Friday, August 03, 2007

Soccer's W-League Championships This Weekend

While I mentioned that this weekend will see the opening of the English Premier League season with the Community Sheild match, here in the United States, there will be a championed crowned in the United Soccer Leagues (USL) W-League. This weekend, the Atlanta Silverbacks, the Seattle Sounders, the Washington Freedom and the Rochester Rhinos will gather in Rochester, NY for the semi-finals and finals of the W-League.
One of the unique storylines of the final four is that it is the first time since Canadian teams joined the league in 2000 that a representative from Canada has not reached the league semifinals. The Ottawa Fury had reached the semifinals the last four years and the Vancouver Whitecaps in five of the last six years, winning twice. The Toronto Inferno were the first team to reach the final four in 2000.

Another unique storyline is that all four teams are part of a larger club. The Sounders, Silverbacks and Rhinos are each affiliated with a USL First Division men’s club with Seattle and Rochester each accounting for three USL-1 titles. The Freedom, a legacy of the former 2003 WUSA Champions, have established an elite youth system, as have the Silverbacks. In fact, the Freedom produced the first USL Super-20 League women’s champion last year and are looking to repeat this weekend at the North American Finals in Epping, New Hampshire. The Silverbacks had teams in five of the 10 brackets at the Super Y-League North American Finals last fall.
Having seen a few Washington Freedom games this season, the Freedom have shown a high level of play and as the highest seed remaining in the playoffs, should be considered favorites this weekend.

As the USL develops, with multiple divisions and a top to bottom formulation of teams, affiliations, and levels, from two professional men's divisions, to development leagues and youth programs, the development of soccer in America is taking a decidedly Eurpopen flavor with clubs fielding multiple teams. Along with the MLS, which is also beginning to field development teams as well, I can imagine a merger between the two organizations soon, with a nation wide, multiple division format of professional sides, and professional women's soccer with multiple divisions, and premier youth development and amateur leagues that allow high school and college players to develop and train in professional environments without jeopardizing their college eligibility.

The level of play in the upper divisions of the W-League puts the U.S. league at the top of the women's game worldwide. A good showing by the U.S. Women's National team in the Women's World Cup should boost already strong interest in the sport.

No comments: