This is an exciting time for the Women's Premier Soccer League, just not on this coast.
With Women's Professional Soccer officially dead, as of Friday morning, the 15-year-old semipro/amateur outfit is stepping into the void and embracing, in small steps, full professionalism. The WPSL Elite, an eight-team league that includes three former WPS teams (defending champion Western New York Flash, Boston Breakers and Chicago Red Stars), is the big focus for the league in 2012, with plans to form a division on the West Coast next year.
That leaves this year in a bit of flux, especially with reigning WPSL champ Orange County Waves dropping out after losing their money source. The Pacific-South Division is down to four teams, and they'll play a modest schedule -- six league games, a few crossovers against Northern California clubs, plus whatever friendlies they can scrounge up -- well out of the usual WPSL limelight, as it were.
“We have gone through a major upheaval, and a lot of our regions have shifted around,” league commissioner Jerry Zanelli, who also runs Sacramento-based powerhouse California Storm, told ESPN Los Angeles in an email. “We are having teams in the Pacific Division step out for a year to re-tool to enter the WPSL Western Elite Division next year.”
Only Rolling Hills' Ajax America, Los Alamitos-based L.A. Vikings and the San Diego SeaLions return to the Pacific-South, with Long Beach's Beach Futbol Club joining in. Gone, too, are the Claremont Stars and Pasadena-based LAFC.
The Waves are the big loss. They had a mix of WPS veterans and top amateurs, posted a 14-1-3 record and pulled out the championship game against Chicago on an overtime goal from Tanya Taylor (Buena Park/Sunny Hills HS and UC Irvine).
“The CEO decided not to do the Waves, to just concentrate on [sister club Bay Area] Breeze,” said Waves head coach/GM Abner Rogers, who guided the L.A. Sol to the regular-season title in the inaugural 2009 WPS campaign. “He informed us in December and said he'd help us as much as he could, but there's no financial backing.”
The Waves approached youth clubs in the region about sponsorship -- Rogers directs powerhouse Laguna Hills Eclipse -- but was unable to acquire what was needed to continue on. There is hope of a return next year to play in the Western Elite Division, but no telling if it's doable.
Pacific-South play kicks off Friday night at Long Beach State, with Beach FC taking on the L.A. Vikings.
A look at the three local teams:
AJAX AMERICA WOMEN
Head coach: Kenyon Lohn
Who are they: Legendary women's club, around since the '70s and associated with the Fram club in Rolling Hills, that has won two WPSL titles (in 2001 and 2008) and reached five title games while winning five national cups and sporting a Who's Who-type roster featuring the likes of South Bay denizens Shannon Boxx and Abby Wambach.
Key players: F Traci Arkenberg-Dominguez (Palos Verdes/Peninsula HS and UCLA), F Nicole Bucciarelli (Van Nuys/Grant HS and UC Irvine), M Myisha Delaney (Long Beach/Wilson HS and Long Beach City College/Long Beach State/Cal State Dominguez Hills), F Jessica Murphy (Torrance/West Torrance HS and Cal State Dominguez Hills), D Keri Sanchez
Outlook: Ajax had been to four successive final fours and three straight title games before longtime coach Brian Boswell was lured away last year to work with the Orange County Waves, whose push toward professionalism dramatically changed the landscape in the division. Ajax finished third, posted a losing record and missed the playoffs for the first time since ... well, nobody can remember when Ajax wasn't battling for the WPSL crown. Lohn, who has been on staff since 2001, has assembled a good, veteran group, with UCLA legend Arkenberg and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps women's coach Sanchez, who played for the L.A. Sol and in the 2001-03 Women's United Soccer Association, the big names. Murphy is coming off a sensational career at CSUDH.
They said it: “Ajax Fram has had dozens of national celebrity players, and we hope to see the return of a very special one in the near future ...,” Lohn said. “As well as having Ajax great Traci Arkenburg, who started playing for the team when she was 16 years old, we have a large influx of young local stars. We have moved away from [fielding] fly-by-night superstars and found a dedicated team for seasons to come.”
Home field: Nansen Field (Rolling Hills Estates)
BEACH FUTBOL CLUB
Head coaches: Mauricio Ingrassia and Dalton Kaufman
Who are they: Long Beach-based youth club directed by Ingrassia, Long Beach State's women's head coach, that is fielding its first advanced-league team in the WPSL.
Key players: D Lauren Barnes (Upland/Upland HS and UCLA), F Lauren Bohaboy (Mission Viejo/Santa Margarita Catholic HS), M Shawna Gordon (Rancho Cucamonga/Los Osos HS and Long Beach State), M Kristina Larsen (Mission Viejo/Mission Viejo HS and UCLA), D/M Megan Jesolva (La Mirada/Whittier Christian HS).
Outlook: Kaufman's return to Long Beach after four years in Arizona, where he guided Arizona Rush to the 2008 WPSL final, spurred Beach FC to form an adult side, and it could be a winner. Barnes, Larsen and Jesolva are WPS veterans. Gordon, who was looking for a WPS job, is the best ever to play at Long Beach State. Bohaboy, a Notre Dame sophomore with U.S. youth national team experience, is one of the best young forwards in the country. Add Wake Forest's Kim Marshall (Long Beach/Wilson HS) and Long Beach State star Lindsay Bullock to the mix. Beach has the best young talent in the division, and the aim is simple: Win the Pacific South get to to the WPSL final four.
They said it: “Obviously, it's a first-year franchise, but when the whistle blows, we're going to want to win every game,” Ingrassia said. “At the same time, I think we're looking to put a product out for the community and fast-track some of our younger kids, some of our elite players.”
Home field: George Allen Field, Long Beach State, and Home Depot Center Field 5 (Carson)
Head coach: Robert P. Kleinberger
Who are they: The former Los Al Vikings, connected to the youth club, debuted last year in the WPSL and has steadily progressed, putting together all-star teams of pros to play winter exhibitions. They've started a men's team and have professional aspirations.
Key players: M Janeth Arroyo (Lakewood/Mayfair HS and Cerritos College/Cal State L.A.), D Shannon Brooks (Monrovia/Monrovia HS), G Stephanie Castellon (Riverside/Riverside Poly HS), M Nicole Riley (Fullerton/Sunny Hills HS), D Marlene Sandoval (Placentia/Valencia HS and Cal State Fullerton).
Outlook: The Vikings went 2-8-4 and finished a point out of the Pacific-South cellar in season one, but the roster is stronger, with more experience, and the goal is the reach the WPSL title game, even if WPSL play isn't the primary focus. Kleinberger credits “really outstanding chemistry” for optimism, and Sandoval, who also is playing for the W-League's Santa Clarita Blue Heat, is the big addition: She's a veteran Mexican national-teamer and will provide a defensive foundation Los Al was missing in 2011. Brooks and Castellon are Guatemalan national-teaamers, and most of the players are from local colleges and high schools, a good number of them with an existing relationship with the club. Says Kleinberger: “We should be competitive.”
They said it: “We're looking at the WPSL as one game a week we play in,” Kleinberger said. “We are focused more on [friendlies against] W-League teams, when we play Pali Blues, L.A. Strikers, Santa Clarita Blue Heat. Those are very tough teams. We want to play those teams and do well against them.”
Home field: Home Depot Center Field 5 (Carson)