Uncertain future awaits U.S. women's soccer players back home
NEWCASTLE, England -- When the U.S. women's soccer team meets New Zealand in the Olympic quarterfinals (Friday, 9:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN), tournament organizers will hand out team sheets to the media that include all the players' names and the clubs they play for.
But as of now, only seven of the 18 U.S. players have an actual club listed next to their names, and with the demise of the WPS domestic league none of those teams are in a top-flight league. There are four members of the Seattle Sounders women's team (Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Sydney Leroux), one from D.C. United's women's team (Becky Sauerbrunn) and two players from the WPSL Elite league: Tobin Heath (New York Fury) and Heather O'Reilly (Boston Breakers).
All of these are semipro teams, however, and the rest of the U.S. players have no club affiliation at all. Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd, Lauren Cheney and Christie Rampone? They're all unattached. And while the focus right now is on the Olympic tournament, it remains to be seen what happens with women's soccer after the final whistle in London on August 9. After all, there will be three years before the next major global tournament -- the 2015 Women's World Cup in Canada -- and it's far from certain that there will be a new top-flight women's league in the U.S. after the deaths of the WPS (in 2012) and the WUSA (in 2003).
So over the past week I put the question to 11 U.S. players: Aside from a U.S. league, which three countries' women's leagues most interest you? Here were the results:
Quick info on each league:
"It's a big step for women's sports," says U.S. midfielder Lauren Cheney about Horan's signing. "I hope she kills it. If she does well for them, she can maybe help our team."
"My opinion has changed quite a bit," says U.S. goalkeeper Solo. "Right now it's about growing the game. If it was all about playing and competition, you'd have to say the German league, the French league and the Swedish league. But if you ask me which countries most interest me, it's not necessarily about the play, it's about bringing the women's game to a whole different level globally. So I'd think about staying right here in England, where the game has such a rich history yet the women's game is lacking."
In a departure from the rest of the U.S. players I spoke to, Cheney listed the English league as her top non-U.S. potential destination. "I would feel the most comfortable here," Cheney said. "There's no language barrier. I'd like to play for Arsenal. I know Kelly [Smith] and Alex [Scott] pretty well. It would be fun."
Wambach was another player who listed England as a league that interested her after she'd picked Germany, Sweden and France as her top three.
One source in England told me that a club in the Premier League will soon announce the signing of a player in the U.S. women's national team pool who is not part of the Olympic squad. The source added that some U.S. Olympic players had been presented as possible signings, but the club's feeling was that they were priced too high.
Several U.S. players would prefer to stay in a domestic league stateside, of course, but uncertainty continues to reign. "You hear some rumors sometimes," says U.S. midfielder Tobin Heath. "It would be unfortunate if we weren't able to keep our best players in the U.S., because we need opportunities to play, and if there's no opportunities to play in the U.S. we'll have to go abroad. We'd love to keep growing the sport in the U.S., and the best way to do that is to have a league."