June 15, 2004

Amid WUSA Revival Talk, Women Travel New Avenues

June 15, 2004

By Johnnie Whitehead, USA TODAY

Jacqui Little was just looking for job experience during the WUSA offseason last fall, but instead she found a new career when the league folded. No longer a midfielder-forward for the Washington Freedom, Little has been working in sales for Reico, a kitchen and bath company in nearby Springfield, Va., since October.

Her future could be in interior design if she gets certified. The chance to play soccer again, however, could be more immediate. (Related items: Keeping up with WUSA alumnae | Festival rosters and dates)

"I was hinting right after the league folded, 'I'm ready to move on.' But the more I've been away from it, the more I miss it," says Little, 26, who won the 2003 league title with the Freedom in the WUSA's third and final season. "I miss that life. I miss being with the team, working out and traveling.

"As much as we complain about fitness (training), the lifestyle is unbeatable. No one would give up being a professional athlete."

There's an effort to revive the league for 2005, and the first step is with "festivals" Thursday-Sunday at the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minn., and June 24-27 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. Neither city was home to the eight-team league. "I was caught off guard when the league folded," Little says of Sept. 15. "But I didn't cry."

Neither did Kristy Whelchel, a New York Power defender-midfielder who held a side job working in real estate. She won't participate in the festivals. "I've mentally moved on from soccer," says Whelchel, a full-time residential agent for Prudential Douglas Elliman in Manhattan, N.Y. "As much as I love the game, it hasn't been consistent."

Boston Breakers goalkeeper Kristin Slater would've liked to have returned to play, too, but she's content with her new career in community outreach for NSTAR, a gas and utility company that was a team sponsor. "I don't see myself going back, mostly because since WUSA folded and I'm not called to the national team, it's hard to imagine I'd be in the physical condition to play," Slater says. "I'll probably be a season ticketholder (if) it comes back."

While Whelchel and Slater are the exceptions, Little is the face of the typical WUSA player trying to find her way back.

She isn't in the rotation for the U.S. national team player pool, whose players train year-round and are paid stipends by the U.S. Soccer Federation.

Now engaged to Nick Rimando, a goalkeeper with D.C. United of Major League Soccer whose season began in April, Little has gotten the itch to return to the pitch, even if a reformed league can't offer long-term security.

"I've never been one to be hesitant diving into something or trying something new," says Little, who also coaches an under-14 girls soccer team with Rimando in McLean, Va. "If the league came back but said they weren't sure if (it) would be around (more than) another year, yeah, I would do it."