Contracts small for female professional soccer players

Pros balance extra job in the o?season

St. Louis Athletica selected UNC goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris in the second round of the WPS draft. DTH file photo

Money, expensive cars and pricey mansions have become synonymous with professional athletes.

But as a couple of North Carolina women’s soccer players are about to find out, not all professional athletes lead a life of luxury.

When senior goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris and defender Whitney Engen were selected in the Women’s Professional Soccer draft in January, their plans after college changed.

Engen was selected with the fourth overall pick in the draft by the Chicago Red Stars, while Harris lasted until the 19th pick when St. Louis Athletica selected her.

They were among seven Tar Heels selected.

Both opted to drop out of their final semester at UNC to prepare for their first season in the WPS.

The two plan to finish their degrees in the offseason, but soccer is their priority now.

“It’s going to be a big change, and I think change is good,” Harris said. “I am ready to move on with my life and kind of start a new journey.”

Part of the new journey means accepting salaries well below their male counterparts. Because the WPS is an upstart league with a small fan base, it is only able to pay its players low salaries.

“The salaries in the league, I think, average $35,000, and they are seven-month contracts, so this is not a glamorous profession,” UNC coach Anson Dorrance said.

The league’s financial struggles were further magnified when one of its teams, the Los Angeles Sol, folded Jan. 28.

Second jobs are often necessities for athletes in the league who wish to continue playing soccer at the professional level. WPS contracts last only seven months, so the players have five months of time to kill in the offseason.

But Harris is not fretting over the finances. Being able to play soccer as a job is worth the undersized salary.

“We’ll run camps in our own name and get money from that,” said Harris, who reports to the Athletica’s training camp in March. “There are other ways of making money.”

 Engen intends to use her time off to focus on the working aspect of her education, something she has not been able to do as a collegiate athlete.

“It is a great opportunity to take some time off and get some internships in other places,” Engen said. “As collegiate athletes, we really don’t get the opportunity to spend the summer working in internships like other people.”

Still, carving out a niche for themselves on their respective teams could be difficult for the pair. But after training at the top women’s soccer program in the nation, neither Harris nor Engen is unprepared.

“At a professional level, certainly the demands will be a lot higher because the average player in practice is greater,” Dorrance said. “But I think even those professional teams would be hard-pressed to train with greater intensity than the Tar Heels.”

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