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Opinion: The 90th Minute for Women's Professional Soccer

UC Berkeley grad Jun Stinson explains the story behind her documentary on the triumph and tragedy of a Bay Area team.

By Jun Stinson, Filmmaker, The 90th Minute

The Women’s Professional Soccer League finished its season a month ago in Rochester, New York.

Just over a year ago, our Bay Area team won the league’s national title here in Hayward.

Who knew that the Bay Area had its own women’s professional soccer team? I didn’t, until last summer when I learned about the team through a couple of Bay Area soccer coaches.

Not only was FC Gold Pride a pro women’s team that was only a short drive away, but they had some of the world’s best athletes. They had a handful of players on the U.S. Women’s National Team who represented the U.S. at the Women’s World Cup this past summer in Germany. They had Canada’s top leading goal scorer, Christine Sinclair, and five-time FIFA player of the year winner, Marta Viera da Silva of Brazil.

As soon as I learned about FC Gold Pride, I hit the Net. I was excited to find out that a women’s pro team played games less than twenty minutes away. But I was also ashamed that I hadn’t known they’d existed until then.

I’d always had a fondness for soccer and admiration for female athletes. I started playing the sport in Oakland when I was seven and continued into my teens. I was by no means talented at the game, but it had always captivated me in ways like no other sport.

I read every article I could find about the Women’s Professional Soccer League and spoke to Bay Area soccer writers. I learned that in less than two years of existence, they had already lost a team in St. Louis and another in Los Angeles.

I began calling teams, players, coaches — anyone who could give me a better understanding of what the league had been through and where it was heading.

The future looked bleak. With only seven teams in existence and the sudden folding of two teams earlier that year, I realized there was a good chance the league wouldn’t see its third season.

The 90th Minute Documentary Begins

Soccer is one of the most popular sports for girls at the youth level and among women in NCAA colleges, which led me to wonder why women’s soccer was struggling to sustain itself at the pro level.

I was going into my second year at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, where I was focusing on documentary film. After spending weeks researching the league, and hours on the phone with professional women soccer players, I decided to produce a 20 minute documentary about it.

The 90th Minute doesn’t answer all questions as to why women’s pro soccer has struggled to survive, but it lifts these questions up and gives players a chance to reveal their passion for the game, and express their frustration at not being in control of the future.

FC Gold Pride faced major challenges that I didn’t expect when I started the film. As you may have noticed, I mention the team in the past tense.

When I started the film I knew they were one of the strongest teams in the league and had a good shot at winning the national championship. I had no idea that they were close to folding. Their financial situation was shaky and the owners decided that they couldn’t hang in there any longer. Before my eyes, the team collapsed less than two months afterwinning the national championship.

Ali Riley, Kim Yokers, Rosie Tantillo and, FC Gold Pride General Manager IlisaKessler let me document on camera what it was like for them to lose their team. The footage developed into the film, The 90th Minute.

A Voice for Women Pro Soccer Players

In August, the Women’s Professional Soccer League made it through their third season. Following FC Gold Pride’s demise, a new team came into the league while yet another one folded. The WPS Commissioner Tonya Antonucci quit last year and their CEO Anne-Marie Eileraas stepped down a few weeks ago. There’s no tellingwhere the league is going, although this past summer’s Women’s World Cup did garner media attention that helped the WPS get more fans out to games.

My hope is that The 90th Minute provides a voice for women professional soccer players everywhere and provokes a conversation about how far women have really come in the fight for equality in women’s sports. Like the film’s title suggests — we’re in the 90th minute for women’s pro soccer in this country. If this league fails, there’s no telling when another one might be established.

Jun Stinson is a freelance video journalist living in Oakland. For more information about the film, go to www.the90thminute.net. There is now a Bay Area women’s pro team in Dublin called the Bay Area Breeze. They are part of a league a tier lower than the WPS called the Women’s Premiere Soccer League. UC Berkeley graduate and Berkeley resident Kim Yokers who is featured in “The 90th Minute” plays for the team.

South Florida Atletico September 26, 2011 at 09:09 PM
Looking forward to seeing the film. One question...why start the article with this line?..."The Women’s Professional Soccer League finished its final season a month ago in Rochester, New York." Final season? This is inaccurate. Owners are quite optimistic about a 4th season.
John G Riley September 26, 2011 at 10:35 PM
Yes June. Ideally the film needs a little editing. Just last week the WPS announced that league revenue was 50% higher than a year ago. Uncertainty is still great and at least one team announced to its players that it planned further salary cuts. However I think most people are more optimistic then they were 6 months ago.
Jun Stinson September 26, 2011 at 10:53 PM
Hi South Florida Atletico, thanks for your comment! You are absolutely right. That was an editing mistake on my part and will be corrected immediately.
Jun Stinson September 26, 2011 at 10:57 PM
Hi John, Thank you for your update on the league. Unfortunately, the film won't be able to be edited. It was completed in May so it provides a picture into the lives of WPS players up until that point. Your comment made me realize that I should have mentioned that in the article.
Shelley September 27, 2011 at 04:39 AM
Jun, Congratulations on making your film! How and when can we see it?

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