St. Louis Athletica Become Second WPS Team To Fold

Six weeks into the WPS second season, St. Louis Athletica, suffering from financial instability, was forced to shut down its operations, effective immediately.
In August, 2009, the Los Angeles Sol and St. Louis Athletica were one and two in the WPS standings. On May 27, 2010, neither team exists.

In January, the Sol, after a little more than month under WPS guidance, were forced to halt its operations when they couldn't find a majority owner to take over the team. On Thursday, Athletica was forced to shut down because owner Jeff Cooper was unable to acquire the funds to last through the current season.

Cooper runs Saint Louis Soccer United, which is made up of men's team AC St. Louis of the NASL and Athletica. It was two weeks ago when the WPS got wind of the financial troubles SLSU was experiencing, which put both teams' futures in jeopardy.

With the WPS unable to help fund Athletica through the 2010 season, Cooper was forced to make a decision, which ultimately was the demise of the club.

“The termination of Saint Louis Athletica is a painful outcome from the funding shortfalls and ultimate default by the investors who had the obligation to fund and operate the team on a day-to-day basis," said Cooper. "I’ve given this matter my complete attention since returning to a more active role in the last few weeks, and numerous parties have spent a lot of hours during that time exploring what options or solutions might be available. Despite best efforts, nothing was found that would answer the immediate needs of the franchise.

"With more time, it is possible the answer to the financial challenges Athletica faced would have been met," Cooper added. "But unfortunately we do not have the benefit of extra time."

WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci, with the help of others, was hoping for a way to resolve the financial struggles, but couldn't find a feasible way to do so.

“It’s incredibly difficult to lose a team in mid-season like this,” said Antonucci. “We looked at a few options as a league together with our board and U.S. Soccer, but the operational hurdles and finances just didn’t work out."

Like last year with the Sol, the WPS was contemplating whether to run Athletica for the 2010 season until an owner could be found, but it wasn't something the league could manage operationally and financially.

Cooper believes the source of the problem resides in the investors, who failed to live up to the promise.

"The investors who defaulted on a contract to fund Athletica through this season and beyond broke a promise to a league, team, players and a community, and that is what is most troubling about today’s development," said Cooper. "I am grateful for everyone’s support of Athletica and am particularly appreciative of our players who represented the sport and our community with such class and spirit.”

Cooper was the sole owner of Athletica, and appeared to have brought on those investors without properly bringing it to the attention of the WPS.

Meanwhile, Cooper will now direct his focus on AC St. Louis, hoping to keep the NASL team afloat.

“Despite the disappointing outcome with Saint Louis Athletica, we continue to work hard on securing the long-term future of AC St. Louis,” Cooper said.

Likewise, the WPS will move on from this.

“This is a setback, but it’s one individual franchise and the loss of a team is an unfortunate reality of pro sports,” said Antonucci. “We’ll continue to have great games and an exciting season for our fans. The solid foundation that we built in 2009 is there. We have the same number of teams that we had last year during a successful first season. We’ll get through this stronger and keep moving the league and business forward.”

Antonucci has previously stated that the league hopes to expand to 12 teams by 2012. At this point, those expectations may be a bit high.

WPS still has four months to put in place a team for the 2011 season to round its league out to eight teams. If they do expand to an eighth team, it will be a team on the West Coast, although a specific site was not mentioned as a front runner.

Looking ahead into the expansion of the WPS, the future will have to be dealt with a bit more carefully when approving a person or group into ownership. Future teams and potential owners will most likely go through a more vigorous background check so this type of situation does not happen again.

But it isn't uncommon for a new league to suffer these types of setbacks in the early stages.

But the league will continue to move forward from this. Next week, the WPS will revise its 2010 schedule. Athletica, who stood fifth in the WPS (2-1-3, 9 points) at the time of its folding, was to play the Atlanta Beat this weekend. That game has been cancelled. (AC St. Louis is 1-6-1, 4 points, and in last place in the NASL.)

All Athletica players will become free agents effective June 1, giving them the ability to sign with any of the remaining seven WPS clubs. In addition, any Athletica player will be eligible to be part of the WPS 2010 All-Star Game presented by U.S. Coast Guard Reserve if they sign by Friday, June 11.

WPS has also been discussing the potential of expanding each team's roster to 20, allowing for 24 players when including developmental players, to compensate for the talent being spread throughout the remaining clubs. Nothing has been decided on at this point.

One thing is certain, some club is going to have the fortunes of a Hope Solo in goal, the leadership and skills of Shannon Boxx, and the goal-scoring ability of Eniola Aluko. If there's any positive to take from this unfortunate situation, it's the competitiveness of the league just heightened.

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