U.S. women look ahead to new pro soccer league

Sun Feb 22, 2009 8:13pm EST
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By Steve Keating

DETROIT (Reuters) - At the end of a long season, the U.S. women's soccer team stood at center field, hugged, shared a few tears then looked forward after a golden year.

A 1-0 victory over China in a friendly on a biting December night in a cavernous stadium in downtown Detroit, a city that has come to represent Ground Zero for the U.S. economic meltdown, would hardly seem the place for happy endings.

In a time of such financial turmoil it would be easier to think back on a giddy season of success highlighted by an Olympic gold medal in Beijing rather than to look ahead to an uncertain future.

But for members of the U.S. soccer team, who would likely have suffered a low media profile until the 2011 World Cup and 2012 Olympics, this year is now bright with possibilities, most of them centered on the return to the country of women's professional soccer.

Next month, the seven-team Women's Professional Soccer (WPS) league will enter a turbulent sport market place, replacing WUSA (the Women's United Soccer Association) which disappeared in 2003 after just three seasons.

The re-launch comes at a perilous time when events, teams and entire leagues are disappearing from the U.S. sporting landscape.

Victims include the Arena Football League, an indoor soccer competition which had run for two decades. It announced in December it would not operate in 2009 because of the harsh economic environment.

WARNING SIGNS   Continued...

<p>U.S. women's soccer players Briana Scurry (L), Mia Hamm (C) and Brandi Chastain celebrate after beating Brazil in the gold medal match at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games in this August 26, 2004 file photo. REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell/Files</p>