Counting down the 11 biggest 2011 stories in Southern California soccer ...
The struggles facing the women's game in America were forgotten for a few weeks last summer, during the U.S. team's exhilarating run to the title game at the Women's World Cup in Germany.
The Yanks did not win the trophy -- Japan's story was, ultimately, far more compelling, and their aim in the shootout truer -- but they rallied a nation behind their quest for a first World Cup title in a dozen years, creating a buzz that offered a few reminders of that magical summer of '99.
The Americans had faltered at the previous two World Cups while winning Olympic gold in Athens seven years ago and Beijing in 2008, but the golden generation -- Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly and Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain and so forth -- is gone and the attention (and Nike's millions) they received was spent long ago.
This group caught the public's imagination with a stirring run to the final as Abby Wambach added to her legend, Hope Solo became a mainstream presence and Diamond Bar's Alex Morgan emerged as a real star. They needed Wambach's goal deep into stoppage in overtime to force penalties against Brazil in the quarterfinals, wore down France in the semifinals, then watched two leads slip away, one of them in OT, against the surprising Japanese.
The World Cup's impact on the game in America wasn't clear. Women's Professional Soccer, now entirely an East Coast venture, completed its third season by dropping to five teams, managing to survive only through U.S. Soccer largesse. The Western New York Flash, the newcomer from the USL's second-tier W-League, won the title -- they had Marta, of course -- but there are serious questions about the league's future.
A prominent way of thinking is that a national professional women's league is impossible in a country so large, unless Major League Soccer (or some multibillionaire with bucks to burn) wants to step in and finance things. No sign of that. The solution: entwined regional leagues, with the champions meeting at the finish -- exactly what the semipro W-League and its rival Women's Premier Soccer League do.
Getting all the parties to the table, and onto the same page, could take some doing, but among the proponents of such a venture is Abner Rogers, who coached the Los Angeles Sol to the first WPS regular-season title. The Sol didn't make it to year two, but Rogers and his partners in the Bay Area formed two WPSL teams -- the Orange County Waves, who won the WPSL championship -- with a WPS slot in mind.