, making it difficult for clubs to sustain the WPSL team financially as well as competitively.
Jones discusses adherence to a zone of protection for existing clubs, something the league has traditionally not followed.
“We have a right to protection of a 25 mile radius of our potential marketing and sponsorship area, I realize in some areas that is not possible but ultimately we have to stop just adding teams with no due diligence done on the leagues part, with no long term vision and without accountability on everyone’s part,” he states.
It should be noted at this point that the WPSL and its clubs have long thrown around the term ‘franchise’ in referring to clubs. The WPSL, however, is not a recognized franchisor with federal or state governments, a status that comes with regulations set by the Federal Trade Commission (and applicable states) that give franchisees rights and legal protection from improper actions by the franchisor.
This is one of the ongoing issues that has been a thorn between WPSL (and its NPSL counterpart) and United Soccer Leagues, which has gone through the legal franchising process for all of its senior leagues, including the W-League, since 1996 and has contested the WPSL’s competitive business practices that have often violated franchising regulations and nearly resulted in litigation between the two parties.
Returning to the WPSL’s current internal issues, standards and guidelines were the final point on the Jones dispatch. The former W-League coach praised the WPSL’s rival in regards to the use and enforcement of minimum standards.
“Regardless of how anyone feels about other entities, There are some things that the [W-League] implement that we could learn from, while I disagree with some of their philosophies concerning the women’s game I do think that the implementation of certain standards are key for us to replicate and potentially implement to help improve each other.”
With the AGM as a fresh topic, Jones went on to use the event as an example, asking what happens to the teams that don’t attend what is meant to be a mandatory meeting. Reportedly, nearly a dozen teams of the expected 70-80 clubs set to play next season were not present in Las Vegas over the weekend.
Among Jones’ ideas of improving the event was moving it to coincide with the NSCAA convention, something the USL Super Y-League debuted two weeks ago in Indianapolis. According to Jones’ memo, the concept was motioned for and “potentially passed” by the league membership at the AGM in Las Vegas, signaling with the use of the word potentially that perhaps the vote was not the final say in the matter despite the WPSL’s longtime claim that the teams run the league, each holding a vote.
In his rationale for the switch, he implies that the league AGM would essentially be a one-day event held on the Sunday of the convention, addressing scheduling, alignment and other issues.
In contrast, the W-League’s annual meeting, a four-day event that also consists of educational meetings and seminars for club improvement in addition to league logistics, was held in mid-December, allowing the league to set the season format earlier and announce the W-League schedule, coincidentally, this past Monday.
The schedule for the WPSL Northwest Division is not known at this time, but is expected to be complete by March 1.
As for WPSL Elite, according to an anonymous source the league will play a second season in 2013, but will be likely incorporated into an existing WPSL division and play a schedule that will include matches with their ‘amateur division’ counterparts.
The temporary host of existing WPS clubs lost three teams, the Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars and Western NY Flash, to the NWSL and has yet to announce any additions having not updated the website since early September.