- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2003

CHARLOTTESVILLE — There was a Generation Next in women’s soccer. But now Generation Next doesn’t know what’s next since the WUSA folded five days before the start of World Cup competition.

It would be daunting enough for rising young players to replace Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Kristine Lilly, Briana Scurry, Joy Fawcett and Julie Foudy. But without a professional league to showcase talent and hone skills, it becomes still more difficult for those players to maintain the U.S. team’s two decades-long level of excellence.

“It means that we have to work harder,” said 23-year-old forward Abby Wambach, who starred this season for the WUSA champion Washington Freedom. “It means that we have to make sure what the veterans have built right now will sustain and will be there until the people that come and take our place.”

Wambach, Aly Wagner, Danielle Slaton, Kylie Bivens, Angela Hucles, Shannon Boxx and Cat Reddick will be playing in their first World Cup when competition begins tomorrow in Philadelphia. This group provides the core players expected to lead the U.S. team into the next World Cup in China in 2007.

U.S. Soccer’s residency programs do a good job of training players in preparation for friendlies and other competitions. U.S. Soccer also identifies top youth talent and meticulously funnels them to various youth national teams. But those chosen few aren’t the only quality players.

Consider Boxx. Alone among the first-timers, she has never been part of a U.S. training camp, a youth national team or participated in tournaments like the CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup or Algarve Cup.

Boxx’s dominating play in the middle for the WUSA’s Boston Breakers showed U.S. coach April Heinrichs that talent exists apart from that groomed by U.S. Soccer. Boxx, 26, is the first player in U.S. national team history to make a Women’s World Cup roster without first earning a cap for international play.

“WUSA is what got me here,” Boxx said. “It’s that level and playing with international players that were in the league and the top U.S. players that were in the league, that’s how I got better. Not having [WUSA] is going to make it very difficult to continue to grow as a person and grow as a player.”

Without a pro league, the new players have limited choices. Many will try to land college assistant coaching jobs. Some will pursue overseas careers in Sweden, Germany, England or Japan that don’t pay much. Some may opt to play without pay domestically in the W-League.

At the very least, up-and-coming players will be required to work out on their own to maintain fitness. They may also have to take a job outside of soccer to make ends meet.

“It’s difficult to say how they will develop without a WUSA, although the younger players have been able to experience the fact that U.S. Soccer has put in more time, energy and money into having under-17, under-19, under-21 national teams,” Chastain said. “I never had that.”

Heinrichs is disappointed to see the WUSA go but knows her national team program delivered unparalleled success before there was a women’s pro league.

“I think it’s important to remind everybody that U.S. Soccer has been developing female soccer players for 17 years and we’re going to have to adjust our plan now that the WUSA is no longer in existence,” Heinrichs said.

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