Women’s Soccer Then and Now

2012 marks Washington Youth Soccer’s 40th year running youth soccer programs for girls, it also happens to be the 40th anniversary of Title IX legislation.  Within the first month of the year, we saw the 2012 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament take place in our own neighborhood – Vancouver, BC, where our  US Women’s National Team came out strong against Dominican Republic (14-0), Guatemala (13-0), Mexico (4-0), Costa Rica (3-0) and Canada (4-0).  With the defeat of Costa Rica in the Semifinal, the US Women won a berth into the 2012 London Olympics and now everyone is gearing up to see them perform again in July!  

We have also unfortunately seen the suspension of the Women’s Professional League this past week.  With all of this going on, it is timely and relevant to reflect on the state of women’s soccer – where the game has been and where it is going.  To help me, I have asked Kim (Stiles) Calkins, Washington Youth Soccer alum and current coach, to guest blog.  Kim grew up playing for WA Youth Soccer in Spokane – starting at the recreational level and then playing with the Spokane Sabers, Skyhawks Premier Soccer Club (now the Shadow), WA East State ODP team, and the Region IV ODP team.  She then went on to play for University of Portland and was also on the 1st Team All-WCC, U20 National Team, Women’s National Team Camps & Player Pool and the Women’s Professional Soccer team the Boston Breakers.  Kim has now come full circle and is bringing the game to today’s youth by coaching at Eastside FC. 

Welcome Kim!

I could hear Chris gather the spit in his throat before I ever turned around. I would soon realize he was loading ammunition to launch a full-fledged attack aimed directly for the top of my blonde pony tail. I was six years old and had a hint of tough because I had survived life so far with four older siblings. Chris’ assault to my hair that afternoon during my first youth soccer practice was enough to make me wonder if playing soccer as one of two girls on a team of mostly boys was what I wanted to be doing in 1981 every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday afternoon at Brentwood Elementary School in Spokane.

I only played one season with the boys until there were enough all-girl teams for me to play in a girls youth soccer league. Thus began a run with soccer that I am forever grateful. I recently had the honor and privilege of meeting the first administrator of Washington Youth Soccer, Karl Grosch. One short morning in a meeting room with this eighty-seven year old man did not seem nearly long enough.  He is the kind of man you want to take out to lunch and just sit, listen, and learn from. Under Grosch’s leadership in 1972, Washington Youth Soccer started the first officially recognized girls’ soccer league in the state of Washington — the second one in the United States after Texas’ first, and California would not follow far behind. I asked Grosch if he anticipated at the inception of a girls’ youth soccer league in Washington the greatness that would soon evolve from women’s soccer in the United States. His response to me came with a hearty and humble laugh and a, “Heck no.”

In a press release from January30, 2012, the five-team Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) league of the United States announced that it has suspended operations to focus its efforts and resources on a pending lawsuit with a former owner of the league. The WPS has attracted the world’s best female soccer players. This announcement comes just days after the US Women’s National Team became the champions of the 2012 CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in Canada. The news was met with great disappointment from the women’s soccer community. The WPS is not the first attempt at a women’s professional league. The very first league, the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) had its inaugural season in 2001 with eight teams across the United States. I was drafted to play for the Boston Breakers during that inaugural year along with two other Washingtonians, Meotis Erikson of University of Notre Dame and Kennewick, and Jennifer (Tissue) Pope of Whitworth University and Spokane. Numerous other female Washington Youth Soccer products were drafted to play on other teams. I remember feeling like I was part of history, something special, the first ever women’s professional soccer league. Granted, our salaries were not that high and we lived in expensive cities like Boston, New York, and San Francisco. I did not care because I was young, fit, and playing soccer for a living. I loved it.

Since then, the women’s league has struggled to find sure footing. Although I do not believe it is for the lack of support in the right markets. Our Boston Breakers would average nearly 11,000 fans per game during the inaugural season. I spoke today with Kate Deines, University of Washington soccer standout and US U20 Women’s National Team member. Kate is a product of Washington Youth Soccer and Eastside FC. After finishing an exceptional four years at UW, she was drafted this January to play professionally for the Atlanta Beat of the WPS. Kate was looking forward to joining her friend and teammate in Atlanta, Katherine Reynolds, who also came from Eastside FC and played collegiate soccer for Santa Clara. Katherine had just come off a solid year starting at defense for Atlanta and was looking forward to the next season.

“The news was heartbreaking and I am still trying to process it,” Kate told me. She found out Monday morning in an email the league had suspended. I asked her if there was any information in the email regarding a 2013 season. She said, “No.” However, the league’s official press release lays out the hope for a 2013 season. Kate stated another misfortune was, “I thought about playing in foreign leagues, but the deadline was yesterday (Monday) for most international leagues.” Meanwhile, Kate said she plans on playing with the Sounders Women of the W League of the United Soccer League (USL).  The W League currently has twenty-seven teams competing. Kate will play for Sounders Women coach, Michelle French. Kent grown “Frenchie” is an Olympic medalist, played professionally, and currently coaches with US Youth National Teams and at a local Washington club. “I love her and am super excited to play for her,” said Deines. Meanwhile, Kate has landed an internship with a Seattle law firm, Ashbaugh Beal, and plans to continue her training to keep her dream of playing soccer alive while she is young and able.

Those close to the league say they are not surprised to learn a second attempt at a women’s professional league has suspended. Angela Hucles was the second leading goal scorer behind Cristiane of Brazil in the 2008 Summer Olympics, and helped lead the United States to the Gold medal. Hucles was a University of Virginia standout soccer player and was not on the US Women’s National Team coaching staff’s radar after college. Her development as a professional player in the league with the world’s best soccer players earned her a nod from the US coaching staff. She went on to play in two World Cups and the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. “Playing professional soccer directly impacted my getting called up with the National Team” said Hucles. She went on to say, “I believe the issue of the litigations might be more of a convenient scapegoat for a league already struggling.” As disappointing as Monday’s news was for women’s soccer, there is still some light at the end of the tunnel. “The W League is probably the best option for many people. It might now be looked upon as the best place for player development. It’s an already organized group” said Hucles.

The Women’s Sounders now have an opportunity to capitalize on some of the region’s best female soccer players to develop and showcase in Washington. “In the mean time, WPS players will be looking for temporary homes in 2012. We have already reached out to WPS GMs and coaches, expressing our interest in providing a solid alternative for players while the league finds a resolution” said Sounders Women GM, Amy Carnell. Let’s face it, it’s not as though men’s professional soccer in the United States did not have its own growing pains before it reached the prominence and fanfare as our beloved Major League Soccer team, the Seattle Sounders. Hang in there girls! We will still watch our household favorite US Women’s National team and Kennewick’s Hope Solo play in the summer Olympics and I still plan on taking my three daughters to watch Kate Deines play with the Sounders Women.

The Women’s Professional League is over for now, but perhaps the future is looking bright for the W League and the Sounders Women. This entry begins a series of posts leading up to the 2012 Summer Olympics as our US Women’s National Team prepares to defend their Olympic Gold. I will introduce you to Karl Grosch, one of the first, finest and most influential Washington Sate soccer administrators. I will take you through some of my own experiences and journeys of growing up female in Washington Youth Soccer. You will meet soccer Moms who did not just drive carpools, but started a movement of youth soccer in Washington. If you have any great stories you would like to share with me about the history of girls’ soccer in Washington, please share your comments here or email me at: KimberlyC@WashingtonYouthSoccer.org.

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