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Women’s professional soccer folds due to debt

On one of the sadder days in the history of women’s soccer, USF coach Logan Fleck said he could see the silver lining. The WUSA, the only women’s professional soccer league in the United States, ceased to exist on Monday — five days before the Women’s World Cup kicks off on U.S. soil.

“It was our opportunity and now it’s gone,” former USF player Tia Opliger said. Opliger tried out for San Jose prior to the 2003 season. “It says a lot about women’s sports. It happened to softball and it’s happened to soccer.”

WUSA Board of Governors chairman John Hendricks stated declining revenue and sponsorships forced the league to shut down operations a month after the Washington Freedom won the league’s third championship.

“Unfortunately, from a personal standpoint, I wish they could have finished their five-year plan, but they only made it three years,” Fleck said. “I’m an eternal optimist, so I think a professional league could succeed. Look at MLS. There’s two people keeping it from shutting down, so it’s precariously on the edge. The NHL is struggling. How much do you want to bet that the Devil Rays aren’t turning a profit?

“It solidified itself and plus, there’s a lot more interest in sports finance. It’s just going to take a few more people out there where it’s beyond love, (where) it’s a passion, to make it happen.

“Women have found a place in the professional sports landscape.”

The league kicked off in the wake of the U.S. victory at home in the 1999 World Cup. The United States was awarded this year’s World Cup after the SARS scare in China forced the venue to be moved.

According to the Associated Press, the league was $16 million in debt. The league had reduced roster sizes in each of its three years of existence. Fifty-six players from the eight-team WUSA will compete in the World Cup as well as Norway’s Kristine Edner, a USF alumna.

“The impact of the WUSA on women’s sports and millions of fans has been extraordinary,” U.S. team captain and San Diego Spirit midfielder Julie Foudy told the AP. “The positive impact our sport has had on youth players, both boys and girls, and their perception of women and athletics has been inspiring to experience firsthand.”

Fleck speculated that regional leagues could pop up across the country. Running the league as a non-profit organization could be another option.

“That’s the way of life,” Fleck said. “A new league springs up every six or seven years. Something will start brewing in the next two to three years off what I hear in the rumor mill.”