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2010-2011 Atlanta Beat

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Leigh Ann Robinson Atlanta BeatWomen’s Professional Soccer (2010-2011)

Born: June 2009 – WPS expansion franchise.
Folded: January 30, 2012

Stadium: KSU Soccer Stadium (8,318)

Team Colors:

Owner: T. Fitz Johnson

 

The Atlanta Beat were one of two expansion franchises (along with the Philadelphia Independence) to join the short-lived Women’s Professional Soccer for its second season of action in 2010.  The club was a brand revival of Atlanta’s previous women’s pro team, the 2001-2003 Atlanta Beat of the Women’s United Soccer Association.  But aside from purchasing the trademark to the defunct club, the “new” Beat possessed no other formal connections to the prior franchise.  The ownership, players, stadium and front office staff were all entirely new.

Team owner Fitz Johnson was a charismatic U.S. Army veteran, attorney and former defense contractor.  Johnson’s family business was sold to Lockheed Martin in April 2008 for an undisclosed but sizable sum.  Like the majority of WPS franchise owners, Johnson had soccer-playing daughters. The club played two seasons before folding along with the rest of WPS in January 2012.

==KSU Soccer Stadium Artist Renderings==

 

 

==Atlanta Beat Programs on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other

2010

2010 4/18/2010 @ Washington Freedom L 3-1 Program
2010 5/9/2010 vs. Sky Blue FC L 1-0 Program Roster
2010 5/16/2010 vs. Washington Freedom L 2-0 Program Roster
2010 6/19/2010 vs. Chicago Red Stars W 1-0 Program Roster
2010 7/3/2010 vs. FC Gold Pride L 4-0 Program Roster
2010 8/1/2010 vs. FC Gold Pride T 0-0 Program Roster
2010 8/4/2010 @ Boston Breakers W 2-0 Program
2010 8/7/2010 vs. Sky Blue FC L 2-1 Program Roster
2010 9/5/2010 vs. Sky Blue FC T 0-0 Program Roster
2010 9/11/2010 @ Washington Freedom L 1-0 Program

2011

2011 5/1/2011 @ Western New York Flash L 3-0 Program

 

==YouTube==

Inaugural home game and opening of KSU Soccer Stadium, May 9, 2010

 

 

==Key Players==

  • Carli Lloyd (2011)
  • Hope Solo (2010)

 

==Downloads==

2009 WPS Expansion Draft Mechanics for Atlanta Beat & Philadelphia Independence

2010 Atlanta Beat Digital Media Guide

 

==Links==

Women’s Professional Soccer Media Guides

Women’s Professional Soccer Programs

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2010-2011 Philadelphia Independence

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Philadelphia IndependenceWomen’s Professional Soccer (2010-2011)

Born: 2009 – WPS expansion franchise.
Folded: January 30, 2012

Stadiums:

Team Colors: Yellow, Steel Grey, Light Blue

Owner: David Halstead

WPS Championships: None

 

The Philadelphia Independence soccer team enjoyed a brief two-season run in Women’s Professional Soccer (2009-2011), a league that briefly could claim status as the top women’s soccer league in the world before financial problems sunk the league after three seasons of play.

The Independence entered WPS as an expansion club during the league’s second season in 2010.  This would be Philly’s second go round with women’s soccer, following the Philadelphia Charge (2001-2003) of the defunct Women’s United Soccer Association.

The Independence and WPS’ other 2010 expansion club, the Atlanta Beat,  faced a challenging competitive landscape where the entire U.S National Team and dozens of the top international players were already to committed to multi-year contracts with existing WPS clubs.  An expansion draft permitted the Beat and the Independence to pick through other team’s leftovers, but there was only one impact player available: U.S. National Team midfielder Lori Lindsey, inexplicably left unprotected by the Washington Freedom.  Philly was fortunate to snap Lindsey up with the #1 selection.  (Click here to view the 2010 WPS Expansion Draft rules for league executives).  Atlanta never overcame the expansion disadvantage and fielded a distant last place club.  Philadelphia GM Terry Foley and Head Coach Paul Rileyin contrast, wheeled and dealed extensively, finding terrific value in overlooked and under-utilized players and shrewd international signings throughout the winter of 2009 into 2010.

Amy Rodriguez WPS MarksFrom the Boston Breakers, Foley acquired two U.S. National Team stalwarts in Heather Mitts and Amy Rodriguez.  Mitts was a former member of the WUSA’s Philadelphia Charge and a well-known figure in Philadelphia, owing to her skill, beauty and gossip page relationship with Pat Burrell of the Phillies and, later, her engagement to quarterback A.J. Feeley of the Eagles.  For all her marketing potential, Mitts seemed a poor fit with Head Coach Paul Riley and saw her playing time diminish late in the 2010 season.

The opposite was true for Rodriguez, the league’s #1 overall pick in the 2009 WPS Draft out of the University of Southern California who floundered in Boston under former National Team Coach Tony DiCicco.  A-Rod scored only one goal in Boston and started fewer than half the team’s matches.  But her club career would flourish under Riley in Philadelphia.  In 2010, the speedy forward finished third in WPS in goals with 12 and was named a finalist for the league’s Michelle Akers Player-of-the-Year Award.

The Independence also scored internationally with Swedish playmaker Caroline Seger, Canadian National Team goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc, English forward Lianne Sandersonand bruising Icelandic defender Holmfridur Magnusdottir.  The Independence cultivated an intensely physical style of play under Paul Riley and the team was notably strong on defense.

Karina LeBlanc Philadelphia IndependenceThe Independence debuted in Philadelphia on April 11, 2010 playing fellow expansionists the Atlanta Beat to a 0-0 draw at Farrell Stadium on the campus of West Chester University.  The crowd of 6,028 was a highlight, but subsequent games drew small gatherings even by WPS standards.  The Independence finished with the worst attendance in the seven-team league with 2,938 per game in 2010.

On the field, though, the Independence excelled, finishing 3rd in the regular season table with a 10-10-4 record.  The Independence saved their best play for the postseason.  In the first round, Amy Rodriguez’s overtime goal in the 120th minute lifted Philly past the Washington Freedom before 2,378 in West Chester, PA.  Then it was off to Boston for the WPS Super Semi-Final, where the Independence fought back from an early 1-0 deficit to triumph 2-1 in overtime.  The game winner came on a header from Danesha Adams, a controversial goal that many Boston fans maintain to this day was a handball (see video below).

The semi-final victory over the Breakers vaulted the Independence into the WPS Cup final against FC Gold Pride, one of the most dominant women’s club sides ever assembled.  The final, played on Gold Pride’s home ground in Hayward, California would be Philadelphia’s third win-or-go-home playoff match in eight days, whereas Gold Pride enjoyed a two-week layoff to prepare for the match.  The Independence’s fatigue after two overtime matches in a week showed, and Gold Pride made quick work of the Philadelphians 4-0 in the Final.

Philadelphia IndependenceFor the Independence second season, the club moved to Leslie Quick Stadium at Widener University in Chester.  The club re-tooled on the field as well.  Gone were Heather Mitts and Karina LeBlanc.  New arrivals included emerging U.S. National Team midfield star Megan Rapinoe, former USWNT super sub Natasha Kai and Spanish striker Veronica Boquete.

Early season attendance plummeted throughout the league in 2011, due in part to an austerity program championed by Independence owner David Halstead, among others, which eviscerated the league’s national office and saw local administration and marketing cut to a shoe string.  Philadelphia’s own financial challenges were revealed when Halstead sold Megan Rapinoe to Dan Borislow’s controversial MagicJack club for a record-setting transfer fee of $100,000 in June 2011.  By this point, Borislow and Western New York Flash owner Joe Sahlen were the only WPS owners spending more than the bare minimums required to finish out the season.

The owners got a reprieve of sorts when the U.S. National Team went on an inspiring run through to the 2011 Women’s World Cup Final, drawing huge TV ratings along the way.  With most of the USWNT stars still playing in WPS, large crowds turned out in league cities to see Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Hope Solo and Abby Wambach upon their return from the World Cup.

The Independence were even better in 2011.  The club’s 11-4-3 record was second only to the expansion Western New York Flash (13-2-3), who were basically the previous year’s champions, FC Gold Pride, re-constituted on the East Coast.  Paul Riley won WPS Coach-of-the-Year honors for the second year in a row and newcomer Veronica Boquete won WPS’ Michelle Akers Player-of-the-Year award, despite appearing in only 11 matches.

The Independence hosted MagicJack in the WPS Super Semi-Final on August 20, 2011.  The game was played at the beautiful new 18,500-seat PPL Park, home of the Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer.  It was the first home match the Independence ever played on a proper soccer pitch.  (Both Farrell Stadium and Quick Stadium were turf fields with stitched-in American football markings).  Ironically this coming out party at Philadelphia’s best soccer facility would also be the final home game the club ever played.  A modest crowd of 5,410 turned out for the match, despite the presence of Abby Wambach and other newly famous U.S. World Cup stars on the MagicJack team.  The Independence disposed of MagicJack 2-0 on goals by Natasha Kai and Amy Rodriguez to advance to their second WPS Cup Final in as many seasons.

2011 WPS CupOne of the largest crowds in WPS history – 10,361 fans – turned out at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester, New York for the Final on August 27, 2011.  Unlike the year before, the Independence were rested and ready to bring their best game against the Western New York Flash.  The Flash had many of the top players from FC Gold Pride, the club that beat Philly to win the Cup a year earlier and then quickly went out of business.  In the 64th minute, Christine Sinclair put the Flash up 1-0 on a cross from Candace Chapman.  Both players were FC Gold Pride refugees.  Three minutes away from a loss in the 87th minute, Amy Rodriguez blasted home the equalizer to send the game into overtime knotted at 1-1.  Neither team scored during the 30-minute extra session.  The championship would be decided on penalty kicks.

One interesting note on the PK’s.  Riley left the notoriously inconsistent Rodriguez off his list of five shooters, despite the fact that she was the franchise’s all-time leading scorer.  Riley’s line-up was Lianne Sanderson, Danesha Adams, Leigh Ann Robinson, Boquete and Spanish international Laura Del Rio.  The first four shooters scored for Philly.  The first five scored for Western New York.  Del Rio had the chance to send the PK’s into a second round, but Flash goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris made tremendous save to end Philly’s season and deliver the WPS Cup to Western New York.

This proved to be the final game WPS ever played.  After a tumultuous offseason of legal battles with MagicJack owner Dan Borislow and an embarrassing public audit by U.S. Soccer to determine whether WPS still met the minimum standards to be sanctioned as a 1st division league, WPS folded up shop on January 30, 2012.  Several franchises dropped into a lower-level semi-pro league – the WPSL Elite – to continue playing, but Halstead opted to shut down his Philadelphia club.

 

==Philadelphia Independence Programs on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other

2010

2010 4/11/2010 vs. Atlanta Beat T 0-0 Program Video
2010 4/18/2010 @ Boston Breakers T 1-1 Program
2010 5/8/2010 @ St. Louis Athletica L 2-1 Program
2010 5/15/2010 @ Chicago Red Stars W 1-0 Program Video
2010 5/30/2010 @ Washington Freedom L 2-1 Program Video
2010 7/17/2010 @ FC Gold Pride L 2-0 Program
2010 7/24/2010 vs. Sky Blue FC W 4-1 Program Game Notes
2010 8/4/2010 @ Washington Freedom L 2-0 Program
2010 9/23/2010 @ Boston Breakers W 2-1 (OT) Program Video

2011

2011 8/27/2011 WPS Cup @ Western New York Flash L 1-1 (5-4 PK) Program Video

 

Philadelphia Independence Video

The Independence take on the Boston Breakers in a thrilling WPS Super-Semi Final at Boston, September 2010

 

Links

August 2011 @TheGoalkeeper Q&A with Independence owner David Halstead

Women’s Professional Soccer Media Guides

Women’s Professional Soccer Programs

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August 4, 2010 – Boston Breakers vs. Atlanta Beat

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Boston Breakers vs. Atlanta Beat
August 4, 2010
Harvard Stadium
Attendance: ~1,500 (3,251 announced)

Women’s Professional Soccer Programs
80 pages

 

Social media was always central to the marketing plan of Women’s Professional Soccer (2009-2011).  Initially in 2008 and early 2009, the league misfired on a clunky and unlamented platform called Ning, but by late 2009, Twitter was the new big thing for WPS.  The league rapidly built up a then-noteworthy network of 250,000 followers (more than Major League Soccer at the time).

The league got some nice pub for its early-adopter Twitter strategy.  But by the time the second season of WPS kicked off in April 2010, it still wasn’t clear what the payoff was going to be.  The social strategy was not complemented by an effective marketing mix nationally or at the franchise level.  WPS started to become all Twitter, all the time.  And despite the eye-popping numbers for @womensprosoccer, the individual WPS franchises and their star players toiled in digital obscurity.  All nine clubs had fewer than 5,000 Twitter followers at the start of the 2010 season.  The league’s stars had comparable numbers back then – Hope Solo of St. Louis Athletica was near the top with about 4,500 followers.  (During the 2011 Women’s World Cup, the USWNT players separated from the pack.  WPS club followings stayed stuck in the low four figures while stars like Solo and Alex Morgan surged into the hundreds of thousands).

Most of the Twitter content was also deathly dull and self-serving.  Teams begged on Twitter for Facebook Likes…so that they could turn around and ask their Facebook fans to follow them on Twitter.  Funny, inspiring and compelling player tweets were lost in an ocean of cautious cliches about team performance or summaries of take out orders from Panera Bread.

Sometime around the spring of 2010 I tweeted to my @BreakersGM followers that I was looking forward to the next breakthrough – the day that WPS fined or suspended a player for a controversial tweet.  Privately, I had two likely suspects in mind.  One was the former USWNT midfielder Natasha Kai who appended vaguely profane, self-consciously outrageous hashtags (#BOOM BAM MADA FAKA, #SEXINACUP) to the most mundane of daily activities, such as going to Starbucks or picking up her laundry.  The other – edgier and more authentic – was Solo, whose competitive process seemed to require the presence of off-the-field adversaries.  Real ones when available, manufactured ones when necessary.

##

The match between the Boston Breakers and the Atlanta Beat at Harvard Stadium on August 4, 2010 never should have been played.

It was an emergency addition to the WPS schedule, added in late May after St. Louis Athletica owner Jeff Cooper defaulted on his payroll and abruptly folded his club in mid-season.  The Breakers were scheduled to play Athletica at home on Saturday, June 5th the week after the team shut down.  A strong (by WPS standards) pre-sale of around 5,000 tickets went up in smoke and the match was cancelled.

The only available date to plug the hole in the schedule was on a Wednesday night in August against the Beat.  The marketing budget was gone.  The game didn’t appear on any of our team’s printed marketing collateral, produced months before the season.  The Wednesday night date was such a loser, we instructed our sales staff to ignore the game altogether and focus all of their efforts on our remaining weekend dates.  We would have drawn better playing on the moon on New Year’s Eve.

It was the smallest crowd in the history of the Breakers – about 1,500 fans.  I announced over 3,200 as an act of impotent vengeance at Jeff Cooper for costing us a 5,000+ paid gate for the cancelled Athletica match.  Among those few who did show up were 20 or so core members of the Breakers supporters group, the Riptide.

##

Supporters culture really doesn’t exist for women’s soccer at the club level.  It’s a group sales driven business, with most fans attending only one game a year and no opportunity to follow all of a team’s games on TV.  Unlike the USWNT fan base, the core audience of WPS (and WUSA before it) was defined by its casualness, with too little passion and too little knowledge of the game and its players to foster much genuine fanaticism. Turning that argument on its head – there’s a strong case that the sport’s investors have shown too little staying power to allow deep bonds and fanaticism to take root.

Small independent groups in a few WPS cities tried to change this.  LaClede’s Army in St. Louis, Local 134 in Chicago and the Riptide in Boston created dues-paying memberships, established their own websites, and turned WPS matches into day-long parties, starting with tailgating and ending with organized chanting, signing, drumming and opponent-baiting during the matches.

The Riptide were one of the biggest and loudest of these groups.  Most were veterans of the Midnight Riders, the largest supporters group of the New England Revolution in MLS.  Like all supporters groups worth their salt, they were independent of the front office, but I met with them once or twice a year to see what they needed.  We gave them their own standing section, where they could stand and sing for the whole match without having casual fans ask them to sit down.

For their part, they pledged – without me really even asking – to tone down some of the more profane aspects of MLS supporters culture, in recognition of the fact that much of the Breakers audience was families and young girls.  Specifically, they promised that “YSA”  would have no place at Breakers games. YSA is supporters short hand for the You Suck, Asshole chant that accompanies opposing goal kicks at some MLS stadia and has become the symbol of an ongoing identity debate within the men’s league.

For all their spirit, the Riptide were small in number – maybe 50 fans in the 8,000 seats we used for Breakers matches.  So at the start of the 2009 season, I hired a Brazilian band director named Marcus Santos and his percussion group Afro Brazil to stand behind the Riptide and augment their sound.  I wasn’t sure how they’d get along – Afro Brazil could raise a ruckus and easily drown out the Riptide if they pleased.  But during the very first match, despite some language barriers between the Riptide and some of Marcus’ drummers, they learned to coordinate Afro Brazil’s beat with the Riptide’s chants.

From that first night they were locked in.  The chemistry between the Riptide and Afro Brazil was immediate and powerful.  Fans (and broadcasters) perceived them as one unified supporters group and I was careful to always be coy about that fact that we paid Afro Brazil to be there.  It felt like a joyous, multi-cultural party of professional musicians and soccer fans that organically broke out in Section 15 every night and it created this cool effect that made every Harvard Stadium crowd feel much bigger than it was.

One night in 2009 I was standing on the field with Mark Kastrud, President of the Boston Cannons of Major League Lacrosse, who also played at Harvard Stadium.  He could eyeball-count a crowd as good as anyone.  The Riptide/Afro Brazil were roaring along in full rhythmic fury across the stadium.

“There must be 10,000 people here tonight,” Mark said.

The real number was about half that.

##

There were less than a thousand people in Harvard Stadium when the Beat game kicked off that Wednesday night in August.  And it felt like even less because Afro Brazil couldn’t make the date on short notice.  Perhaps two dozen Riptide members showed up, standing very much alone in the front two rows of Section 15.  The Revolution played a Mexican team in the semi-finals of the SuperLiga tournament at Gillette Stadium that night, and many of our regulars went to that match instead, since they were also Midnight Riders.  Harvard Stadium was a morgue that night – dead, empty, lifeless.  To use a cliche you could hear a pin drop, let alone a racial epithet screamed.

You can hear the subdued crowd noise on this scouting video, shot from the press box.  At the 0:34 second mark, you get a brief glimpse of a lonely group of about 15 chanting fans standing along behind a banner behind the corner flag.  These are the Riptide supporters at issue in the story, and you will also see the Redbones hospitality tent referenced below.

But if me and my front office team wrote the game off, the Breakers did anything but.  Our English striker Kelly Smith scored on Solo forty seconds into the match to put Boston up 1-0.  She added a second goal in the 62nd minute and the Breakers pressured Solo all night, while Breakers keeper Alyssa Naeher held the Beat scoreless.

During the first half, I sat a few rows behind the Riptide with Alyssa Naeher’s dad.  At halftime, the teams changed sides.  Mr. Naeher followed Alyssa to the other side of the field and I descended down to the hospitality tent behind the goal in front of the Riptide and Section 15.  There were a couple of guests who stood out in the tent that night.  2-3 guys who were friends of Hope Solo and were somehow connected to the equipment management or athletic training staff for U.S. Soccer.  They were hard to miss, or rather one guy was.  I really don’t know if I can do him justice.  He had this rural meth cook aesthetic going on that was so contrived and over the top that a few of my staff members surmised he came straight to the game from a costume party.  If you were looking for a dude to sell you bad weed in the parking lot of the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds before a Night Ranger concert in 1985, you would make a beeline for this guy’s El Camino.

Anyway, I can’t remember if he and his crew crashed the VIP tent or if we offered them a courtesy upgrade knowing they were guests of a player, but  it didn’t matter.  We had plenty of Redbones barbecue to go around in light of the tiny crowd and I was happy to see them knocking back $8.00 Budweisers at the cash bar to fatten the evening’s meager concessions take.

Late in the match, with the game sewn up 2-0 for the Breakers, I wandered down to the other end of the field and struck up a conversation with Fitz Johnson, the owner of the Beat.  The whistle blew while we were talking and the players began their warm down.  After a few minutes, players from both teams started trickling off the field towards autograph alley.  Solo walked over, said a few  pleasantries to Johnson and gave him a quick hug.  He told her “good game” or “keep your head up” or something along those lines, and she casually walked off the field toward the Beat locker room.

##

My post-game ritual was to lock myself in Harvard’s hockey rink box office with our banker, a police detail, a case of cold beer and the night’s game receipts.  As the other Breakers staff members closed out their areas, they would come by for a cold one, to pick at whatever leftover BBQ was to be had from the VIP tent, and to decompress.  On a good night, the money count might take two hours.  Tonight it took 20 minutes.  The number on the bank deposit slip made me nauseous.  Pass the beer please.

Half an hour after the game, there were still a handful of Breakers players signing autographs outside.  The staff started to trickle in.  A PR assistant twiddled with her iPhone and said:

“Wow.  Hope Solo is blowing up on Twitter right now.”

“No kidding?  What’s she saying?” I asked.  This is what she was saying:

“To all the Boston fans and especially the young children that I didn’t sign autographs for I’m sorry. I will not stand for … An organization who can so blatantly disrespect the athletes that come to play. Perhaps the WPS or Boston themselves … Can finally take a stance to the profanity, racism and crude remarks that are made by their so called ‘fan club’ … To the true fans, I hope to catch you at the next game. Thanks for your support and love for the game.

Whoa.  The “R” word.  The nuclear option.  Was this the same person I saw amble off the field less than a half hour ago?

“That’s crazy.  I just saw her.  Walked right up to Fitz Johnson, gave him a hug and didn’t say a word.”

##

At first I was perplexed.  I’d been near the Riptide all night.  First sitting in their section for the first half, then down in the VIP tent right in front of them.   I radioed John Cunningham, the Breakers Operations Director and a respected ops guy used by FIFA for tournament work around the globe.  During games John sat at the fourth official’s table, right next to the visitors bench.  The Beat bench was about 15-20 yards from the Riptide section and on this night, both the bench and the fourth official’s table were within easy earshot of the only 20 people singing and chanting in the nearly empty stadium

John just started laughing in disbelief.  “Are you serious?  I didn’t hear anything besides the usual Riptide stuff.  You know, telling her she sucked and chanting “Brianna would have made those saves” at her.

I asked Leslie Osborne, the Breakers Captain, to ask around the locker room.  The Breakers dominated play that night and spent most of the evening in the attacking half.  Whatever Hope heard or experienced during the second half may well have been heard or experienced by some of the 7-8 Breakers who spent most of that half lining up shots at her.  Leslie was stupefied.

“Just ask,” I said.

Nothing, Leslie reported 20 minutes later, other than a few “Hope being Hope” comments from the peanut gallery.

By the time I got home after midnight, I was moving from puzzled to pissed.  Because it began to dawn on me that determining the “truth” of this situation was neither possible nor material to what was now happening.    Hope Solo Racism.  There were two ways those words could play out and neither was about any kind of objective truth.  Both were simply exercises in public relations followed to their natural and inevitable conclusions.

And there would have to be some sort of PR process.  The standard solution to WPS problems – relying on the league’s cloak of invisibility in the media – didn’t work with Solo, because she made headlines.  The story ended up on the Sports Illustrated/CNN website among other high profile outlets.

The first scenario was that Solo would wake up the next morning with a cooler head and admit through a team spokesman that she used a poor choice of words to express her frustration with the match.  And we would basically say “No problem, these things happen.”  I sent an email to my buddy Shawn, the GM of the Beat, requesting a formal retraction and copied Fitz Johnson.  I also forwarded the email to the league office, requesting a fine and suspension to Solo for material damage to the Breakers reputation and business if the retraction was not forthcoming.  I wasn’t optimistic.

The second scenario was bad.  In this scenario, Hope doubled down in the morning and stuck to her story.  At that point, the Beat organization would have no choice but to back their star.  That’s the code.  And the Breakers would have no choice but to issue some sort of carefully worded statement about abhorring racism in all its forms, thus implicitly admitting something must have happened.  Our only option would be to say we were very concerned and would take steps to make sure this – whatever this was – would never happen again.

As the saying goes, you can’t prove a negative.  Tom Cruise will always be gay, Barrack Obama will always be Kenyan and Mitt Romney will always be a tax cheat.  Denying you Tweeted a photo of your penis always means you Tweeted a photo of your penis.

##

Hope doubled down.  I got an email from Shawn the next day with Hope’s specific allegations.  They were quite detailed. (One of my great WPS regrets is that my computer crashed three days before I left the Breakers in September 2011 and I lost this archival material).   Hope claimed the epithets were aimed primarily at the Beat’s Japanese player Mami Yamaguchi, who subbed out 16 minutes into the second half, which was the half when Solo defended the goal in front of the Riptide.  There were a few rather specific and nasty lines attributed to voices from Section 15, including people screaming that Yamaguchi should move back to Japan and go to work in a rice factory.

In addition, there were some racially insensitive remarks allegedly directed at Kia McNeill, a top flight Atlanta defender with local ties as a Boston College grad.

There were also few things that were undoubtedly true and that I heard myself, such as bullet points about our fans yelling “You Suck” at Hope.  That struck me as an oddly wimpy complaint for a player who has played in highly charged stadium atmospheres in world class venues all over the globe (let alone the atmosphere in college soccer), but I can’t fault her for being thorough, I suppose.  The strangest accusation was that Hope was pelted with coins from the stands, which would have been easy to detect both during the game and in the post-game clean up of the field.  There was simply nothing to support the projectile claim.

She also had some affidavits from two “fans” supporting her claims.  Her fans, to be specific.  Night Ranger guy and his buddies.  There were also a couple of far more carefully worded comments from – if I recall correctly – Kia McNeill and reserve GK Brett Maron stating that they may have heard some insensitive language coming from the stands.  Yamaguchi herself was curiously absent.

Oh well.   The point wasn’t whether it was all true anymore anyway.  The point was Hope was wedded to her story and there was little left but to conduct an investigation and then collaborate with the Beat on the messaging.

The league office more or less told me:  Welcome to our world.  Figure this out with Shawn.  We don’t have a role here right now, and they were right.  He said. She said.

##

The Riptide, meanwhile, were in agony.  Because here is one thing you have to understand about club supporters.  They HATE you when you come into their house wearing the colors of another club.  But they LOVE you when you wear the colors of your country and, to a person, the Riptide membership were USWNT superfans who revered Hope Solo as the National Team goalkeeper.

The Riptide were also rude, crude, immature, loud, obnoxious, not as funny as they thought a lot of the time, whiny when calls didn’t go their way, occasionally poor winners and often poor losers.  In other words, they were what fans are allowed and encouraged to be in just about every male sport.

One other thing about the Riptide which they never got any credit for in all this nonsense.  They have considerable ability and track record to be self-policing.  As promised to me in 2009, You Suck Asshole never reared its head at a Breakers game and the leaders of the Riptide, on at least one occasion, shushed a newbie who tried to get it going.  Together with Afro Brazil, the supporters of Section 15 were pretty small in number.  But as a group they were multi-racial and multi-lingual.  They featured a considerable number of passionate female fans, along with males.  There were openly gay members.   There was an Asian man in the group.  The notion that this specific group would allow fans within their small ranks to spew hate speech at Asian player (or any other nationality) throughout a match was simply beyond belief.

##

At this point Hope Solo leaves our story.  She lit the match and walked away from the ensuing conflagration, never clarifying her Tweets or mentioning it again for two years until her memoir came out this week.

So what’s happens next is that Shawn and I get on the phone.  Now that I have Hope’s list of allegations, I promise to undertake an internal investigation, attempting – imperfectly – to leave aside my own proximity and personal recollections to the best of my ability.  It took a couple of days.  I interviewed the Riptide fans in attendance, police detail officers assigned to the match and the 3rd party food service workers in the hospitality tent and Section 15 areas, who worked for outside concessions companies.  I called on various season ticket holders in the adjacent sections and game day volunteers at the field and seating levels.

I can’t say I found nothing.  As mentioned above, some of Hope’s tamer claims (people saying she sucked) were true – like every night at a Breakers game.  In interviewing the police details, I learned of an incident in the hospitality tent after I left the area late in the match.  A couple of  young men – “appearing intoxicated” – moved over to the wall in front of Section 15 and began acosting the Riptide.  The detail officer in the tent felt it was getting a bit chippy and moved them out of the area.  These were Hope’s pals – the Night Ranger rides again.

The most compelling revelation involved Kia McNeill.  McNeill is the lone intersection where the two sides of this story come together, but through very different lenses.  McNeill, as I mentioned, went to Boston College.  She had a great reputation in WPS as a hard-nosed defender and had the yellow and red card accumulations to prove it.  She is also black and she also had family at the game that night, apparently only a section or two over from the Riptide.

At some point, presumably in the second half when Solo was on the Riptide end, McNeill committed a hard foul.  Several Riptide fans yelled out, calling McNeill a “thug” and a “convict”.  A couple of Riptide members matter-of-factly recalled this to me and then rattled off various statistics and anecdotes about McNeill’s red & yellow card history – hence the “convict” tag – that only a truly obsessive, sports talk radio junkie kind of fan would know about.  And WPS really didn’t have that kind of fans….except for these guys.

I’d heard a report that McNeill’s family heard comments to this effect at the game and were unhappy about it.  Whether it was because they perceived it as despicable racial stereotyping – black person = convict – or just that it was negative trash talk directed at their daughter, I don’t know.  I asked Jackie, a soft-spoken 24-year old graduate student at Brown University and the President of the Riptide, if it occurred to her that fans calling McNeill a “thug” might appear to be racially insensitive.

“I suppose I could see that now, if you didn’t know us,” she replied.  “But we also call Holmfridur Magnusdottir of the Philadelphia Independence a thug.”

Magnusdottir is from Iceland.

I can see where McNeill’s teammates would be concerned for her, because the typical atmosphere of a WPS match was so laid back due to the lack of game knowledge of the average fan.  On the other hand, I don’t think any NFL fan calling Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison – an African-American and one of the league’s most physical and heavily penalized players – a thug would cause equal concern and consternation.  It’s a tricky thing.  Personally, I think it was an insensitive thing to say.  At the same time, I think the Riptide fans are casualties of a very antiquated notion of how a women’s sports fan is expected and allowed to behave.

##

In the end, Shawn and I collaborated on a joint statement that went up on the WPS website.  In it, I acknowledged that insensitive comments appear to have been issued from the stands (re: McNeill, in my mind, not Yamaguchi) and pledging that we would bring on additional security to monitor fan behavior.  The Riptide howled and fumed that we had betrayed them. Understandable.  I felt bad for them.

I asked Shawn for a quote from Hope stating that she regretted using Twitter to raise the issue publicly before addressing her concerns through proper channels.  Shawn told me that was a non-starter – Hope wouldn’t say a word.  This was everyone else’s mess to clean up now.  Instead the Beat organization itself would say that it was regrettable that Twitter was used as the means of communication for such a serious matter.

I sighed. “Shawn, I hope you understand that we feel like the party that has been attacked here, and yet we are the ones extending much further towards you than you are towards us in solving this thing.”

“I get that,” he said and that was fine with me.  He was my friend and was in a lousy situation too.

The statement was intended to be the carefully negotiated final word, but neither of us stuck to it.  We couldn’t help playing to our constituencies, tiny as they may have been.  A single mercurial superstar in Shawn’s case and a couple of dozen season ticket holders in mine.

A couple of days  later Shawn gave interviews to a Georgia newspaper and to the blogger Jeff Kassouf stating that racial epithets had been directed at Yamaguchi (something I categorically rejected) and “giving props” to Solo for standing up for her teammates.  I punched back with a new statement basically saying Hope was full of it, while staying within the rhetorical straitjacket of accepting responsibility so as not to be accused of denial.

Shawn and I hugged it out (metaphorically) the next day, which was made easier by the realization that nobody cared anymore.

Kassouf, another friend, didn’t know what to make of it all and just posted our pissing match under the headline “FACTS STILL UNCLEAR BETWEEN ATLANTA, BOSTON…“.

Solo signed the next season with Dan Borislow and MagicJack, the only guy still throwing around big bucks contracts in WPS’ third and final season.  The Breakers immigration attorney gave me a recommendation to a court reporting service he liked and I planned to hire a stenographer to sit in Section 15 and prepare a transcript of all cheers, chants and songs for Hope’s return engagement.  But she never played in Boston again due to National Team duties and a subsequent injury.

Oh well.  Save that idea for next time.

##

 

 

 

Written by AC

August 17th, 2012 at 11:09 pm

August 1, 2010 – Atlanta Beat vs. FC Gold Pride

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Atlanta Beat vs. FC Gold PrideAtlanta Beat vs. FC Gold Pride
August 1, 2010
KSU Soccer Stadium
Attendance: 3,242

Women’s Professional Soccer Programs
2 pages

 

I’ve been on a long and fruitless search for game programs from the defunct Atlanta Beat (2010-2011) of Women’s Professional Soccer. I was a former executive in WPS for four years and I’ve been trying to cobble together an extensive archive of the league’s old materials before they get lost to the sands of time.

It appears the Beat never actually produced any match day programs, with the exception of a nice little booklet that they put out for the 2010 WPS All-Star Game at KSU Soccer Stadium in 2010.  So special thanks to longtime women’s soccer collector (and Beat fan) Steven Bruno for sending along these double-sided roster cards that were apparently distributed free to Atlanta fans during the 2010 season in lieu of programs.

Click here to download the team rosters from the reverse side of this Roster Card

This particular match was an August 1, 2010 tilt between the Beat and FC Gold Pride, who were from the Bay Area of California.  The match was played in broiling 90-degree heat and broadcast live on Fox Soccer Channel, which was somewhat unfortunate as it ended in a 0-0 draw.  WPS had a problem with low scoring matches in 2010 and I always winced when we had a scoreless draw on national TV.  I’m not a soccer purist myself – I have trouble appreciating such matches – so maybe this is just a personal bias from a neanderthal American sports fan.  Having said that, Beat goalkeeper Hope Solo did make some spectacular saves in this game, as did her goalposts and crossbar.  That was enough to keep the lowly, last place Beat in this game against the eventual league champions from California.

One other note about the Beat and Kennesaw State University Soccer Stadium.  The $16.5 million facility was gorgeous and was often touted by WPS as the first soccer-specific stadium built for women’s soccer.  The stadium held around 8,400 fans and the Beat averaged around half that amount, according to their announced figures.  Whenever the team was on Fox Soccer Channel, the place looked dead, because the cameras always faced the empty side of the bowl.  But the setting was really unmatched as far as WPS went.  It’s a shame the team folded in 2012, as the stadium is now rumored for conversion to an American football field after just a very brief run as one of the premier women’s sports facilities in the United States.

Here’s the side of KSU Soccer Stadium that you could never see on TV, in an artist’s rendering:

 

==Links==

Atlanta Beat Home Page

FC Gold Pride Home Page

##

 

Written by AC

June 8th, 2012 at 3:46 pm

2009-2010 FC Gold Pride

2 comments

Women’s Professional Soccer (2009-2010)

Born: September 3, 2008 – WPS founding franchise.
Folded:  November 16, 2010

Stadiums:

Team Colors: Black & Gold

Owners: Brian NeSmith & Nancy NeSmith

 

FC Gold Pride was a short-lived franchise in Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS), which played at multiple locations in the Bay Area of California over two seasons from 2009 to 2010.  Although the club never caught on with Bay Area soccer fans or corporate sponsors, the club did engineer a stunning worst-to-first turnaround from its debut season in 2009 to its swan song in 2010.  FC Gold Pride’s 2010 WPS Cup championship side is widely considered to be one of the finest women’s club teams ever assembled.  However, the club folded little more than a month after winning the Cup.

FC Gold Pride came into existence on September 3, 2008 as a last minute franchise for the inaugural season of WPS, which planned to kickoff in March 2009.  The other six WPS franchises had each been in place for more than a year when the league introduced the FC Gold Pride club, owned by tech entrepreneur Brian NeSmith and his wife Nancy.  In fact, WPS had already awarded two expansion clubs for the 2010 season by the time the NeSmiths signed on for 2009.

FC Gold PrideWPS needed the Bay Area club to replace its moribund Dallas franchise, the league’s seventh club which existed on paper only.  The purported Dallas investors had made zero progress securing a stadium lease and had neglected to hire a coach or front office staff by the late summer of 2008.  With FC Gold Pride’s entry, Dallas was quietly removed from league plans.  WPS could now move on to the process of “Allocation” – the distribution of U.S. Women’s National Team players to each of the seven founding franchises.  The USWNT had just defeated the powerhouse Brazilians for Olympic gold in Beijing on August 21st, 2008.  WPS would allocate three of the U.S. gold medalists to each club, who would serve as the marketing tent poles for each local franchise.

In allocation, each of the two dozen or so eligible USWNT players would choose and rank their top three WPS cities to play in.  The seven WPS clubs would submit a wish list of the three USWNT players they wished to bring into market.  Commissioner Tonya Antonucci and her league staff would serve as matchmakers, aligning the player and team preferences as closely as possible.  In a preliminary ballot, not a single USWNT player listed Dallas among their three choices.  With the entrance of Bay Area into the league, the players received new ballots and the results shifted dramatically.

Sixteen players – nearly two-thirds of the pool – ranked Bay Area on their list of preferred cities, making the two-week old franchise the most popular destination in the league.  This included the Americans’ greatest star, Abby Wambach, who ranked FC Gold Pride as her top choice.  Wambach had started her pro career in the previous pro league, the WUSA,  in 2002 and 2003 with the Washington Freedom, owned by John Hendricks, the founder of the Discovery Channel.  Alone among WUSA investors, Hendricks kept his team alive after that league folded in 2003.  From 2004-2008, Henricks funded a low-budget version of the Freedom, which played an amateur schedule without its former stars such as Wambach and Mia Hamm.  That legacy gave Hendricks great credibility as the dean of WPS owners and he insisted on the return of his erstwhile superstar.  Wambach got her second choice and was allocated to Washington.  In the allocation event on September 16, 2008, FC Gold Pride received three players with local ties: defender Rachel Buehler and goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart of Stanford and midfielder Leslie Osborne of Santa Clara University.

Rachel Buehler FC Gold PrideAs Head Coach, the NeSmith’s quickly appointed Albertin Montoya, a former college assistant at Stanford and Santa Clara.  The club did not undertake a comprehensive coaching search and Montoya had a thin resume by WPS standards.  Skeptics of the hire pointed out that Montoya’s key credential seemed to have been running the Mountain View Los Altos Girls Youth Soccer Club where the NeSmith daughters played as teenagers.

FC Gold Pride signed a lease to play at 10,000-seat Buck Shaw Stadium on the campus of Santa Clara University, a facility shared with the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer.  Gold Pride debuted at home on April 5th, 2009 against the Boston Breakers in a game televised nationally on Fox Soccer Channel.  The crowd of 6,459 went home happy after former U.S. National Team star Tiffeny Milbrett came off the Gold Pride bench to break a 1-1 tie in the 90th minute.

Carrie Dew and I would call that our ‘Glory Day’,” recalled forward Tiffany Weimer, who assisted on the franchise’s first goal that afternoon.  “It was the best we played and we thought we were going undefeated after that.”

The glory didn’t last.  Gold Pride won only three of their remaining 19 matches in 2009.  At 4-10-6, Gold Pride finished last in the seven-team league and their total of 17 goals in 20 matches was the weakest offensive output in WPS.    Bright spots included the Canadian international Christine Sinclair (6 goals) and Tiffeny Milbrett (4 goals), who combined for ten of the club’s seventeen goals and were both selected to play in the postseason WPS All-Star game.  The All-Star nod must have been sweet vindication for the 36-year old Milbrett.  The former WUSA Most Valuable Player (2001) had scored 100 goals for the U.S. National Team from 1991 to 2006 but was passed over by every WPS franchise in the league’s January player draft before latching on with Gold Pride as a free agent in March.

FC Gold Pride’s announced attendance dropped substantially after the home opener.  Only one of Gold Pride’s remaining eight home dates in 2009 drew over 4,000 fans.  The club started the season with the highest ticket prices in WPS ($18 – $45 per seat).  Halfway through the summer, the team slashed those prices, angering some season ticket holders and advance buyers.  Unlike many other WPS clubs, Gold Pride offered few comp and deep discount promotions to pad attendance.  In fact, the club’s internal sales figures actually stacked up much better within WPS than the league’s announced attendance figures indicated to the public.  Gold Pride sold 885 season tickets – 4th best in WPS – and their total 2009 ticket sales revenue of $644,000 ranked third, trailing only the Boston Breakers ($646K) and the Los Angeles Sol ($854K).

FC Gold PrideDespite the last place finish, the NeSmith’s retained Montoya for Gold Pride’s second season in 2010 and the rebuilding began.  41-year U.S. National Team legend Brandi Chastain, the league’s oldest player, was released.  Team captain Leslie Osborne was allowed to depart via free agency, as was the Brazilian midfielder Formiga, whom Gold Pride had selected with the #1 overall selection in the international player draft prior to the 2009 season.  Formiga’s rumored $75,000 annual salary made her easily expendable after an unexceptional campaign.

The club’s fortunes began to turn at the WPS college draft on January 15th, 2010.  Montoya stockpiled three of the first twelve picks and then shrewdly chose Stanford teammates Kelley O’Hara (#3 overall) and Ali Riley (#10) as well as Florida State’s Becky Edwards (#12).  O’Hara would score six goals and earn an All-Star nod as a rookie.  Riley would take home WPS Rookie-of-the-Year honors, while Edwards would emerge as a key contributor in the midfield.  Beyond their skill, Stanford products O’Hara and Riley could be expected to add local appeal at the box office in the Bay Area – in theory anyway.

FC Gold Pride’s make-or-break moment as a franchise came two weeks after the college draft on January 28th, 2010.  Shockingly, the league’s flagship franchise, the Los Angeles Sol, folded after a single season of play when a new investor solicited by the WPS league office backed out at the 11th hour.  The Sol had posted the league’s best record in 2009 and now the key components of that club would be parceled out to the remaining WPS clubs in a disperal draft in early February.  All except one.  The 23-year old Brazilian superstar Marta was league’s greatest star – and its greatest burden.

Marta FC Gold PrideIn a league where the average player earned $32,000 in 2009 and where most clubs generated less than a million dollars in annual revenues, Marta had a three-year guaranteed contract worth a reported $500,000 per season.  A special mechanism was created to dispose of her contract.  Any interest club could submit a bid, with the minimum offer set at 75% ($375,000) of Marta’s 2010 salary.  If the highest bid was less than $500,000, the remaining eight clubs would collectively make up the difference to fulfill the contract.  The great question was what would happen if no one was interested.  Across the board, WPS owners were reeling from far greater than expected losses during the inaugural season.  Boston, with its large Brazilian population, passed, as did Chicago, New Jersey, St. Louis, Washington and the new expansion team in Philadelphia.  The Atlanta Beat expansion club, in need of a star attraction for its new soccer specific stadium, placed a bid.  And then the NeSmith’s, whom no one expected to be a player in the auction after losing $3 million in 2009, stepped in and bid the full $500,000.  Marta would play in the Bay Area.  A couple of days later, with the deal already done, FC Gold Pride went through the charade of selecting her with the third overall pick in February 4th dispersal draft.

“Our plan is to sell out every game,” owner Nancy NeSmith declared to The New York Times after WPS announced the dispersal draft results.  “If we get into a smaller stadium and sell out, the demand grows and sponsorship grows.”

The Marta acquisition aside, budget cuts were the rule of the day as Gold Pride headed into year two.  The team departed Buck Shaw Stadium and signed a cheaper deal to play at Pioneer Stadium on the campus of Cal State East Bay.  Necessary renovations to the 5,000-seat facility would not be complete until June, so Gold Pride would play the first two months of the 2010 season at Castro Valley High School Stadium.

The team also slashed its already lean marketing budget to near zero, meaning that many Bay Area soccer fans never got the memo about Marta’s arrival.  Only 3,757 turned out for the 2010 home opener at Castro Valley High School on April 17th, 2010.  An early June match-up against the visiting Washington Freedom featured the two greatest stars of the women’s game – Gold Pride’s Marta versus Abby Wambach of the Freedom.  The same pairing drew 14,000 to the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles in 2009.  Only 3,442 turned out in the Bay Area.

On the field, the rebuilding campaign led by Montoya and GM Ilisa Kessler was a wild success.  After dropping the 2010 season opener on the road to St. Louis Athletica in April, Gold Pride reeled off five consecutive victories.  In June, the St. Louis franchise folded abruptly in midseason and its players were dispersed.  Gold Pride added long-time U.S. National team stalwart Shannon Boxx to an already fearsome line-up that included world class internationals Marta, Sinclair, Milbrett, Buehler, Barnhart, French midfielder Camille Abily, Canadian defender Candace Chapman, and the outstanding rookie trio of O’Hara, Riley and Edwards.

Gold Pride rampaged through the WPS regular season with a 16-3-5 record, outscoring its opposition by a margin of 46-19.  Marta paced WPS in scoring with a record 19 goals.  Sinclair led the league in assists with 9 and also finished fifth in goals with 10 of her own.  Barnhart allowed a stingy 0.77 goals against average with eight shutouts, both tops in the league.  By virtue of finishing with the best record in the league, Gold Pride earned a bye through the WPS playoffs and the right to host the WPS Cup Final at Pioneer Stadium on September 26th, 2010.

The final was anti-climactic.  Coming off a two-week layoff, Gold Pride easily defeated a tired Philadelphia Independence team, playing their third game in eight days, by a score of 4-0.  Sinclair scored a brace, Kandace Wilson got one, and Marta added a garbage time goal in the 90th minute to give the hometown fans a final thrill.   WPS announced a sell-out crowd of 5,228, but Nancy NeSmith later told blogger Jeff Kassouf of Equalizer Soccer that the team only managed to sell 2,900 tickets for the final.

“If you can’t even sell out a championship game, that’s a wake up call for us…that people had better things to do or they are just not that interested,” NeSmith told Kassouf.  “It’s kind of like Field of Dreams.  You build it and people will come.  And no one came.”

Gold Pride owners Brian and Nancy NeSmith lost a reported $5 million on the team during its 26 months of operation.  Dismayed at the response to the championship game by the public and the media, and by the lack of sponsorship and season ticket interest in the weeks immediately following the Cup victory, the owners decided not to post the required security bond to play a third season in 2011.  FC Gold Pride officially folded on November 16th, 2010.

After FC Gold Pride’s demise, the 2011 WPS expansion franchise Western New York Flash opened up its checkbook in an effort to re-assemble the core of Gold Pride’s championship team in Rochester, New York.  Flash owner Joe Sahlen took on the final year of Marta’s $500,000 annual contract.  The club also landed Gold Pride vets Sinclair, Ali Riley, Candace Chapman, Becky Edwards, Kandace Wilson, and Brittany Cameron.  The Flash lost a bidding war with Boston for the rights to Kelley O’Hara.

Like Gold Pride a year earlier, the Flash breezed through the regular season and earned the right to host the 3rd WPS Cup at Sahlen’s Stadium in Rochester on August 27th, 2011.  Once again, the opponent would be the Philadelphia Independence.  This time the match was a thriller, with the Flash winning on penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie held up through overtime.  The 3rd WPS Cup would prove to be the final game for WPS – the league folded in January 2012.

Young UC-Berkeley filmmaker Jun Stinson produced a mini-documentary on the demise of FC Gold Pride entitled the 90th minute in 2011.  The 20-minute film has screened at several symposiums on the West Coast and in Hawaii, often with live commentary from former WPS and WUSA players.

 

==FC Gold Pride Programs on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other

2009

2009 4/5/2009 vs. Boston Breakers W 2-1 Program
2009 5/31/2009 @ Washington Freedom L 3-1 Program
2009 6/17 @ Boston Breakers T 1-1 Program

2010

2010 7/17 vs. Philadelphia Independence W 2-0 Program
2010 7/24 @ Washington Freedom W 4-1 Program
2010 8/1 @ Atlanta Beat T 0-0 Scorecard

==YouTube==

Gold Pride’s last hurrah: the 2010 WPS Cup Final against the Philadelphia Independence.

 

==Interviews==

2011 Interview with  FCGP General Manager Ilisa Kessler

2011 Interview with FCGP forward Tiffany Weimer

 

==Downloads==

2009 FC Gold Pride Digital Media Guide

WPS Standard Player Contract

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