Tue 27.Mar 2012 20:00 Tanya Taylor,
Interview - Zanelli: "Every young girl deserves the right to dream to become a pro player"
Jerry Zanelli, the WPSL commissioner
Image: WPSL
Jerry Zanelli talks about the WPSL, which includes 70 teams around the United States, and the forming of the WPSL Elite League after the WPS cancelled for 2012.

He wants to help promote the growth of women's soccer and wants girls to be able to dream about a future of playing professional soccer.

Here you can read the interview:

Is there any country that has a women’s league with over 70 teams?
Jerry Zanelli: No, the USA is the only country that has a 70 plus team league of women playing competitive soccer. I’m proud of what we have been able to accomplish. And it wasn't just me working hard; this success has happened because a lot of talented people chose to help make this dream a reality.

People often say they want to support women's soccer in America, what can they do?
Jerry Zanelli: It's simple; come to the games and support the players. Just buy tickets. Even if you can't make the time to come to the games to watch these talented women play, support women's soccer by buying tickets and keeping this dream alive. Every young girl deserves the right to dream of becoming a pro player. America has placed in the top three in the world in every World Cup. We are the leaders of the free world. We all need to help women's soccer grow in the USA and every person can make a difference by just buying a ticket!

How long have you been involved with women’s soccer?
Jerry Zanelli: I’ve owned and coached the California Storm women’s team for about 23 years and the WPSL has been around for 15.

One thing that surprises a lot of people is that I do not have a coaching license. I started so many years ago, before a lot of this licensing. I have many years of experience and over 300 victories, and I have had mentors such as Albertin Montoya and Ian Sawyers who gave me a knowledge of strategy and tactics.

I believe the most important role of a coach is to inspire players ... and that soccer should always be fun. That seems to be what Jurgen Klinsmann says as well, so I know I am on the right track! I still am in contact with players I coached 20 years ago and it is great to see how they have developed.

What inspired you to start the WPSL?
Jerry Zanelli: What inspired me was the frustration of not having a national women’s league separate from men’s leagues.

I felt it was something that was needed. Today, the WPSL covers approximately 60 percent of the major population centers, perhaps even 70 percent of the United States, and offers women a competitive league.

I really wanted to set up a totally separate women’s league. I think that one of the main reasons for our success is that we can concentrate totally on women’s soccer, and being able to concentrate on the women's game doesn't seem to happen easily when there are men's teams involved.

Why do you think having a men’s league affiliated detracts from the women’s league?
Jerry Zanelli: Because every time you go to a meeting, whether it’s U.S. Soccer, USASA, USL, 99 percent of the time is spent on the men's game. The female side of the game is always last on the agenda and gets very little attention. It is not right.

We had over 60 teams show up at our WPSL Annual General Meeting in Las Vegas last January, and everyone in the room was focused on women in soccer. We worked all day focused on the needs of the individual teams and of the league as a whole.

Do you want the WPSL to affiliate with Men's Soccer?
Jerry Zanelli: Only if our affiliation with MLS clubs is more of a hands-free support situation. We have found in the past that unfortunately owners in other leagues would spend money on the men’s teams and not the women’s teams. Look at the WNBA – while everybody started out with great enthusiasm for the women, all of a sudden team-by-team they started dropping by the wayside.

How would you describe the WPSL?
Jerry Zanelli: The WPSL is a highly competitive women’s amateur league that includes professional teams. In women's soccer, the bulk of the players on the teams are college graduates who often are holding down demanding jobs.

What has been the greatest challenge in setting up the new WPSL Elite League?
Jerry Zanelli: The biggest challenge has been putting together a great 8-team WPSL Elite League and balancing the needs of the 70 plus team WPSL.

We selected a few teams from the WPSL to play in the Elite League, which left holes that had to be filled.

The WPSL Elite League, which is a national league in every sense of the word, is separate from the WPSL. It has required enormous amounts of time getting the staff geared up for all the work, which has almost doubled. We are also starting our U-20 League in the next few weeks, so we will have another influx of teams that will operate separately as well.

What is your goal for the WPSL for the next five years?
Jerry Zanelli: We want to get as many states and areas in the country involved as we can and to use our new Elite League to grow into a new professional women's soccer league. We feel part of the problem with the two previous professional leagues, WUSA and WPS, was that they tried to start out as major leagues and spent too much money.

I don’t think you can do that and be successful. You have to build slowly and build a solid foundation. The teams that build a solid foundation can accomplish more and eventually move into a full-fledged national professional league.

Our plans are to have a semi-pro league next year that will continue regardless of the 2013-scheduled return of the WPS.

So you foresee the Elite League continuing – it’s not just an interim fix to see if the WPS comes back for a 2013 season?
Jerry Zanelli: Very much. The WPSL had planned to start the Elite League in 2013 on the West Coast. With the suspension of play by the WPS, we realized we needed to step up to help those players forced out for a season and seize the opportunity. I immediately got on the phone with as many owners or representatives of teams as I could talk to. We were able to get two teams, the Boston Breakers and Western New York Flash, to join us and we moved on from there. Our WPSL teams right now are concentrating on recruiting players and raising the money they need to play in the Elite League.

If the WPS does not come back, we want to be in a position help solve the problem.

If the WPS does return in 2013, are you concerned that the Breakers and WNY Flash might pull out of the Elite League?
Jerry Zanelli: That’s their choice. We only talked about one year with the Flash and the Breakers.

I want them to make their own decisions about where they want to go and what they want to do. Our league doesn’t own teams and the teams don’t own the league. It’s a very unique situation. The teams have the freedom to do what they want to do.

We had a team last year that went to the W-League and we had a W-League team join us. It just happens.

We’ve been building this for 15 years, starting out with six teams in the west and moving on from there. Our plan all along was to build a pyramid structure running from Under-20s through highly competitive amateur players on up to professional level players. That’s what we are doing.

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