Eyes on WPS, AEG as Los Angeles Sol Folds

The Los Angeles Sol ceased operations on Thursday, WPS announced.

The Los Angeles Sol ceased operations on Thursday, WPS announced.

On Thursday, Women’s Professional Soccer announced their cornerstone franchise – the Los Angeles Sol – will fold.

Formerly owned by Anschultz Entertainment Group (owners of the Los Angeles Galaxy, part-owners of the Houston Dynamo), the Sol leave WPS after an inaugural season where they finished with the league’s best record before losing to Sky Blue FC in the finals. With the league’s trademark player, Brazilian attacker Marta, the Sol were the young league’s most recognizable brand.

On Thursday, WPS announced that they would be folding the team. The league had been controlling the Sol since November, when AEG turned the team over to WPS. In that time, new ownership had been unsuccessfully sought, with the last chance to have a new owner in place falling apart “in the 11th hour.”

The league will proceed into the new season with eight teams and attempt to move back into the L.A. market in 2011.

FC Gold Pride, the league’s Bay Area club, is now the only team west of St. Louis.

The league will hold a dispersal draft next Thursday, allocating players like Marta, Shannon Boxx, Brittany Bock, Karina LeBlanc, and Aya Miyama to other franchises. For foreign players like Marta, LeBlanc and Miyama, finding new homes is complicated by league rules which limit the number of active foreign players on rosters to five. Some teams have already filled their foreign player slots.

Los Angeles was said to have lost $2 million last year, with Marta, the league’s highest earner, being paid $500,000. Payroll plus the cost of renting Home Depot Center may have complicated potential sales.

Though the league made commissioner Tonya Antonucci available Thursday to address the situation, AEG did not comment – a disappointing silence, considering AEG’s intentions with the Sol must be questioned in light of their unwillingness to extend their stewardship of the team.

AEG had only committed to help get the club started; however, their decision to leave the team before a buyer was found – eventually forcing WPS to fold the club – begs a question: What did AEG expect from this endeavor when they undertook it before the 2009 season?

How did WPS and the Sol fail to meet that expectation?

There may be a reasonable explanation, one that AEG may offer in the coming days.

Regardless, women’s soccer took a hit on Thursday.  Women’s Professional Soccer is the best women’s league in the world, but yet to start its second season, it’s difficult to determine where the league stands now that the team with the highest profile has folded.  From everything I’ve heard from people inside the clubs and league, the AEG-relationship was so unique that there is little to generalize from these circumstances.

The externalities, however – be it a hit to the brand or the loss of a key market – will have to be measured throughout 2010.

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