Another Casualty in a Tough Reality

Closure of W-League Brings Women’s Soccer Down to Bare Minimum

Second-tier division women’s soccer league W-League shut its doors last week. This marks another closing of a potential future for aspiring female soccer players. Photo Nikolas Litzenberger

Women’s soccer in Canada suffered a blow last week as the W-League, a second-tier division women’s soccer league with teams operating in the United States and Canada, shut its doors.

It was the longest serving professional women’s league in North America, founded in 1995.

On their website, a simple press release confirmed the folding of the league, and indicated that a 2016 season would not take place.

Jean-Pascal Ladroue, general manager of the Quebec Dynamo ARSQ, got the news when the press release was posted.

“The manner in which they did it was a little cavalier,” said Ladroue. “[This season] went well in our conference and from what we knew from the other teams, they were up for a new season.”

For the league’s two Canadian teams, the Dynamo and the Laval Comets, the recent news means that plans for next year have become much more complicated.

“[The W-League] was belittled because it was a league that didn’t last long, but now we’re under the impression that it creates a big gap,” Ladroue said. “For a league that was belittled, I find it interesting that everyone is trying to find a solution for this.”

Currently, Ladroue and his team are not sure whether they will be able to play soccer next season. One option for both Quebec teams would be to join the other second-tier league of North American women’s soccer, the Women’s Premier Soccer League.

“It’s one of the options that we are studying at the moment,” said Ladroue. “They also have teams that act as reserve teams for their [North American first division] affiliates, so it could be an interesting product.”

Jerry Zanelli, commissioner of the WPSL, admits to having discussions about incorporating the two teams into the league, but doesn’t think it will happen this year, stating: “we just didn’t have enough time to digest the whole thing.”

One of the biggest challenges for the WPSL is travelling. Zanelli hinted the possible formation of a WPSL Canada, involving Canadian teams only, and recalled receiving interest from Calgary to join. He had to refuse because of distance—they were just too far away.

A positive for the Quebec teams is the relative proximity to the WPSL’s Northeast division, which features teams from Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Joe Ferrara, former Northeast division regional commissioner and owner of the New England Mutiny says he’s been in discussion with the two Canadian clubs about “future plans,” but warned that they need approval from Canadian Soccer Federation before they could join the league.

“We’ve petitioned U.S. Soccer to write a letter on behalf of the Canadian teams, to see if there is possibility that they could be sanctioned to play games in the United States, and that our teams could play in Canada,” Ferrara said. “The conversation with Canada all starts with approval from the federation.”

Closer to home, the commissioner of League1 Ontario, Dino Rossi, who as of last year started their own women’s league, admitted to having conversations with his colleagues in Quebec. He would be open for top programs in la belle province to join his league.

The distance aspect would be an issue with teams having to drive to Ontario more than 13 times every season, but he thinks the costs related to it could be divided to keep them to a minimum.

“We would love to see them start a league but, barring that, we are definitely open to considering the possibility of inviting top programs from the province of Quebec under the League1 umbrella if the situation is feasible,” said Rossi. “It’s something that would pose some challenges but provide some great opportunities and so we’re open and we will have those conversations when the time is right.”

For Canadian women’s soccer in general, a high profile option would be a look at the North American first division, the National Women’s Soccer League. Many teams in the NWSL are associated with men’s clubs from Major League Soccer and national federations. They often share their facilities with their affiliated team and are provided with opportunities to play top-level soccer.

Rhian Wilkinson, who played in four different World Cups for Canada, including the 2015 tournament on home soil, expressed dismay that she can’t play professionally in her own country.

“I’m such a proud Canadian, I love playing in Canada, and there’s nowhere for me…there’s not even amateur soccer,” said Wilkinson. “I’m sad. I know there’s a lot of people like me who want to play soccer at the highest level, and who want to play at home because we love our home.

“I’m in my thirties, I want to be able to play the sport I love, and do the job I do,” Wilkinson added. “I want to be able to start a family and live in my country and it’s just not a reality.” Wilkinson currently plays for the Portland Thorns FC.

Having played in both Europe and North America, Wilkinson is convinced that women’s soccer, and women’s sports in general, are on the rise.

“Just look at a men’s game from the 1960s and look at one now, and then look at a women’s game from the 1960s and look at one now,” said Wilkinson. “The trajectory of women in sport is straight up and the levels are getting better.”

The Pointe-Claire native believes the businessmen who own soccer teams are attached to the idea of quick revenue for the dollars they invest. It’s her opinion that they should invest in women’s soccer for the long term.

“I want Canada to step up. I don’t have enough money to do it myself and there’s a lot of people who do,” Wilkinson said. “I would like to affiliate with men’s teams, but if not, there are some amazing women out there who have made a lot of money as good businesswomen.

“I hope that they see that there is an opportunity here to do something in Canada and to leave a lasting impression in sport.”

Correction: Due to an error in the editing process, the original article stated that Jean-Pascal Ladroue, general manager of Dynamo Québec, found out about the news a week after a press release was published. Ladroue actually found out the day of the press release on Nov. 6. The Link regrets the error.