Gooooooaaaaaaallllllll! When the U.S. Soccer Federation announced on November 20 that Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), the national league where World Cup stars like Hope Solo and Abby Wambach train up to rock it on the international field, risked losing sanctioning if it couldn’t add a sixth team in two weeks, prospects looked dim. But a game-saving goal come in the form of outcry from players and fans determined to save WPS — 50,000 of them.
Alex Sahlen, a player for the WPS Team the Western New York Flash, started a petition on Change.org asking U.S. Soccer to grant her beloved league a one-year waiver from the minimum team requirement. Her campaign attracted 48,000 signatures, while another petition started by Colleen Kelly, an ardent fan of the WPS Team the Philadelphia Independence, brought the number of supporters to just shy of 50,000. This week, U.S. Soccer announced that it will allow WPS to continue to develop and expand over the next year, recognizing that a sport with such devoted fans has an opportunity to thrive.
“I would like to thank all of the fans for their unwavering support throughout this difficult time and persisting with us to reach our ultimate goal of a 2012 WPS season,” said Alex Sahlen after hearing the good cheer about WPS. “The support has been amazing and really touching and humbling for many of us. We are looking forward to another successful WPS season and will look to build upon this season to keep women’s professional soccer around for many years to come.”
Half of youth soccer players are female, and Sahlen sees herself and players like Solo as role models for what these girls can accomplish. Fans and players alike exclaimed that the dissolution of WPS would dash many young girls dreams of pursuing a professional soccer career, scoring winning goals — and perhaps even Dancing With the Stars. With WPS’s survival assured for another year, prospects are soaring.
A record number of viewers — for any soccer game — tuned in to ESPN to watch the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team’s heart-stopping battle against Japan in the World Cup finals this summer, with the tied game coming down to a penalty shoot-out in overtime. The American team ended up in the runner-up spot, but with the help of additional training in a competitive Women’s Professional Soccer national team, they have a shot to turn silver into gold next time. And with a U.S. women’s soccer team headed to London next year for the Olympics, 2012 promises to bring even more attention to the sport. Alex Sahlen and 50,000 fans are counting on it.