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Wambach Hoping for Chance to Help Revive League

June 28, 2004|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

At the entrance to the Home Depot Center tunnel on Sunday afternoon, framed against the sunlit green field behind her, Abby Wambach stripped off her perspiration-soaked jersey, signed the back of it and handed it to a young fan in the stands.

The spontaneous move was symbolic in a way, signaling that Wambach and the next generation of U.S. women's national soccer team players are ready to take over and carry their sport forward.

And if that means sticking around long after the final whistle has blown, slapping hands, signing autographs and, yes, even giving the shirts off their backs, it will all be worth it as far as Wambach is concerned.

As long as the Women's United Soccer Assn. returns and gives her a place to play.

The league is, to use its own term, "reorganizing." It could be back in 2005, but 2006 seems more likely. Either way, when it does return, it will be up to players such as Wambach to make sure that it lasts this time.

Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett, Julie Foudy and Kristine Lilly, two-time world champions every one and key founding players of WUSA, have more than done their part.

"Julie and Mia and Brandi may have been the face and the name of women's soccer for the past 10 years, and in some ways they will always be the face, but they're not always going to be here," Wambach said.

"We have to take the responsibility on our shoulders and do what needs to be done so we can get the league back."

It was back, briefly, on Sunday, when the San Diego Spirit defeated the Carolina Courage, 2-1, and the Philadelphia Charge shut out the San Jose CyberRays, 2-0, in a doubleheader played in front of 7,123 at the Home Depot Center.

Angela Hucles and Wambach scored for San Diego, and Canada's Charmaine Hooper got Carolina's goal. France's Marinette Pichon and Lilly scored for Philadelphia.

Both games showcased the skills that have been missing from the U.S. sporting landscape since WUSA went into hibernation in September, after spending $97 million in three seasons.

Tony DiCicco, formerly WUSA's commissioner and now chairman of its reorganizing committee, said Sunday that a business plan was being developed and that "there is a lot of interest from prospective owners and prospective sponsors to get involved."

The league could play in some fashion next year, possibly with festivals such as Sunday's or with a WUSA Cup, he said, "so that the teams are much more active, all building towards a full launch the following year."

Wambach cannot wait.

"It's not about the players on the field, it's about the people in the stands," she said. "And it's not even about selling out the stands, it's about being able to touch people's lives."

On Sunday, Wambach did just that.

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