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Making sense of Seattle's role in new pro women's soccer league

News that Seattle would have a team in new pro women's soccer league, but that it wouldn't be the Sounders Women has caused a bit of confusion. We try to make sense of it.

Might Sydney Leroux and Alex Morgan be reunited in Seattle? It's a longshot but possible.
Might Sydney Leroux and Alex Morgan be reunited in Seattle? It's a longshot but possible.

There will be a Seattle franchise in the still unnamed pro women's soccer league. It will not be the Sounders Women. That much we know. Of course, that makes it seem far more simple and straightforward than it really is. Although most of the details are still unknown, and likely undecided, we will do our best to help you make sense of what is happening and what to expect.

My biggest source of information comes from the U.S. Soccer press conference. I also gleaned some impressions from Equalizer Soccer's roundtable. I also sprinkled in some independent reporting.

So, who's running this team if it's not the Sounders?

The owner of the new team is Seattle businessman Bill Predmore. You may remember that a few months ago, he was among a group of people who were trying to launch another pro women's soccer league. From everything I heard, the United States Soccer Federation didn't want to sanction that league and that eventually led us to this point (more on that later). Predmore seems to have plenty of money and all indications are that he's prepared to accept some losses for the first few years.

Predmore has been working with Amy Carnell for several months. She was the GM of the Sounders Women and will have some kind of front office role with this team. Beyond those two, details are basically non-existant. There's no sense of who the coach might be or who else might be involved.

And who's running the league?

After Predmore and his group's plan was apparently rejected, the USSF decided to get much more involved. I'm not privy to all the particulars of how it went down, but it sounds like they had a meeting of the minds with the Canada and Mexico soccer associations and devised a plan that would keep their players active without leaving them to play in semi-pro leagues or overseas.

Those three federations are all taking an active role in the funding of this league, with each federation committed to fund up to a certain number of players (more on that later). The USSF will basically be in charge of the administration, like running the front office, doing the scheduling, deciding how players will be allocated and so on.

It's a unique setup and has some obvious pluses and minuses. On the positive side, it makes the league immediately viable from a financial standpoint as the individual owners won't have to worry about paying most of the highest-paid players. One of the potential drawbacks is how this will affect the league competitively. If you think MLS is focused on parity and often sacrifices the good of the team for the good of the league, I'd imagine this will amplify those aspects immensely as decisions will often be made for the primary purpose of advancing USWNT interests.

Who else is in the league?

There were apparently 11 interested ownership groups from 10 cities. In addition to Seattle, there will be teams in Portland, Boston, New Jersey, Western New York, D.C., Chicago and Kansas City. Based on everything I've read, the rejected groups were from Los Angeles, Philadelphia and the Sounders Women. The idea was apparently to give each team a regional rival and help limit travel by making it easy to play two teams on one road trip, while giving the league a national footprint.

When will they start playing?

A hard date has not yet been set, but US Soccer President Sunil Gulati said the plan was to kick off in late March/early April. The schedule will consist of 22 games, with each team playing each other three times and an extra game being played against the regional rival. In Seattle's case, that will be Portland. The Seattle team said they planned to start selling tickets in mid-December.

How different is this from the other failed pro women's leagues?

I will freely admit that I don't know a whole lot about the WUSA and WPS, but everything I've read suggests one of the primary downfalls of those leagues was overspending. Whether it was on players, front office administration or venues, the leagues made admirable attempts to put on the airs of a major sports league. Problem was, revenues simply weren't there to support those efforts.

This league will be run much more like a minor league, with more similarities to the NASL and USL-Pro than to MLS. Many of the players will make part-time wages, some of the teams may play in high school football stadiums and the front offices will be bare bones. It might not be flashy, but it will hopefully be sustainable.

Where does that leave the Sounders Women?

They say they aren't going anywhere and will continue to play in the USL's W-League. At one point, it looked like the USL was going to be involved with the administration of this new league, but that ended up not coming to fruition. Once the USL was no longer formally involved, you have to imagine the Sounders Women became a very long shot.

Off the field, almost nothing will change from last year. The Sounders Women will retain their name and it appears they'll also continue to their Seattle Sounders FC branding and play at Starfire Sports Complex.

On the field, it's a different story. I don't expect any of the United States national team players to be back and the team will mostly be made up of college players on their summer break, as they were pre-2012. There's certainly a chance that some borderline professionals will be attracted by the Sounders connection, but for the most part this will be a team of amateurs. Some of the younger players could be back, too, as playing there won't ruin their college eligibility. They should still have some quality talent.

Will Sounders FC be involved with this new team?

Sounders GM and part owner Adrian Hanauer told me he hoped to have a good relationship with both teams. If that sounds vague, well, it is. Hanauer has been publicly supportive of women's soccer and has put some strength behind that with the work the team has done with the Sounders Women. But he's also resisted the urge to get the Sounders more involved in a direct way, like in an ownership sense.

As far as I know, Carnell is still an employee with Sounders FC, so there's some built in relationship there. I would imagine that it will get stronger as this team becomes more established.

The rumor is Nike will be a major sponsor of the new league, which severely limits any kind of branding the Sounders could do there. Given that, it seems at least plausible a three-way relationship could work in the longer term.

What happens to all the national team stars that were here last year?

That's still to be determined. Chances are, most of them will join the new league, but some of them could choose to go overseas and play professionally there. You'd imagine the players who do play in this new league will have some influence of where they play, but there's no way the number of stars the Sounders Women had last year will be collected on one team like that. Last year was probably a once-in-a-lifetime situation and it's highly unlikely a women's club team will ever be stacked like that again.

I'd imagine at least some of those national team stars will be in Seattle next year, though. The United States, Canada and Mexico soccer federations are each helping fund the league by paying players directly. There will be up to 24 players from the USWNT, as many as 16 from Canada and as many as 12 from Mexico. That means each of the eight teams in this league should have about seven national team players.

It would seem to at least be possible for the Seattle team to have, say, Alex Morgan (US), Hope Solo (US), Sydney Leroux (US) and Veronica Perez (Mexico). Now, that's a lot of star power on one team and it's possible the league would rather break up those players, but it doesn't seem totally impossible.

Where is this new team going to play?

In an interview with the Seattle Times, Predmore suggested the team would like to play at Stafire. If the Sounders Women are playing there and the Sounders are going to be playing U.S. Open Cup games there, it could start to get pretty crowded in the summer. Where else might they play?

I suppose Memorial Stadium at Seattle Center might be a possibility, but they'd probably have to make some capital improvements and there's probably not enough time for that. Beyond that? The University of Washington's Husky Soccer Stadium fits about 3,000 and would seem a very appropriate size. Seattle University's Championship Field holds more than 1,000 fans, although that's probably a bit too small even if it would be right in the heart of the city.

Any ideas about the team name or sponsor?

The hot rumor is that the team will be called Seattle Sirens FC. That name, along with Predmore's past business dealings, suggest a potential partnership with Starbucks. We already had a bit of a lengthy debate about the quality of that name, but it would fit in with the maritime nature of the existing Seattle teams.

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