Sports

Baumgardt sad to see WUSA go

Justi Baumgardt is out of a job.

No, the first-year coach of the Federal Way High School girl’s soccer team isn’t in any jeopardy of losing her post with the Eagles — far from it. Federal Way High School offiicals are more than ecstatic with the job Baumgardt is doing on the sidelines.

“A National team member and one of the best women soccer players in the world?,” Federal Way Athletic Director Bob France asked. “I think we are pretty happy to have her as our coach.”

Baumgardt will no longer be a professional soccer player in the United States. The 28-year-old got her pink slip, along with the rest of the Womens United Soccer Association. The league was forced to fold last month after three seasons of serious money losses. Baumgardt played for the Washington Freedom in 2001 and spent the last two seasons with the New York Power.

“There had been talk about it all season long,” Baumgardt said.

The announcement to shut down the WUSA came five days before the 2004 Women’s World Cup was set to get underway. An ironic fact, because the league was created off the buzz from the 1999 Women’s World Cup, which the United States won. The American women lost to Germany 1-0 in this year’s semifinals.

“The league had its ups and downs,” Baumgardt said. “But it was a great experience and I get to say that I played in the first ever women’s professional soccer league.”

Most of the world’s best women players were in the WUSA, which included eight teams. But the league — whose ownership group consisted mostly of communications companies — never hit on a viable business plan, according to officials.

An initial outlay of $40 million by investors — expected to last five years — was gone in one season. And after three seasons of soccer, the league’s losses had mounted to nearly $90 million.

This year, the WUSA’s “founding players” — mainly the players from the 1999 U.S. team, including Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain — agreed to take pay cuts of 25 percent and more in their five-year contracts. Team rosters were reduced from 18 to 16. The salary cap was trimmed from $834,500 to $595,750. Average salaries dropped from $46,361 to $37,235.

The timing of the WUSA folding didn’t come at a bad time for the 28-year-old Baumgardt. She had been contemplating retirement from professional soccer even before the news reared its ugly head.

“Actually, I was kind of on the borderline,” she said. “But it is still going to be hard to step away from. The girls I feel sorry for are the college seniors or the players who were brand new to the league this year. The 21 or 22 year olds, who won’t get to play six more years like me.”

Baumgardt and her husband, Tote Yamada, have settled into a house in North Seattle and she is getting used to her new job of coaching high school soccer players at the place she led to two state championships in the early ‘90s.

“We have a great group of players (at Federal Way),” Baumgardt said. “I am just trying to get them to play good soccer.

“It’s fun. I enjoy coaching. It can be a little frustrating at times. I want to step out there and show them what to do, especially when you go down a goal. But it is out of your control as the coach.”

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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