Plans for women's league include Bethesda team Eight entries, April start eyed for first pro circuit

September 12, 1997|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

The United States' first professional women's soccer league plans to begin play next April with eight teams, including one expected to be based in Bethesda.

A Washington-area team will compete at Walt Whitman High School if contract negotiations are finalized, officials of the National Soccer Alliance, as the league is named, announced yesterday in New York.

The other seven will play on college, community or high school fields in Boston, in New York City's New Jersey suburbs, Raleigh, N.C., Dallas, Los Angeles, San Jose, Calif., and Seattle. Twenty hotbeds of women's and girls soccer were in the running.

A 20-game season followed by single-elimination playoffs will run from April 17 to June 21, with the national title to be decided over the July 4 weekend. Games will be played on Fridays and Sundays.

At least 18 U.S. national team players and one on Canada's team have committed to the league and will be allocated to clubs, organizers said. Three have Baltimore-area ties: Navy women's coach Carin Gabarra, UMBC women's coach Amanda Powell and Thori Staples, a Joppatowne High and North Carolina State graduate.

Additional players will be chosen after national-level tryouts, including foreign players, raising each roster to 12. Each team will add local players for a total of 16.

The NSA has had "an incredible influx of calls from foreign players," said Anson Dorrance, the noted North Carolina coach and force behind forming the league. He said four will probably be on each club.

Dorrance said players, to be paid between $16,000 and $30,000, will be post-collegiate athletes, assuring "an amazingly high caliber of play." A few already have product endorsement deals.

Players with national-team experience but who are still in college -- among them Baltimore's Laurie Schwoy (North Carolina) -- will not be eligible.

The league will operate all teams, opening with a total $12 million capitalization from a small consortium of investors.

Investors' identities, as well as team names, scheduling, corporate sponsors, a possible television contract, coaches and other details, will not be disclosed until at least early October. Then, NSA is expecting to be formally granted first-division status by the U.S. Soccer Federation, the sport's national governing body.

Stadiums will seat an average of 5,000, with per-game attendance of about 2,600 needed to break even financially, said Jennifer Rottenberg, league development consultant.

"We believe we are in markets where we can sell out, but we need only half that number," Rottenberg said. No financial loss is anticipated, she added. Tickets will range from $5 to $15.

Other committed players include Americans Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Michelle Akers, Carla Overbeck, Tisha Venturini, Kristine Lilly, Tiffeny Milbrett, Shannon MacMillan, Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett, Briana Scurry, Kerry Connors, Tracy Noonan Ducar, Christie Pearce, Tammy Pearman and Canadian Angela Kelly.

Pub Date: 9/12/97

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