- Austin Kelley
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With Landon Donovan looking for an invite back to Germany (again!) and David Beckham trying to figure out who's a celebrity and who isn't (There are Rex Lee impersonators?), there is room for a new soccer superstar in Los Angeles.
Marta Vieira da Silva, the two-time FIFA Women's World Player of the year, is the most entertaining female player on the planet. A striker with tremendous dribbling skills, she weaves through lines of defenders. Then, instead of shooting, she'll draw the keeper out, holding the ball on one foot, waiting, waiting, waiting until she whips the ball to her other foot and lofts it into the back of the net. At the 2007 World Cup, she scored seven goals, including this incredible effort against the US. She took the ball out of midair with the outside of her foot, flicking it past a defender one way while spinning her body the opposite direction. Then, she left another defender for dead and calmly finished. Goal.
Last week, the 22-year-old Marta was "drafted" by the L.A. franchise of the new Women's Professional Soccer league. The problem is, Marta is under contract to a club in Sweden and hasn't had any negotiations with the still nameless L.A. team. She didn't even sign up for any draft.
The WPS's Initial International Draft wasn't actually a draft in the traditional sense, a pool which players willingly enter. It was simply a way to give the new American teams the sole rights to negotiate with the foreign players on their fantasy wish-lists.
This is not to say that the teams picked these players completely out of the blue. A WPS spokesman told us that the clubs did not speak directly with the potential players, but that they were working with a consultant who advised them on player availability. There were no German players in the draft, the spokesman said, because most of them had signed long-term contracts with their German clubs ahead of the 2011 Women's World Cup, which will be held in Deutschland.
If Marta was clearly interested and available, though, it's odd that she was the third overall pick, not the first. Perhaps some backroom deal was made to put her on the big Hollywood stage, or the teams with the first two picks feared they wouldn't have enough money to bring her over to the U.S. (Unlike the MLS, which negotiates all players' contracts centrally, WPS franchises will be financially independent). There are unsubstantiated rumors that Marta wants $400,000, which doesn't sound like a lot when you compare it to A-Rod, but is substantially more than the $62,000 median salary for the MLS. The L.A team, though, is run by Phil Anschutz's AEG, the same folks that brought you billion-dollar Becks—so anything's possible.
Even with Anschutz involved, it's not clear that the WPS will have the buying power to attract all the foreign talent in the fantasy draft (Fans are already voting which players won't come. Marta is a popular choice). The league is starting up in the middle of a financial crisis and is following on the heels of the defunct WUSA, which failed, many think, because of overspending. The WPS also faces unprecedented competition. The last few years have seen tremendous growth in women's soccer in Europe and even South America. Australia is about to start a new league (after its own failed first attempt), and last week the English FA announced the launch of a Super League.
The new English organization will compete directly with WPS and was developed out of a fear that all the best English talent would head across the pond. "If these… England players go to America," said alarmist Arsenal Ladies coach Vic Akers, "it could set the game here back 10 years." All the competition, though, may set the global game forward.
As for Marta, forget the draft. Start the bidding war. She's worth it.
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