Uncertain future awaits U.S. women's soccer players back home
U.S. women's soccer players don't know where they'll play domestically in fall
The most desirable foreign leagues appear to be Germany, Sweden and France
Tobin Heath says they'd much rather stay home but will go abroad if needed
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:
GERMANY: The two big powerhouses in the Frauen Bundesliga are Turbine Potsdam and Frankfurt, one of which has won the title for the last 12 seasons. U.S. right back Ali Krieger plays for Frankurt, while defender Alex Singer and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher play for Turbine. Frankfurt has won three UEFA women's Champions League titles (2001-02, 2005-06, 2007-08), while Turbine has won two (2004-05, 2009-10).
SWEDEN: The Damallsvenskan has a long history and is currently the home of Brazil's Marta, the five-time world player of the year. (She's with Tyres÷, which also has Vero Boquete, Caroline Seger and Lisa Dahlkvist.) Umea won the UEFA women's Champions League in 2002-03 and 2003-04.
FRANCE: Two French clubs are getting a lot of buzz these days. Lyon has won the last two UEFA women's Champions League titles with a team of stars (Sweden's Lotta Schelin and France's Louisa NÚcib, Sonia Bompastor, Camille Abily, Eugenie Le Sommer and Elodie Thomis). Then there's Paris-Saint Germain, which has spent millions on its men's team and is starting to throw some money toward its women's team, too. PSG recently signed U.S. prospect Lindsey Horan, who became the first player to skip college (she had signed with North Carolina) to turn pro.
"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."
JAPAN: All but three members of the world champion's Olympic squad play in the Japanese domestic league. (The other three play in Germany.) "That would be pretty good soccer that I'd enjoy playing," says U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd of Japan, which has won a global reputation for a quality, pass-oriented playing style.
ENGLAND: The eight-team English Women's Super League is semipro (like all these leagues) and includes four clubs that have men's Premier League teams: Arsenal (with Kelly Smith, Steph Houghton and four other British Olympic team members), Everton, Chelsea and Liverpool. While the quality isn't as high as in Germany, Sweden or France, the English league does intrigue some of the top U.S. women's stars.
"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."
THE THREE FOREIGN LEAGUES THAT MOST INTEREST U.S. PLAYERS
Hope Solo: Germany, France, Sweden.
Abby Wambach: Germany, Sweden, France.
Alex Morgan: France, Sweden, Germany.
Heather O'Reilly: Sweden, Germany, Japan.
Megan Rapinoe: France, Germany, Japan.
Carli Lloyd: Sweden, Japan, Germany.
Sydney Leroux: France, Sweden, Germany.
Lauren Cheney: England, France, Sweden.
Lori Lindsey: Sweden, Germany, France.
Tobin Heath: France, Germany, Sweden.
Amy Rodriguez: France, Germany, Sweden.