League folds as USA goes for Gold

Last month, the Washington sports world celebrated its first championship in years as the Washington Freedom won the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA) championship in the league's third year.

While prospects for other D.C. teams may be bleak, it's safe to say that the Freedom have no chance of repeating. Why? Because the WUSA suspended operations Monday afternoon.

This development obviously sends shock waves through the women's soccer world, which loses its only professional league. The announcement also comes at a questionable time, as the Women's World Cup begins Saturday at RFK Stadium.

For the next two weeks, women's soccer will be on the world's grandest stage, and this announcement of the WUSA's demise certainly hurts the sport.

However, Team USA captain and former WUSA player Julie Foudy sees a positive in the timing of the announcement and vows to save the league.

"We feel like we're playing in this World Cup for all the young girls out there who dream to play professional sports," Foudy told the Washington Post on Wednesday. "This group [the World Cup team] is not genetically predisposed to quitting."

Foudy's World Cup teammates seem determined to inspire the corporate revenue that would be needed to save the league with a sparkling performance in the next two weeks.

Back in 1999, during the last World Cup, Team USA played with the expectation of a league. Their victory in the tournament proved to be the final building block in the WUSA's birth.

Now, four years and one World Cup later, the U.S. women face another tough task: beat the rest of the world and try to save the league that affords them the only opportunity to play professionally in the U.S.

Without the WUSA, players like Foudy, Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain and Brianna Scurry will be featured once every four years, not every summer.

The hope is that an inspired performance at the World Cup will lead corporate sponsors to pour more money into the WUSA and maybe regenerate the revenue, then the league lost.

While Foudy may speak of hope and possibility, league executives have not added any optimism. In fact, WUSA Board of Governors Chairman John Hendricks said that he didn't foresee the World Cup having enough of an impact to save the league.

Here in D.C., the downfall of the WUSA means the loss of the city's most successful franchise. Sporting superstars such as Hamm, often referred to as the "world's best player," rising youngster Abby Wambach and goalkeeper Siri Mullinix, the Freedom seemed poised for years of triumph in the WUSA.

The Freedom may not be given the opportunity to defend their title, which another local soccer team has already recently done. The MLS's D.C. United won the inaugural 1996 title, as well as the 1997 crown.

While the league has officially folded and the prospects of a reformation look bleak, Foudy, Hamm and the rest of their U.S. teammates will use this as added motivation to star in the tournament, which is played on home soil.

Starting in our nation's capital on Saturday, the World Cup will bring together the greatest womens soccer players who are looking to defend their championship, and win back the only chance to play at home, the WUSA.

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