Jerry Zanelli on the Growth of Women’s Soccer and the Women’s Premier Soccer League
The Women’s World Cup in 2014 was the most-watched soccer game in U.S. history and has unleashed a surge of popularity. Since then, there is a lot of support for young players who dream of becoming professional women soccer players — a dream that has been nurtured by the WPSL for nearly 20 years.
Before it become trendy, the WPSL started supporting the growth of women’s soccer. With almost two decades of effort and experience, the WPSL has grown to the largest national women’s soccer league in the world. As the training ground for amateurs and a gateway to professional soccer, the WPSL is a backbone of the game.
WPSL Soccer News: The Women’s Premier Soccer League (WPSL) is the largest women’s soccer league on the planet — and, as the grassroots of women’s soccer, it remains one of the most exciting components of the growing game.
The WPSL has established a vibrant, proven pathway for collegiate players — and those who have graduated — to keep chasing their dreams of following in the footsteps of others before and play professional soccer.
Where stars get their start:
From Olympic Gold Medalist star Julie Foudy who played in four Women’s World Cups to Brandi Chastain — who is famous for tearing off her soccer jersey and revealing her sports bra after scoring the winning penalty shot in the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final at the Rose Bowl and, of course Sisleide do Amor Lima, who most soccer fans know as just Sissi, the Brazilian attacking midfielder who still shows up to play in WPSL games today … Leslie Osbourne, Karen Barnhart, Allie Wagner, Keri Sanchez. Teresa Noyola, Monica Gonzales, Tisha Venturini … the list goes on and on of remarkable women who have played soccer in the WPSL.
The WPSL has been helping provide an environment where players can share their passions for the beautiful game and compete since 1998 — long before women’s soccer had a secure future.
Today, young girls have a place where they can dream to play, thanks to the formation in 2013 of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) — the professional women’s soccer league supported in part by the U.S. Soccer Federation. And the WPSL, which is sanctioned by the United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA), is still helping as a pipeline for talent and has expanded from a handful of players to over 110 teams, including three reserve NWSL squads.
A leader in Women’s Soccer — Jerry Zanelli
The man behind the WPSL is Jerry Zanelli. Driven, determined, head strong and clearly devoted to the success of women’s soccer, Zanelli is more than a force of nature — he is a man on a mission.
GoalNation’s Diane Scavuzzo spoke with WPSL Commissioner Jerry Zanelli on the founding of the league and his goals to help grow the women’s game.
Diane Scavuzzo: Women’s soccer has become very popular in the USA – you have been supporting the women’s game for years — What do you think?
Jerry Zanelli: We have made tremendous strides but we need to do more.
While the NWSL is now going into its 5th year, which no other league has accomplished and the team owners should be commended for the amount of money they have put in to support women’s soccer — the league is obviously having issues with establishing a strong a national identity.
Perhaps more of the retired players should become involved in the NWSL and the WPSL and become weekend warriors and play.
We need to rally around and get more fans involved — we need to make to keep growing women’s soccer all across the country.
Diane Scavuzzo: Back in 1998, why was the WPSL founded?
Jerry Zanelli: WPSL was started for three reasons. The first — the dissatisfaction with W-League being part of a men’s organization and not giving women’s game the attention it deserved at the conventions. Secondly, the fact that many parts of the USA were not represented and finally, because of the high cost to join the W-league. Plus the teams were always being told by the league what we had to do.
Diane Scavuzzo: How has the WPSL grown today?
Jerry Zanelli: The WPSL is a second tier of the women’s soccer pyramid in the United States. We have three reserve teams returning from the NWSL and have an indication that two more will be joining us later this year.
The WPSL has a huge impact on soccer.
Diane Scavuzzo: The WPSL has obviously cracked the code to making a league sustainable. Turning back time — which teams were part of the original WPSL group?
The founding members at the meeting in Pleasanton California were, Dick Cross of San Francisco, Lue Snyder of San Diego, John Richter of Silicon Valley, Bob Fredricks of South San Francisco, Mark Drown of Utah and myself.
As the league grew, it required more and more of my time to the point now, it’s more than a full-time job.
Being an evolving and changing league requires attention to detail.
Diane Scavuzzo: How many teams are in the WPSL now?
Jerry Zanelli: We have grown from 6 teams to more than 110 teams, including two from British Columbia, Canada.
Diane Scavuzzo: Why do you think the WPSL has been so successful?
Jerry Zanelli: Our success can be attributed to the fact that we are a women’s only league. The WPSL has no affiliation with any men’s league.
The WPSL is a cost effective, national league and our #1 priority is to provide opportunities for high school, college and post college women to play competitive soccer.
We also provide intense support and service for the teams in our league. That has helped too.
Diane Scavuzzo: How many players compete in the WPSL?
Jerry Zanelli: Over 3,500 women play in WPSL.
Diane Scavuzzo: When does the WPSL season run?
Jerry Zanelli: The season runs in the spring — from May through July.
Diane Scavuzzo: How competitive is the WPSL?
Jerry Zanelli: When you have 110 teams playing, its difficult to make it to the championships.
Just look at the WPSL Stats — the competition right now is so intense — it’s been years since we’ve had a repeat champion.
Diane Scavuzzo: What was the WPSL Elite?
Jerry Zanelli: We formed the WPSL Elite when the WPS folded — it was to help the Pro teams which had nowhere to play. Western New York, won the championship that year, just as they did this year.
Diane Scavuzzo: Who are some of the top players you have coached?
Jerry Zanelli: As coach of the California Storm, there are so many people that I’ve enjoyed coaching, but if I had to pick out one or two, it would be Sissi and Brandi Chastain.
Also, players like Mo Whitney, Julie Cochran, Teresa Noyola, Leslie Osbourne are just a few more that come to mind, I know there are many others. But, going back to Sissi, there is no doubt in my mind that she is one of the best players to ever play women’s soccer. We have become close friends and I’d say for the last eleven years, the reason we’ve been successful is for what she has contributed to the team. Believe it or not, she is going to retire this year at age fifty.
Diane Scavuzzo: What changes need to be made in order to grow women’s soccer?
Jerry Zanelli: The change needed in women’s soccer is to be elevated to equality with the U.S. Men’s National Team.
We have to get recreational women’s soccer more involved in a structure that caters directly to them.
Jerry Zanelli: The success of the WPSL inspires me. There is nothing else like the WPSL in women’s soccer.
No other league anywhere has 16% women ownership. The WPSL does.
No other league involves as many women in leadership positions. No other league offers the opportunity for over 3,500 women soccer players to play competitive soccer.
Diane Scavuzzo: If you could pick any super power, what would it be and why?
Jerry Zanelli: To be able to read minds. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
Related Article: Influential People in Soccer: WPSL’s Jerry Zanelli; Women Take Charge in WPSL