The World's Game In The Heart of the Sun Belt

Plenty of WPS All-Star Game activities, links

The Women’s Professional Soccer league All-Star Game is Wednesday at the Kennesaw State soccer complex, and some of the country’s top women’s soccer bloggers are in town chronicling all the activities leading up to and including the match.

Jeff Kassouf of the Equalizer blog is doing an All-Star Journal and also wrote about Monday’s pick ’em event that determined the starting lineups. That’s a novel way to do it!

Jenna Pel of the All White Kit blog is trying to make her way from Houston to Atlanta, but summer airline snafus have her delayed.

And the official WPS site has much more on the game, which was almost immediately awarded to the home venue for the Atlanta Beat as a showcase for the first women’s soccer specific stadium in the country.

June 29, 2010   4 Comments

A new start for the new-look Atlanta Beat

After a busy week of scooping up players from the defunct St. Louis Athletica, the Atlanta Beat takes to the field Sunday looking for its first win in Women’s Professional Soccer against the Chicago Red Stars.

Kickoff is 6 p.m. Sunday ET at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill., and the game will be shown live on Fox Soccer Channel.

Atlanta (0-5-1, 1 point) has added four Athletica players,  including goalkeeper Hope Solo and forward Eniola Aluko, whose four goals are tops in the WPS thus far.

Chicago has undergone a major change early in the season as well, with Omid Namazi making his head coaching debut after Emma Hayes was fired. The Red Stars are 2-4-1 with 7 points.

Atlanta soccer fans will have to wait until June 19 to see the Beat at the Kennesaw State soccer complex when Chicago visits.

June 6, 2010   No Comments

How much will talent upgrade help the Beat?

I supposed I was rather modest in my assertion yesterday speculating that the Atlanta Beat would be vastly improved after it signed three former St. Louis Athletica players, including U.S. national team goalkeeper Hope Solo.

Jenna Pel, purveyor of the All White Kit women’s soccer blog, posts today that the demise of Athletica may just have “saved the Beat:”

“Suddenly this is a different team with a different pathos. It’s not everyday you have two of the world’s most skilled athletes at their respective positions suddenly donning your team’s shirt. O’Sullivan has legitimate top-class talent at his disposal now. Fitting for a top-class stadium.”

The Beat has now signed a fourth former St. Louis player, midfielder Lori Chalupny, who was Athletica’s captain.

FanHouse soccer writer Brian Straus, who covered the original Washington Freedom and the Women’s United Soccer Association (as did I with the original Beat) is fairly pessimistic that there’s a viable, long-term market for women’s soccer as a spectator sport in America:

“But it’s hard to take the WPS seriously at this point, and even harder to imagine that anyone else will step forward and view women’s soccer in the U.S. as a good investment.

“Meanwhile, more than 10,000 fans showed up outside Madrid last week to watch teams from Lyon and Potsdam contest the final of the UEFA Women’s Champions League. Go figure.”

June 2, 2010   3 Comments

Atlanta Beat signs U.S goalkeeper Hope Solo

In a series of moves that should vastly improve the expansion Atlanta Beat, the Women’s Professional Soccer league announced Tuesday it has it has signed three players from the now-defunct St. Louis Athletica, including U.S. national team goalkeeper Hope Solo.

Solo and other Athletica players were allowed to sign as free agents starting Tuesday after the St. Louis franchise folded for financial reasons last Friday.

Atlanta also has picked up from St. Louis American defender Tina Ellertson and English national team forward Eniola Aluko, who has scored four goals this season to lead WPS. The Beat, which tied Tampa Bay Hellenic of the W-League Saturday in a friendly that replaced a regularly-scheduled game against Athletica, is still looking for its first win in the WPS and plays at Chicago on Sunday.

In another move, Atlanta has placed midfielder Tobin Heath, its top draft pick, on injured reserve for the rest of the season.

Solo, 29, is regarded as one of the top keepers in the world. She was named the WPS keeper of the year in the league’s inaugural season in 2009, and was an Olympic gold medalist in Beijing in 2008.

She’s also been a controversial figure, openly critical of then-U.S. coach Greg Ryan’s removal of her from the semifinals of the 2007 Women’s World Cup, in favor of former Atlanta Beat keeper Briana Scurry.

The move backfired, Germany won the championship and Ryan was eventually replaced by current U.S. coach Pia Sundhage, who has had Solo as her No. 1 keeper most of her tenure.

Solo’s also one of the biggest personality players in WPS, with The Atlantic dubbing her “The Bad Girl of Women’s Soccer.”

June 1, 2010   2 Comments

Atlanta Beat to play W-League’s Tampa Bay

The Atlanta Beat announced Thursday night that it will play this Saturday against the Tampa Bay Hellenic of the W-League in a friendly match following the folding of St. Louis Athletica.

The game will be played at 7 p.m. at the Kennesaw State soccer complex, the same time and venue as the regularly-scheduled Women’s Professional Soccer League game was to have taken place.

Beat fans who held tickets for the St. Louis game can use them for admission, and they will get a discount on a future home game against a WPS opponent.

In a public statement, Beat general manager Shawn McGee said a revamped league schedule is expected to be announced next Tuesday, June 1. And this:

“Women’s soccer deserves a place within the national pro sports landscape, and you have our word that we are working hard every day to ensure that your Atlanta Beat and Women’s Professional Soccer are a success.”

May 27, 2010   No Comments

St. Louis Athletica folds, WPS back to 7 teams

The ownership of St. Louis Athletica, which was scheduled to play the Atlanta Beat on Saturday, has decided to fold the team in wake of serious financial troubles but will keep alive its men’s team in the North American Soccer League.

The demise of Athletica means that the Women’s Professional Soccer League is back down to seven teams. In March, the Los Angeles Sol abruptly folded, just as the Beat and Philadelphia Independence were preparing their debuts as expansion teams.

WPS commissioner Tonya Antonucci said the league and the U.S. Soccer Federation pursued options to keep Athletica going through the end of the season, “but the operational hurdles and finances just didn’t work out.”

The Beat will be playing on Saturday at home against the W-League’s Tampa Bay Hellenic. Start time is 7 p.m. at the Kennesaw State soccer stadium, just as it had been scheduled for St. Louis. Beat general manager Shawn McGee explains ticket policies and the schedule from here.

The Beat was to have played at St. Louis on June 12. The next WPS home game for Atlanta is June 19 against the Chicago Red Stars.

Richard Farley, a soccer blogger and supporter of the women’s game, is irate that the women’s team in St. Louis was sacrificed so the men could stay in existence:

“Athletica should have been first. They were the first to play. They are performing better, at a higher level, and for less money. Financially, they are easier to save. Athletica players and fans should have been at the top of the pecking order.”

Kenn Tomasch, a blogger with previous involvement in the always-unsteady world of North American minor league soccer, thinks it’s more about economics than sexism, especially given the stormy split between the USL and the NASL that is far from being resolved:

“All you need to do is look at history and see how many people have, over time, invested in men’s pro outdoor soccer versus the number who have, over time, invested in women’s pro outdoor soccer. . . .

“That’s unfortunate for fans of Athletica – and the women’s game – but it’s economic reality.”

I admire Richard’s passion and understand his anger, but I tend to agree with the latter.

The erstwhile American soccer blogger Fake Sigi says Kenn and I are wrong. I’ve never suggested sexism doesn’t exist; I’m a woman in the sports realm after all. There are plenty of occasions I could have griped about sexist treatment, but discerning truly discriminatory action from what is not requires more than employing the white heat of reflexive anger.

Women’s sports will never grow — and grow up — as long as its denizens instantly whip out the red card of sexism when something doesn’t go their way.

The murky machinations of fraudulent investors and overpromising owners angling for something bigger, then throwing teams under the bus when it turns out they didn’t have the money, is not unique to women’s sports, nor to women’s soccer.

We know all about that sort of thing here in the Atlanta soccer community.

May 27, 2010   6 Comments

Whom will the Atlanta Beat play next?

This is a “bye” week in Women’s Professional Soccer, but the Atlanta Beat and the rest of the league are anxiously awaiting news out of St. Louis that could have a dramatic effect on everyone concerned in the two-year-old league.

That’s because the St. Louis Athletica, scheduled to play the Beat on May 29 at the KSU Soccer Stadium, is in dire financial straits, along with AC St. Louis, which plays in the newly created North American Soccer League.

Both teams share the same owners, two London-based investors who purchased the clubs last winter. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this morning, Athletica lost an estimated $2 million in 2009, the inaugural season of the WPS, which launched in the heat of the recession.

There’s been no confirmation of a report posted Thursday night on the Major League Soccer Talk blog that the St. Louis teams are on the brink of folding. Nor is there a response to a post at Inside Minnesota Soccer that neither St. Louis team has enough cash to finish the season.

The WPS is operating with eight teams this season, including the expansion Beat and Philadelphia Independence. The Los Angeles Sol, which won the 2009 regular season title and featured Brazil’s Marta, regarded as the best female player in the world, abruptly folded before the season.

Athletica features four prominent U.S. national team members in goalkeeper Hope Solo, midfielders Shannon Boxx and Lori Chalupny and forward Lindsay Tarpley. Solo and Boxx are on the American roster for Saturday’s friendly in Cleveland against Germany (6 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

Update: Things are looking a little better for AC St. Louis, but no word yet on the fate of Athletica.

May 21, 2010   No Comments

A big weekend for women’s soccer in Atlanta

The Atlanta Beat is still looking for its first win in Women’s Professional Soccer, and getting it against the Washington Freedom (6 p.m., KSU Soccer Stadium, Fox Soccer Channel) is no small task.

Beat goalkeeper Brett Maron, profiled here by former USA Today soccer writer Beau Dure, appreciates the opportunity to compete at the WPS level after playing in the Icelandic ranks, where she met Beat coach Gareth O’Sullivan.

Maron also appreciates the environment in Atlanta that makes it comfortable for her to be openly gay.

The Atlanta Silverbacks women begin their W-League season at 7:30 tonight at RE/MAX Greater Atlanta Stadium.

Creative Loafing previews a team that reached the semifinals in 2009 and is aiming for more.

On the men’s side, the Atlanta Blackhawks of the PDSL play host to Nashville at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at Alpharetta High School in their home opener.

May 15, 2010   No Comments

A long view of American soccer

Longtime American soccer executive Peter Wilt (formerly Chicago Fire and Chicago Red Stars and now with the indoor Milwaukee Wave) projects the near-term landscape of the sport in the United States, and what it may look like in 2020.

My favorite (albeit tongue-in-cheek) scenario Wilt saves for last:

“American newspapers will all have soccer beat reporters writing regular features, columns and analysis….ok, just wanted to see if you were still paying attention.  This prediction of course is a joke, because we all know that there will be no daily newspapers in ten years.”

Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.

The bottom line is this: The sport’s in far better shape than the moaners claim. Wilt’s key insight — and one that should become obvious to anyone watching ESPN’s ubiquitous World Cup coverage this summer — is that:

“Media and society are mainstreaming soccer at unparalleled rates. Soccer bashing media members have been replaced with soccer knowledgeable journalists. American television and the internet have provided unprecedented forums for soccer coverage and discussion.”

This is probably the most dramatic development in American soccer in the 15 years since I first began covering the sport, and this will continue to proliferate even more rapidly in the coming years.

We’ve gone from soccer still being regarded in the mainstream as an exotic, “foreign” endeavor to one that’s getting nearly daily highlight play on “SportsCenter,” just to name one example.

(Although I don’t get why no American accents are allowed on ESPN’s World Cup announcing crews. To be sure, the Worldwide Leader is trying to impress others around the globe with its presence in South Africa, but this is a significant snub.)

As Wilt says, “the world is getting smaller.” For the growing, once-isolated world of American soccer, this is a very good thing.

May 5, 2010   1 Comment

Beat announces ticket plan, but not schedule

The Women’s Professional Soccer league rolled out its slate of home openers for the 2010 season earlier this week, with a couple of glaring exceptions.

One of them, of course, is the Atlanta Beat, which just recently announced plans to play in a yet-to-be-built facility near the Kennesaw State University campus. No timeline was put on completion, but according to The Equalizer, the Atlanta home opener will take place on an unspecified date in mid-May.

The Beat will play its inaugural game on April 10 in Philadelphia, the other expansion team coming online this spring. Here’s a diagram of the stadium seating chart, and other ticket information. The prices shown are for the entire home schedule.

Team and league officials have not indicated when they will announce more information on the Beat home opener, except that it will be after the first of the year.

• In another item of interest to women’s soccer fans, former U.S. great Michelle Akers is having to sell off some of her soccer memorabilia to repair a horse farm she operates in Cobb County. The property was waterlogged in recent flooding in the Atlanta area, and the WPS and her former national team coach, Tony DiCicco, are asking fans to lend her a helping hand.

The estimated costs are $50,000, and Akers did not have flood insurance, like many victims of the heavy rains. Here’s more on Akers’ farm, which is aimed at horse rescue.

December 18, 2009   No Comments