(WKBW release) The WPS may be on hiatus, but the defending WPS Champion WNY Flash will indeed take the field this season, playing in the new Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) semi-pro elite women’s division.
According to a news release:
The new division will feature between eight and ten teams, including the Boston Breakers, and a number of current WPSL teams, including the Chicago Red Stars and FC Indiana. More teams will be announced in the coming weeks.
“The WPSL recognizes the importance of a professional women’s soccer league in America,” WPSL Commissioner Jerry Zanelli said in the news release. “And that it is critical to provide a showcase for these top women players, and to inspire young athletes. We have put together a plan that will allow WPS teams individually to join the WPSL in the Elite League. Officially, they will not be professional teams, but would allow our top professional players to play in a highly competitive league. The WPSL has many pro-level players and we have been exploring the idea of offering a pro-am division. The timing is right for us to step in and help women’s soccer in the USA. No matter what eventually happens with the WPS, forcing these players to sit out a year would be a mistake.”
The league will be based in the East Coast and Midwest. The move will allow professional female soccer players from the WPS teams to remain in top form as the WPS moves toward resuming play in 2013.
The Flash has already begun training with a pool of players in anticipation of the upcoming season including several players from the WPS Championship squad. Player signings will be announced in the next few weeks.
“We were all very devastated to learn of the suspension of the 2012 WPS season, so this is a great opportunity for our franchise to continue our success on and off the field and continue to connect with our community and fans," Head Coach Aaran Lines says of joining the WPSL Elite Division. "The Sahlen family and the Flash remain committed to the womens game and we are happy to have a home for some familiar faces as well as some fresh faces for the 2012 season."
“Our main purpose was to find ways to continue to have the highest possible level of soccer for women in the United States,” Zanelli continued, “and to help prepare for the return of professional women’s soccer in some form in 2013. We also wanted to make it financially viable for present WPSL teams to join the Elite League and raise their level of play.”
Zanelli clarified that this was not a case of the WPS joining the WPSL; rather it will be these individual teams joining with WPSL teams to form a competitive league for 2012. The new Elite League would have no restrictions on the types of players each team could roster; a team could be all professional players or could have a mix of professional and amateur players. Currently two WPSL teams, the Orange County Waves and Bay Area Breeze, include both professional and amateur players.
The WPSL is organized with regional divisions, with regional championships leading to a final four playoff for the league championships. In 2011 Orange County Waves and Chicago Red Stars competed in the WPSL Championship, with Waves winning 2-1. The new Elite League will determine it’s champion and the championship weekend at a later date.
“We have said all along that we will do anything to help improve women’s soccer in U.S.” said Zanelli. “This is a step in keeping that process going.”
The Flash are committed to playing their home matches in Rochester, NY at Sahlen's Stadium. The 2012 Elite League season is scheduled to begin in mid to late April and run through August.