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They went from being the worst team in the league in 2009 to champions in 2010.

But the Bay Area’s FC Gold Pride’s glory was short lived. There will not be another championship. There won’t even be another season.

Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) announced on Tuesday that FC Gold Pride was folding due to a lack of investors.

This leaves the league with just six teams, having recently announced a 2011 expansion team in Buffalo. 

Pending additional funding, Chicago will be able to return to make it seven.

“While it is disappointing to the league and its many enthusiastic fans, players, and partners that FC Gold Pride did not find the level of support it aimed for in its market, the continuing WPS teams have fully committed to the 2011 WPS season,” said WPS CEO Anne-Marie Eileraas in a league press release.

But why would the best team in a league fold? Why would the team with the best women’s soccer player in the world, Marta, not be able to survive?

I’d say go ask the Los Angeles Sol, but you can’t because the 2009 runner-ups — who Marta also played for — folded before the start of the 2010 season. Two months later, the St. Louis Athletica followed suit.

In addition, the league headquarters — along with several teams — made significant staff cuts during and after the season.

Now with the Pride bowing out, the league has seen three teams collapse in just two seasons, with Chicago as a possible fourth. Marta, the league’s top scorer both years, has now witnessed two California teams fall out from under her, despite her golden boot.

But California isn’t under Marta’s curse.

And none of this is surprising. We’ve seen it all before.

In 2003, the Women’s Professional Soccer Association (WUSA) announced its termination after just three seasons in which the league blew through a five-year budget and suffered about $100 million in losses.

Seven years later, they tried again, but this time on a much smaller scale — for example, playing in smaller stadiums, paying players smaller salaries, and hiring smaller staffs.

Eileraas suggests that there is no need to panic, that the WPS is following in the WUSA’s footsteps. “The history of sports has shown that in the early years of any league, teams come and go,” she said.

But, is that really what’s happening here?

Or is the hard truth just that Americans don’t care about women’s soccer?

It is no secret that soccer can be coined as America’s red-headed stepchild. 

Though men’s Major League Soccer has grown from 10 to 16 teams since 1996 — with plans to reach 20 before 2012 — the game remains on the backburner to baseball, football and basketball for most Americans.

And sadly, even if soccer were up there with the Big 3, the WPS would still have one big strike against it.

It’s a women’s league.

This isn’t a sexist statement, and I wish it wasn’t so. But just look at the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). Since its inaugural season in 1997, the league has grown from eight to 12 teams.

However, it has also seen six teams fold — including the former WNBA champion Sacramento Monarchs — and three relocate in that time. Only four original teams from the first season are still in operation.

The main reason the league is still floating at all is because almost every team is owned and supported by the NBA.

It has been reported that many WNBA teams are losing between $1-2 million a year, and that the NBA spends about $12 million a year bailing its women’s counterpart out. WNBA attendance has also dropped around 2,000 fans a game since the opening year.

Is this what’s in store for the WPS? Or will they even make it past 2011? 

The WPS is not supported financially by the MLS, and its attendance, averaging around 3,500 a game, has already dropped about 1,000 fans a game since the 2009 season.

Things aren’t looking good. And even if a pot of gold fell from the sky to support each team’s payroll, the league should accept that one fact might never change.

There just aren’t enough fans to fill the seats.

Jess Lander can be reached at jlander@napanews.com or 

967-6805.

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