In the red: A history of dominant women's teams that failed off the field
One of the greatest teams in women’s soccer history had only a fleeting chance to prove worthy of that title. The LA Sol was the first true superclub of U.S. women’s soccer’s modern era (WPS and NWSL), landing crown jewel Marta and complementing her with Camille Abily, Shannon Boxx and Aya Miyama.
LA was a wrecking ball through about 90 percent of WPS’ inaugural season, but a three-game winless streak in the stretch run portended issues ahead. The Sol’s next match would be the WPS Championship, at home, after waiting to see the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds play a super-semifinal and the winner take on the No. 2 seed in the semifinal a few days later.
The format ostensibly heavily favored the regular-season champion, but the Sol was no match for destiny. No. 4 seed Sky Blue FC, led by player/coach Christie Rampone – who would afterward reveal that she was nearly three months pregnant and famously told her teammates to pack their bags for the week.
The team made an improbable run, defeating the Washington Freedom in Maryland on a Saturday, busing west to defeat Saint Louis Athletic on a Wednesday before flying to LA to beat the Sol in the final on a Sunday.
Fate would prove cruel to LA once again five months later when WPS CEO Tonya Antonucci announced the Sol would shut down, revealing that Anschutz Entertainment Group’s agreement to operate the team was “always” only planned for one year.
A dispersal draft followed, and even that carried complications. Saint Louis Athletica held the No. 1 pick but did not choose Marta, instead picking Boxx. Marta went third to FC Gold Pride, the only team willing to take on her guaranteed salary of approximately $500,000. Neither of those teams would make it to the end of the calendar year.
Saint Louis Athletica
Four months after the Sol went under, WPS had a much larger black eye.
A bird’s-eye view of Saint Louis Athletica presented an ideal setup for a professional women’s club: a moderately-sized, soccer-specific stadium in a soccer hotbed and a highly competitive team. The only problem? The owner didn’t actually have the money he said he did.
Jeff Cooper’s funds began to run dry at the start of 2010, when paychecks stopped getting delivered to players of both WPS’ Athletica and the NASL’s AC St. Louis. It turned out that Cooper actually had silent investors who hadn’t been brought to the attention of WPS. Cooper, at the time, blamed those investors, stating they “defaulted on a contract to fund Athletica through this season and beyond.”
WPS, then in its second year, decided it had no choice but to shut down the team. The only alternative, given the pressing nature of the situation, was for the other seven remaining ownership groups to prop up the team.
So WPS shuttered Athletica midseason, canceling its remaining matches and making all players free agents. Boxx was on the move again to FC Gold Pride, which would soon suffer a familiar cruel fate, while the Atlanta Beat picked up Hope Solo and Miyama.
AC St. Louis finished out the season in the newly-formed NASL. Cooper had made an aggressive push to get into MLS, but the league wasn’t impressed with the bid’s financial plans or investors. Go figure.