If Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) sides Boston Breakers and Chicago Red Stars have their way, Arsenal America had better get ready for a new wave of members.
This weekend, both Boston and Chicago hit the road to make their WPS debuts, facing the – it has to be said – curiously-named FC Gold Pride (Santa Clara, California) and Saint Louis Athletica (Saint Louis, Missouri), respectively. It will be a huge weekend for all parties involved, but with EPL Talk being by definition an Anglo-centric publication, we’d be amiss if we didn’t zero in on some of England’s finest that have come across the Atlantic Ocean to try and make professional soccer in the United States a success its second time around.
For me, I am going to find it especially interesting to track the progress of Boston’s Kelly Smith and Alex Scott as well as Chicago’s Karen Carney, three England and Arsenal Ladies alumnae who have left the Gunners’ seemingly bulletproof women’s team for the financially greener pastures of the United States and WPS.
Of the three, the spotlight will undoubtedly shine brightest on Smith, who joins the Breakers with prior experience playing in America (first in college at Seton Hall in New Jersey and once again as a professional in the now-defunct Women’s United Soccer Association – I’ll get to that in a bit) and was referred to in the Daily Mail this week as the Zinedine Zidane of women’s football. Arsenal fans from N5 to 90210 should be keeping an eye on the entire trio, though, as even though they’ve left North London, their success in the new American league could result in Arsenal’s reputation stateside growing even more than it already has.
As we neared the end of the long hiatus of professional women’s football in the States following the disbandment of the WUSA in 2003 and it became evident that WPS brass had learned from the mistakes of the WUSA’s business model, it also became increasingly likely that the world’s biggest names in the game would soon be on their way. You may notice that I neglected to put ‘women’s’ before ‘game’ there, but with the colossal failure that was Beckham-mania, I suggest that all bets are off as to whether the decade has already seen its greatest British footballer plying their sporting trade in America.
Sure, the WPS probably won’t keep up the kind of attendance numbers that 14,832 fans provided for the league’s inaugural game between Los Angeles Sol and Washington Freedom in California last Sunday. However, if we get to the second Sunday of August and Boston and Chicago stand atop the final regular season standings in WPS’ single table – another thing I like about the WPS, considering MLS’ hesitation to switch away from its format of Eastern and Western Conferences – chances are good that the ex-Arsenal Ladies stars will have played a large part in their new clubs’ success. If that happens, their former employer would be foolish not to try and capitalize on that.
Arsenal Football Club already enjoys an impressive following in North America, and has made even deeper inroads with their business partnership with MLS’ Colorado Rapids. Why not do the same with WPS? The loss of Smith, Scott and Carney to the new American league may have already hurt Arsenal Ladies in the short-term – as indicated by Sunday’s 3-0 home loss to Everton, snapping the Gunners’ staggering 108-league game unbeaten streak – but if stateside success helps to further boost the club’s image abroad, surely that’s the best thing for everyone.