For the third time in 12 years, a women’s professional outdoor soccer league unveiled plans to start anew in the United States.
By SAM McDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
This time, Kansas City will be part of the mix.
U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati announced during a teleconference Wednesday a yet-to-be-named league will consist of eight teams, including FC Kansas City, whose rosters will feature players from the U.S., Canadian and Mexican senior national teams. The league will begin in March or April and conclude in September or October.
The Missouri Comets ownership group — led by Chris Likens and his two sons, Greg Likens and Brad Likens, along with Brian Budzinski — will be the owner of FC Kansas City, nicknamed the Blues.
"The soccer support in Kansas City ... has become overwhelming," Budzinski said. "There’s a need from the city for more soccer. Having the national teams involved was what really piqued our interest. There’s an appetite (in Kansas City) for that level of play."
The remaining seven teams will be in Chicago, Boston, Portland, Seattle, Washington D.C., New Jersey and western New York. Three others applied, Gulati said.
U.S. Soccer will fund up to 24 national-team players’ participation in the league; the Canadian Soccer Association will fund as many as 16; and the Federation of Mexican Football will commit 12 to 16 players. The players will be split evenly among the eight teams.
Budzinski said FC Kansas City will feature three U.S. team members, two from the Canadian national team and either one or two from the Mexican national squad.
Players have not yet been assigned to teams. Budzinski says he expects that process to be finalized in the next two to four weeks.
The remaining 18-to-20 player roster will be filled with free agents and a college draft that will take place in January.
FC Kansas City has yet to decide on its home. Budzinski said the ownership group is still negotiating bids with four venues, one of those being Livestrong Sporting Park, home of Sporting Kansas City.
"We haven’t determined yet what fits best for us — whether it be a tighter venue or a more expansive venue that allows for a larger fan base," Budzinski said.
Gulati said the league’s economic model is "more sustainable" than the league’s two predecessors, Women’s Professional Soccer and the Women’s United Soccer Association, both of which folded in less than four years.
The league sites, he said, were chosen largely based on support for the U.S. national team qualifiers, support for local MLS teams and owner interest. Kansas City provided all three.
The U.S. team has enjoyed a strong following in its five appearances in Kansas City, including a 1999 exhibition game against Finland that drew 36,405 fans to Arrowhead Stadium.
The team’s last appearance was on Sept. 17, 2011 when the U.S. tied Canada 1-1 at Livestrong Sporting Park.
Gulati said U.S. Soccer’s involvement derives from the opportunity for player development.
"Across the board, and it’s certainly the case on the men’s side, the best way to develop players long-term is in a league format where they’re challenged every day," Gulati said.
The league, which will have its front office operations run by U.S. Soccer, has had preliminary discussions with a TV partner.
The announcement comes less than a year after WPS folded in January after only three seasons. Prior to the WPS, the WUSA was founded in 2000 and folded in 2003.