USSF president predicts new women's league in U.S.

March 22, 2006

BOCHUM, Germany -- The new president of the U.S. Soccer Federation predicted Wednesday that an American women's league will be launched within the next few years.

Sunil Gulati, who took over as USSF president from Bob Contiguglia on March 11, wouldn't give a timetable but said he expects some of the investors in Major League Soccer to be part of the new women's league.

He also said that discussions on whether to retain men's national team coach Bruce Arena won't take place until after the U.S. team is finished playing at the World Cup, which runs from June 9 to July 9.

"We don't want to have a distraction between now and the World Cup," Gulati said before the United States played Germany in an exhibition game in nearby Dortmund.

Arena was hired after the United States finished last at the 1998 World Cup and his current contract runs through December. He has said he might want to stay, but returning to Major League Soccer is an option. He coached Virginia to five NCAA titles in 18 seasons and DC United to MLS championships in 1996 and 1997. In 2002, he led the United States to the World Cup quarterfinals, its best showing since 1930.

"His record of record of success at all levels in incomparable in American soccer certainly," Gulati said. "In overall sports in the United States, it's pretty hard to find too many people who have succeeded at those three levels: university, professional and then international."

While praising Arena, Gulati pointed to the improvement in the overall American program in recent years.

"He's done an extraordinary job. No one is irreplaceable," Gulati said.

The eight-team Women's United Soccer Association folded in 2003 after its third season. Tonya Antonucci was hired in December 2004 as chief executive officer of Women's Soccer Initiative, which is trying to relaunch a league. The Women's World Cup will take place next year in China.

"I think things are moving in the right direction," Gulati said. "They are being very careful on timing versus structure, and by that I mean rather than push it to start more quickly than it might be ready, to make sure everything is correct in the fundamentals, organizationally, financially."

The WUSA was launched after the success of the 1999 Women's World Cup in the United States and was backed by cable television interests. Gulati said having MLS investors would make a women's league more cost effective.

"Pretty clearly where there are soccer specific ... stadiums, having additional events changes the economics," he said. "The level of expectation, the level of budgeting will be very different than it was five years ago."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press