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The Daily Tar Heel

WUSA Opens Once-Small Window

In contrast, the U.S. Women's National Team has won the Women's World Cup twice (1991 and 1999), and that was before the existence of any professional domestic soccer league for women.

But on the heels of the 1999 World Cup win, the Women's United Soccer Association was born.

Now in its second season, the eight-team WUSA's impact is already seen in the college game.

"I think the impact is more players are working harder," said North Carolina women's soccer coach Anson Dorrance. "There's an additional incentive now for a player who wouldn't make the national team but could play professionally."

Female collegiate soccer players are more motivated because they know they have something to go on to, whereas just five years ago, "all you had was the national team, or go find another job," said Tiffany Roberts, a former UNC player and member of the Carolina Courage.

"It was such a small window" to make the national team, Dorrance said. With the WUSA, he said, "Now there's a wonderful opportunity for every kid who's hard-working and ambitious."

As the WUSA calls itself the "world's premier women's professional soccer league," it must showcase premier talent, which it does with the likes of Tiffany Milbrett, Kristine Lilly and Mia Hamm.

That talent, however, needs to be cultivated, a task that falls on college and youth coaches. But it is a task Dorrance feels no additional pressure to fulfill.

"We've always had tremendous pride in player development," Dorrance said. "We're always in the luxurious position of recruiting the most talented players."

That pride is evident in the following numbers -- 17 national championships, 22 players on active rosters in the WUSA and six former Tar Heels on the national team.

Although some European men's clubs sign players at young ages -- Landon Donovan signed with German giant Bayer Leverkusen when he was just 16 -- don't look for that to happen in the WUSA.

"The only way a kid would sign early or leave school early would be if she were a very weak student," Dorrance said.

"The incentive to scrap your education ... isn't there," he said.

Nor are the bloated salaries found throughout the professional sports world -- the WUSA salary range is $27,000 to $85,000.

Even if the incentive was there, WUSA rules don't allow it.

In order to play in the league, a player must be at least 21 years old at some point during her first season, have no collegiate eligibility remaining or have played competitively on the international or club level, said Jim Houghton, public relations manager for the Carolina Courage.

But the 200 players in the league, Roberts said, all know how fortunate they are.

"I just think all the players in the league are privileged," she said.

"It's a dream come true for all the girls to play professional soccer in the U.S."

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