Nearly two years after the most successful sports event for women in U.S. history, a professional soccer league of their own is here. Based on its talent base, it has a terrific chance to succeed.
"Hey, we've got all the best players in the world," says Julie Foudy, co-captain of the U.S. squad that won the 1999 World Cup and one of the leaders in getting the Women's United Soccer Association off the ground.
Unlike the WNBA, which has succeeded on the coattails of the NBA, there is no men's league backing the WUSA.
"We want to do this on our own," Foudy said. "With that is great risk but also great opportunities. Hopefully, when we pull this off, it will give other sports and other investors the courage to make this step and keep going."
Unquestionably, the NFL, NBA, NHL and major league baseball have the world's best players. Just as certain: Nearly every premier soccer league outside the United States has the superior athletes.
While the men's Major League Soccer has been increasing its talent base for a half-decade — witness the recent success of the national team, led by a corps of MLS-based players — it still is trying to measure up to leagues abroad. The WUSA, which begins its inaugural season Saturday in Washington, has no such challenge.
From Foudy, Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain and the other heroines of the U.S. team that won the 1996 Olympics and '99 World Cup to the stars of China, Norway, Brazil and Germany, the WUSA stands above. In the recent history of U.S. pro sports, no league in its debut season could make such a boast.
"What is amazing is you grow up as a kid and all we watched was men's leagues," Foudy says, "and we would say, 'That would be so cool to be a professional,' but it was never realistic for women in team sports. There was nothing.
"And that is now the neatest thing. Now it actually is happening, with the very best players from all the big soccer countries. It is something the national team in the past 10 years said needs to happen. It's a necessity, and it's here."
Along with the on-field talent, the league has a significant financial commitment from some powerful investors, beginning with John S. Hendricks, chairman and CEO of Discovery Communications.
Hendricks, who has backed development of the WUSA since just after the 1999 World Cup, is joined by Amos B. Hostetter Jr., former chairman and CEO of Continental Cablevision, who has a stake in two clubs; Cox Enterprises and Cox Communications; and Time Warner Cable.
The league already has agreements with TNT and CNN/SI to televise 22 regular-season games. Four of the eight teams make the playoffs, with the semifinals and championship game (Aug. 25) to be shown on TNT.