Those looking for hopeful news about women’s professional soccer in the US may have been heartened by the announcement on Thursday that Western New York Flash and Boston Breakers had officially committed to participate in the Women’s Premier Soccer League’s new Elite Division. As PSP wrote last Wednesday, WPSL president Jerry Zanelli had extended an offer to WPS teams to join the new league for the 2012 season so that players could maintain fitness and form while WPS worked on the business of re-launching the league in 2013.
While it appears that the Philadelphia Independence will not be participating in the Elite Division, Philadelphia Independence coach Paul Riley is considering fielding a team in the league. A report on Friday suggests that if he does join the league his team could contain four Philadelphia Independence players, including Amy Rodriguez.
Meanwhile, WPS is no closer to extraditing itself from expelled magicJack owner Dan Borislow. In filing’s made by Borislow’s legal representatives last Monday, it became unquestionably clear that Borislow is not interested in walking away from his legal battle with the league.
No Independence in Elite Division, but Indy players may be
On Thursday it was officially announced that Western New York Flash and Boston Breakers had joined the new eight-team WPSL Elite Division, along with two WPSL teams, FC Indiana and former WPS side Chicago Red Star, for the 2012 season. Jeff Kassouf reports that ASA Chesapeake Charge will also join the league, as well as “Two other New England teams,” which would bring the league table to seven teams.
Will another WPS team be number eight?
Thus far, Sky Blue FC has announced only that its 2012 plans include a ten-day tour of Japan in March and Atlanta Beat’s plans remain unknown. An announcement on the Independence website on Thursday made clear that the 2012 plans of the Philadelphia Independence extend only so far as running soccer clinics and camps.
But, Independence head coach Paul Riley is considering participating in the Elite Division with another team.
In addition to being the head coach of the Independence, Riley is director of football for the Long Island-based Fury, which already has two clubs, Long Island Fury—which he led to the WPSL championship on 2006 and 2009, and New York Fury—in the league. When asked by Big Apple soccer if he would field a team in the Elite Division in 2012, he said, “I’m not sure what to do.”
Noting that the creation of a 2012 Elite Division has happened very quickly, Riley explained, “I want to make sure the investors are there,” adding, “It’s a matter of time.”
Riley said that putting a team together would not be a problem, but that the players would likely be local. “We might not be able to bring in the California girls. We might only be able to bring in players from the tri-state area. The international players have gone home.”
“If we could bring in 14-18 players,” Riley said, “a couple of Sky Blue kids and a couple of our kids, we’ll have a pretty good team.”
According to the report, Riley indicated that three US internationals and former Independence players—Lauren Cheney, Amy Rodriguez and goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart—”said they could play with the NY Fury, even with their commitments with the U.S. Women’s National Team to prepare for the Olympics.” Among other WPS players, Riley said that former Independence midfielder Tina DiMartino was also interested in playing.
Whoever the eighth team may be, it is becoming increasingly clear that it will not be magicJack.
When WPSL president Jerry Zanelli first extended the idea of WPS teams joining the Elite Division, he said, “If the other five accept, we won’t take magicJack.”
After speaking to Zanelli for a later report, Jeff Kassouf wrote, “According to Zanelli, magicJack team owner Dan Borislow inquired with a contact within the league but never contact Zanelli. When the subject was brought up to team members, the Florida WPSL teams were against having magicJack in the WPSL. That combined with the presence of the Breakers and Flash in the Elite League means magicJack is not part of this equation.”
Borislow extends the legal battle
While magicJack may not be part of the Elite Division equation, it remains central solution of the future of WPS.
Motions filed last Monday make clear that Borislow wants the settlement that was widely assumed to be in place before the cancellation of the 2012 season to be enforced. As PSP wrote last week, following the cancellation of the season, Atlanta Beat owner Fitz Johnson and Philadelphia Independence owner David Halstead said that no settlement was in place. Borislow, obviously, disagrees.
“We want the deal enforced,” Borislow said upon filing Monday’s motion to enforce the settlement agreement.
As reported at the time, “the deal” centered on exhibition games between magicJack and WPS teams in 2012 and 2013.
While later reports suggest that WPS believed that the settlement would be dependent on approval from US Soccer to allow the non-league affiliated magicJack to play WPS teams, and that such approval would not be granted, a declaration in support of last Monday’s motion by Borislow’s lead attonrney, Louis Ederer, states that US Soccer approval was not needed. Nevertheless, a report PSP linked to last Wednesday suggested that the issue was one of violation of FIFA rather than US Soccer rules. For its part, US Soccer has been silent. FIFA, it should be noted, has historically taken a very dim view of soccer matters being decided in court.
Ederer’s declaration of support also seeks to make inadmissible a series of exhibits filed by WPS to show that the termination of Borislow’s ownership of the magicJack franchise was justified by a long history of his not living up to his obligations to the league. Among those exhibits are a number of now infamous emails. In his declaration, Ederer argues that this evidence is outside any procedural ruling the presiding judge might make about whether Borislow’s ownership was wrongfully terminated, which is the the central argument of Borislow’s case against the league. Ederer argues that WPS’ “strategy of attacking and disparaging Mr. Borislow personally, and trying to show that he is a ‘bad guy,’ was irrelevant to the issues before this court.”
While most of the reporting on this ongoing dispute has been based on interpretations of legal documents by reporters who are not legal experts—and PSP certainly makes no claims to legal expertise—it is becoming increasingly clear that WPS has repeatedly shot itself in the foot in its battles with Borislow, a shocking enough observation given that the league is not without its own legal representation and that the league CEO, Jennifer O’Sullivan, is herself an attorney. EPNW reporter Monica Gonzalez recently wrote, “The mistake in thinking WPS was above the law and could get away with breaking the rules needs to be accounted for,” adding, “There is simply no excuse for the way the league proceeded, and my faith in its management is gone.”
Regardles of how vile “Daddy” Borislow may be, as former magicJack player Ella Masar made abundantly clear in her recounting of her interactions with him, WPS’ legal fumblings are central to whatever ammunition Borislow has to keep his fight going. One legal writer who has offered his opinion on the ongoing dispute writes, “Apparently Dan Borislow, magicJack owner, is a real jerk and a terrible owner. He allegedly treats his players horribly and doesn’t pay his franchise bills. Why he wants to continue to own the team makes no sense to me…But, a contract is a contract. And somebody [at WPS] got bad advice or took good advice and swiftly ignored it.”
To the extent that the objective of Borislow’s current filing seems to be to ensure that the 2013 exhibition games occur, one cannot help but wonder if the only solution for WPS will be to fold completely and for a new professional league to rise in its place.