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2009 Los Angeles Sol

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Women’s Professional Soccer (2009)

Born: September 4, 2007 – WPS founding franchise.
Died: January 28, 2010 – The Sol cease operations.

Stadium: Home Depot Center (27,000)

Team Colors: Dark Blue, Light Blue, Yellow & Black

Owner: Anschutz Entertainment Group & Blue Star, LLC

 

The Los Angeles Sol were the flagship franchise of Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) when the league launched in March 2009.  The Sol had the best of everything during the league’s debut season – the best record, the highest ticket revenue, WPS’ wealthiest and most experienced owner/operator in Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), a world class venue in the Home Depot Center, and the sport’s greatest player in three-time FIFA World Player of the Year Marta of Brazil.  But the best of everything comes at a price.  The Sol’s estimated $3 million loss was among the highest in the league and led to the demise of the club in January 2010 after just one season of play.

WPS announced its formation in 2007 with Los Angeles as one of seven founding franchises.  The league’s arrangement with AEG was unorthodox, but it was clear from the beginning: AEG would get the club off the ground and help launch the league in a key media market, but it only planned to operate the franchise for one year.  After the 2009 season, AEG intended spin off the club to new ownership or hand the keys back to the league.  That approach was consistent with the entertainment giant’s strategic direction at the time.  AEG was gradually pulling back from its direct investment in sports franchises and focusing on its core businesses of operating venues and promoting live events, such as Michael Jackson’s planned 2009-10 This Is It tour of 50 dates at the AEG-operated O2 Arena in London.

AEG’s billionaire founder Philip Anschutz famously propped up – and likely saved – Major League Soccer in the early 2000’s by taking controlling ownership of five of the struggling league’s clubs, including the flagship Los Angeles Galaxy franchise.  By 2007, with MLS in strong growth mode with skyrocketing franchise valuations, AEG began to divest its MLS holdings.  Especially telling for WPS, AEG shuttered its Los Angeles Riptide Major League Lacrosse franchise in late 2008, just as the Los Angeles Sol ramped up operations.  Like the Sol, the Riptide played at the AEG-owned Home Depot Center and the lacrosse team drew crowds that were within the targeted range for WPS.

The task of assembling the Sol fell to General Manager Charlie Naimo and Head Coach Abner Rogers.  Naimo was a master recruiter and talent evaluator and had a track record of building dominant women’s sides in the semi-pro United Soccer Leagues.  Rogers had no previous pro coaching experience, coming to the Sol from the Laguna Hill Soccer Soccer Club where he ran one of the top girls elite club programs in the country.

Roster development began with the allocation of U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) players in September 2008.  Each of the seven WPS clubs received three members of the USWNT.  Los Angeles came away with defender Stephanie Cox, and veteran midfielders Shannon Boxx and Aly Wagner.   In the WPS International Draft one week later, the Sol added Brazilian striker Marta with the #3 overall pick, along with Japanese midfielder Aya Miyama and Chinese forward Han Duan.

Some observers were puzzled that Marta – by consensus the greatest star of the women’s game – dropped to the Sol at the #3 pick.  Behind the scenes, Marta’s agent Fabiano Farah stated that his player was only interested in playing for the Sol or the Boston Breakers.  The Breakers turned their attention (and wallet) instead to British forward Kelly Smith, leaving the Sol as the only viable suitor.  FC Gold Pride and the Chicago Red Stars, who held the #1 and #2 picks respectively in the international draft, obligingly passed on Marta in favor of players they were actually likely to sign.  Marta eventually signed a three-year guaranteed deal with the Sol reported to be worth $500,000 (cash) annually plus perks.

Brittany Bock Los Angeles SolTwo more top internationals were added before the season began in French mifielder Camille Abily and Canadian goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc.  Both Abily and LeBlanc would go on to join Marta and Boxx  as the Sol’s representatives on the WPS First XI postseason all-star team in 2009.  Naimo and Rogers also plucked two key starters from the WPS college draft in January 2009, with first rounder Brittany Bock of Notre Dame and second round selection Allison Falk of Stanford.

The Sol hosted the WPS inaugural game at the Home Depot Center on  March 29th, 2009.  Billed as “Marta vs. Abby”, the game featured the two greatest offensive players in the women’s game in Marta of the Sol and the American striker Abby Wambach of the visiting Washington Freedom.  Neither scored in the match, as Allison Falk scored the league’s first goal and Abily added the finisher for Los Angeles in a 2-0 Sol victory.   A large crowd of 14,832 – a WPS record which would stand for two years – turned out at the Home Depot Center.

The Sol ran roughshod over the rest of WPS in the regular season, racing out to an 11-1-3 record through the first fifteen matches.  The team cooled off during the season’s final month, but still easily finished atop the league table with a 12-3-5 mark.  Marta (9 goals) and Camille Abily (8 goals) finished 1-2 in WPS for scoring, while Aya Miyama tied for the league lead in assists (6).  Karina LeBlanc was masterful in goal, posting 12 shutouts in 18 appearances and winning the league’s goalkeeper-of-the-year award.  By virtue of finishing with the best regular season record, the Sol earned a bye to the championship match and the right to host the first WPS Cup at Home Depot Center on August 22, 2009.

On paper, the WPS Cup final on August 22, 2009 against Sky Blue FC of New Jersey looked like a severe mismatch.  Sky Blue squeaked into the playoffs with a losing record (7-8-5) on the season’s final day.  While the Sol rested up for two weeks, Sky Blue embarked on a cross-country road trip, upsetting both the Washington Freedom and St. Louis Athletica to reach the final.  The Cup final would be Sky Blue’s third road game in eight days, played across three different time zones.  Compounding the drama, Sky Blue captain Christie Rampone, three months pregnant, was pressed into double duty as player/coach after a series of internecine scandals cost the New Jersey club it’s General Manager, two head coaches and assistant during the course of the 2009 season.

The game turned out to be a cracker (see video highlights at bottom of post).  Sky Blue’s USWNT star Heather O’Reilly put the visitors up early with a terrific volley in the 17th minute.  Ten minutes later, Sol rookie defender Allison Falk was sent off for pulling down Sky Blue’s Natasha Kai on a breakaway.  Forced to play a woman down for the final 63 minutes of the match, the Sol could not find the equalizer and fell 1-0 in a shocking upset.

The WPS Cup crowd of 7,218 was the fourth largest in the league in 2009, but was less than half the crowd at the  Home Depot Center on opening day.  The crowd was somewhat disappointing, but overall the Sol had a strong year at the gate, averaging 6,382  for eleven matches including the final.  The team finished 3rd in WPS with season ticket sales of 1,259 and tops in the league in overall ticket revenue of $854,000, thanks to AEG’s experienced sports sales group.

On the downside, the Sol’s Home Depot Center lease was the most expensive in WPS.  The reported per game cost of $75,000 to play at HDC was higher than the total annual lease of several WPS franchises.  (Several observers have pointed out that the Sol’s estimated $3 million operating loss includes substantial payments paid by AEG to itself, including three quarters of a million dollars or so in stadium rentals.)  The burden paying Marta was another factor that made the Sol’s budget unlike any other in WPS.  Marta’s required perks pushed her total compensation well beyond her $500,000 annual salary.  By comparison, the average WPS player earned $32,000 during the 2009 season.

With no buyer in sight, AEG formally returned the franchise to WPS in the fall of 2009.  AEG technically had a 50% partner in the team, a local consortium of soccer afficionados known as Blue Star LLC, which included the actor Anthony LaPaglia.  While Blue Star had passion, they were in far over their heads financially .  Blue Star reportedly never contributed to any of the Sol’s capital calls during the season, or, as Blue Star’s Ali Mansour charmingly put it to ESPN’s Scott French, “AEG was very nice to absorb 90% of the loss”.

Chicago Red Stars investor and attorney Jack Cummins and Sol GM Charlie Naimo worked tirelessly through the autumn looking for a buyer.  By November, a secretive but promising potential savior appeared.  The Firestone Family Trust – controlled by heirs to the tire fortune – agreed in principle on terms to take over the team.  The terms of the sale would also give the family rights to the San Diego market with the option to eventually operate two Southern California clubs with shared administration and infrastructure.  Also discussed was a relocation to Cal State Fullerton’s Titan Stadium to address the club’s burdensome lease issues.

With the Firestone ownership papers due to close on January 23rd, 2010 the Sol were allowed to take part in the January 15th WPS college draft.  Charlie Naimo stockpiled four of the first fourteen picks in what was considered an unusually deep draft class.  Naimo selected Nikki Washington, Casey Nogueira and Kiersten Dallstream with his three 1st round picks.  By the end of the 5th round, Naimo had eight new players and was satisfied.  He traded his final pick in the draft to the Boston Breakers for “future considerations”, so that the Breakers could select local midfielder Gina DiMartino from Boston College.  Later that night, the Breakers purchased two pints of beer for Naimo and texted the league office that the trade had been completed to the satisfaction of both parties.

One week later, the long awaited closing date with the Firestone Family Trust arrived.  Then Naimo got the phone call on Sunday, January 24th – at the very last minute, the sale was off.  The deal collapsed in disagreement during a family meeting at the 11th hour.

With the season now less than four months away and no other buyers on the horizon, the WPS governors voted to disband the club.  The Sol’s players were placed into a dispersal draft, but the question of how to deal with the remaining two years of Marta’s guaranteed $500,000/year deal loomed.  WPS was now the legal owner of the club, not AEG, but multi-year contracts were still in force.  There was a possibility that all eight remaining clubs would pass on Marta in the dispersal process, potentially leaving the league office on the hook for a budget-busting $500K per year to the Brazilian superstar whether she played in the league or not.

The solution was to place Marta’s contact into a private auction among the clubs, with a minimum bid of $375,000.  The high bidder would get Marta and the remaining seven clubs would divide the difference between the high bid and the $500,000 guarantee seven ways.  Two clubs – the Atlanta Beat and FC Gold Pride – placed bids.  To the relief of their rival owners, the Gold Pride owners bid the full amount of $500,000 and no one else had to kick in to pay for a rival player’s salary.

The Sol formally shut down on January 28th, 2010 and the dispersal draft took place on February 4th, 2010.  WPS did not reveal the auction procedure to the public, so once again Marta puzzlingly dropped to the #3 pick as she had in the international draft in 2008.

##

The Sol was the first of four WPS franchises to fold during 2010, with St. Louis, FC Gold Pride and Chicago following later in the year.  After completing three seasons, WPS itself folded on January 30th, 2012.

 

==2009 Los Angeles Sol Match Results==

Date Opponent Score Program Other
3/29/2009 vs. Washington Freedom W 2-0 Video
4/5/2009 @ Sky Blue FC  W 2-0
4/19/2009 vs. FC Gold Pride W 1-0 Video
4/25/2009 @ St. Louis Athletica T 0-0 Video
5/2/2009 @ Boston Breakers W 2-1 Program Video
5/10/2009 vs. Boston Breakers T 0-0 Video
5/15/2009 vs. Sky Blue FC W 1-0 Video
5/24/2009 @ FC Gold Pride W 2-0 Video
5/30/2009 vs. St. Louis Athletica W 2-0
6/3/2009 vs. Chicago Red Stars T 1-1 Video
6/7/2009 vs. Washington Freedom W 3-1 Video
6/13/2009 @ Sky Blue FC T 0-0 Video
6/21/2009 vs. FC Gold Pride W 2-0 Video
6/24/2009 @ St. Louis Athletica W 2-1
6/27/2009 vs. Chicago Red Stars W 4-0 Video
7/5/2009 @ Washington Freedom W 1-0 Program Video
7/8/2009 vs. St. Louis Athletica L 1-0 Video
7/23/2009 @ FC Gold Pride T 0-0 Video
8/2/2009 @ Chicago Red Stars L 3-1 Video
8/9/2009 @ Boston Breakers W 2-1 Program Video
8/22/2009 vs. Sky Blue FC L 1-0 Program Video

 

==Key Players==

 

 

==YouTube==

The Sol host the Sky Blue in the inaugural WPS Cup final at Home Depot Center. August 22, 2009.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AYSEAN_CcY

 

==Downloads==

2009 Los Angeles Sol Media Guide

2009 WPS Final Ticket Revenue By Team

WPS Standard Player Contract

 

==Links==

Women’s Professional Soccer Media Guides

Women’s Professional Soccer Programs

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Written by AC

February 9th, 2012 at 5:22 am

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