SAN JOSE, Calif. -- FC Gold Pride is on the verge of folding just five weeks after winning the Women's Professional Soccer championship, another sign a fledging league that started during the economic downturn last year continues to struggle.
The Pride and Washington Freedom announced Monday they are seeking investors or new owners to save clubs that have some of the world's best players.
"It's a do or die week for us," Pride general manager Ilisa Kessler said of the club that averaged 3,056 fans a game playing in the California's East Bay this year.
Freedom president Mark Washo told the Washington Post, "We're approaching the 90th (minute), hoping for extra time."
The teams have until Nov. 15 to put money in escrow to ensure solvency for the 2011 season. WPS chief executive Anne-Marie Eileraas declined to say how much money teams need to commit but yearly operating costs run about $2 million.
Brian NeSmith, who owns the Gold Pride with wife Nancy, cautioned Monday against predicting what will happen. He said no decisions have been made while they look for more investors.
"We're looking under every rock we can to find somebody who is interested," Kessler said, adding "it doesn't look likely."
The possible loss of two of the league's best teams comes in a year that saw the end of franchises in Los Angeles and St. Louis. League officials in September said the addition of an expansion team in Buffalo, N.Y., showed stability and growth for a seven-team league that averaged 3,628 fans a game this season.
WPS would have five remaining teams if the Pride and Freedom dissolve, but league officials remained committed.
"We'd rather not lose teams but we could withstand losing a team or two and still have a season," Eileraas said.
If the team folds, Pride players would become free agents who could be signed by surviving teams. But it could be tough for reserves such as Kiki Bosio, a former Santa Clara striker.
"It would definitely be difficult for future soccer players to want to stay invested in soccer because they would have nothing to look forward to after college," she said.
The Pride completed a worst-to-first season in September by routing the Philadelphia Independence 4-0 in the WPS championship in front of 5,228 at Pioneer Stadium. The club also won the regular-season title by a whopping 17 points behind league MVP Marta, who had 19 goals.
Three players from the team are among the 10 finalists for FIFA player of the year, and the Pride's Albertin Montoya is a finalist for coach of the year.
"We put the best player in the world in our market," Kessler said of Marta, FIFA's four-time player of the year. "And we had a great record, every game was a wonderful show and it still didn't translate into ticket sales.
"What does the public want? Or do they want it at all?"
The Pride's average attendance dropped about 20 percent from last year while playing at Castro Valley High and 5,400-seat Pioneer Stadium at Cal State Hayward.
This isn't the first time women's professional soccer has struggled despite the robust support of local college programs at Stanford and Santa Clara. The San Jose CyberRays were part of the Women's United Soccer Association that lasted only three years after launching in the wake of the wildly successful 1999 Women's World Cup.
WPS officials are hoping for a boost from the 2011 World Cup in Germany next summer. It's another reason Eileraas is hopeful for the new season that begins in the spring.
"As painful as it is, you'd rather have this in the off-season than" have a team fold midseason, she said.