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Antonucci to leave as WPS commissioner; western N.Y. franchise approved to join women's league

Tonya Antonucci, who oversaw the launch of Women's Professional Soccer but had two franchises fold this year and league operations restructured amid financial problems, will step down as commissioner, several sources close to the situation said Saturday.

Meantime, the Insider has learned that the league's board of governors has approved a western New York franchise to begin play in 2011. WPS is also planning to break from Soccer United Marketing, an arm of Major League Soccer, and pursue an independent marketing deal.

Word of the WPS developments began circulating throughout the U.S. soccer community late in the week.

Antonucci developed the business model for WPS, which kicked off in 2009 as the successor to Women's United Soccer Association (2001-03). Last winter, as expansion teams in Philadelphia and Atlanta were preparing to join the league, the Los Angeles Sol, WPS's most prominent club, shut down. During the season, St. Louis Athletica folded, leaving the league with seven teams. Current investors, including the Hendricks family, which operates the Washington Freedom, have yet to decide whether to continue funding the league, sources said.

WPS spokesman Rob Penner said he had no comment on the Antonucci matter, but did say the league is optimistic that the western New York franchise, which would play in Buffalo and Rochester, will join the league next year.The new franchise has existed as the Buffalo Flash in the second-tier W-League.

Reached via e-mail, Antonucci said she did not want to comment at this time.

By Steve Goff  |  September 11, 2010; 7:22 PM ET
Categories:  Women  | Tags: WPS  
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Next: Sunday kickaround: D.C. United, WPS playoffs, Virginia draws at Duke before White House visit


I think Antonucci's done a good job on the whole, so far. The league is within its burn rate and attendance targets, despite the... CHALLENGING economic environment.

The only obvious problem for the league has been finding ownership that isn't going to flake out like St. Louis. Buffalo has been pushing for league membership for a time, and has been paying its players already, so hopefully their ownership group is sufficiently committed to the long haul.

I'm definitely looking forward to 2011, and hoping that the Houston group can nail down the final corners of their bid and join the league.

Posted by: RayRadlein | September 11, 2010 7:45 PM | Report abuse

More WPS news.

Freedom won 1-0 and advance to the playoffs. On an earlier thread, someone asked why they were honoring Scurry after the game. It was because they honored Clyde Watson at halftime.

Posted by: jmingus | September 11, 2010 10:36 PM | Report abuse

I was at the 'Plex, and I don't recall hearing the PA announcer provide any updates on the game being played in Joisey at the same time. As it turns out, because Sky Blue only got a draw in that game, the Freedom was through, period, but we had no way of knowing that (unless you had a smartphone or had someone on the outside texting you updates, I suppose). For those of us who were in the dark and thought the Freedom had to win outright, it was another case of Freedom brinksmanship, as the GWG was scored in the 88th minute.

Also, Boston edged Philly for second place, meaning that the Freedom will be heading to West Chester, PA for its first-round playoff game next Sunday. (A tip: Taking Route 1 north of Ballmer is about as fast as I-95 and definitely more scenic, and you avoid the tolls.)

Posted by: universityandpark | September 11, 2010 11:36 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: universityandpark | September 11, 2010 11:45 PM | Report abuse

Seems like the story got out fast but not reference and no comment from the commissioner (whose title should have been mentioned on first reference). If the news is accurate, it seems like a big feather in the outgoing commissioner's cap -- and a vote of confidence in the viability of WPS -- for a new franchise to be on the verge of joining. Kudos to Antonucci for sustaining a great product over the most uncertain of financial times.

Posted by: hbread | September 12, 2010 9:52 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of Western New York, here's an interesting look at Rochester pro sports (Rhinos, Red Wings, etc):

Seems the transition to the new Rhinos stadium was not handled well, but now the team is slowly rebuilding its fanbase in a tough economic environment.

Posted by: Pedalada | September 13, 2010 12:07 AM | Report abuse

Wondering if any Insider fans will be defending Hope Solo after her latest tirade, this time via twitter? I didn't see the Freedom game so maybe she is right about the refs (Lord knows I'm always one to criticize the refs) but she clearly hasn't learned to control her temper in public. But since she says she won't be playing in the league anymore I guess that won't be a problem.

A lot of people (mostly men) defender her after trashing Scurry in the World Cup, and she obviously has not learned to show class in public. Mia Hamm had a notoriously bad temper too but she kept it under wraps in public. Hope Solo could learn something from her.

Posted by: hscott | September 13, 2010 9:08 AM | Report abuse

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