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Women’s Professional Soccer

Has it really been over five years since the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) closed up shop? Time does fly. In any event, if you’re a fan of women’s soccer and have been waiting for another professional league to come along, your wait is over.

[T]he first Women’s Professional Soccer season [launched] Sunday against the backdrop of a troubling recession that could yet be the precursor to another Great Depression.

With infinitely better timing, the WPS’ predecessor, the Women’s United Soccer Association, lasted barely three seasons before closing. And basketball’s WNBA, the reference standard of the genre with its dozen years of history, has seemingly plateaued despite optimism about its future. The demise of the once-dynastic Comets last summer for lack of ownership sounded an ominous warning shot.

Here’s the WPS website. They didn’t take my advice about a regional approach, as you can see, but hey, what do I know? Somewhat amusingly, or perhaps ominously, the third Google result for “women’s professional soccer” is this dead WUSA page. Make of that what you will.

A crucial question remains to be answered, and quickly: Will viewers embrace the games on television, shown exclusively by Fox’s soccer channel? And, most important for the long term, will the young women who aspire to play in the WPS congregate around TVs themselves to marvel at the skills of the brilliant Brazilian Marta — just as adolescent boys do when Kobe and Lebron light up the flat screen?

Plenty of girls play soccer or basketball or both, many at an intensely competitive level, but far fewer are inclined to spectate. Therein lies a huge rub, no doubt a crucial reason why the female pros haven’t secured a niche for themselves as must-see TV, arguably a foundation for assuring their leagues of true viability. Boys aspiring to become athletes are almost always fans first — and remain so after they quit playing. Women? Far less of a given, to be sure.

“I struggle to get my players to watch soccer on TV, or even to attend (Dynamo) games at the same stadium where we play,” admits [University of Houston women’s soccer coach Susan] Bush. “I definitely encourage them to and want them to, but … as little girls, it’s just not something that we did.”

Kristine Lilly, who will play for her hometown Boston Breakers in WPS and, at 38, is the most tenured national team player — male or female — in soccer history, calls the observation Bush makes a “double-edged sword.

“In the past, young girls haven’t had many opportunities to watch women (compete in sports) on television,” Lilly said. “Now they have options, and I really think it’s going to change the culture. It’s very important for young girls to see that they can play at a professional level, too.”

I’d been wondering about that lately, and I’m glad to see the article address that question. For my part, I’ve been trying to get Olivia to watch sports with me, but I haven’t had much luck so far. She’s shown no interest in televised sports, and while she’ll attend live events with me, the games themselves don’t hold her interest for long. Of course, that’s largely a function of her age and attention span, at least for now. Ask me again in a few years and we’ll see if I’ve succeeded.

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