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By ESPN Staff

Rodriguez selected as first pick in WPS draft

ST. LOUIS -- The commissioner of the Women's Pro Soccer League insists the time is right to try again, even in an economy in turmoil.

The league is aiming low and for the long haul, hoping to prosper with modest aims while learning from the mistakes of the big-budget Women's United Soccer Association. That league folded in 2003 after failing to capitalize on a popularity spike following the 1999 World Cup.

The WPS begins March 29 with franchises in Boston, Chicago, the San Francisco area, Los Angeles, New Jersey-New York, St. Louis and Washington. Franchises in Atlanta and Philadelphia have signed letters of intent to join in 2010.

"The WUSA spent an unbelievable amount of money, $100 million in three years, and they burned through it," commissioner Tonya Antonucci told The Associated Press on Friday. "This is a more modest view. You've got to start small and keep the costs manageable. Don't be in deficit spending while you're growing a platform."

Three teams will open in stadiums seating about 5,000. Most players will be paid $30,000 to $40,000. Each team will play 10 home games in the first season.

"Just think of the minor league concept -- there's a premise we can work with," Antonucci said. "It's tough times, but we're so confident we've looked at these hard questions and have good answers for it. So we're going for it. We wouldn't have picked this economy to launch, but we're certainly not going to stop."

The WPS has a national TV deal with FOX Soccer Channel and corporate sponsorship with Puma. Four of the teams have sold more than 1,000 season tickets, which can be bought for $99.

The league held its player draft in a convention center Friday, a smaller undertaking than the Major League Soccer draft that was conducted the day before.

The top U.S. and international players were allocated, with selections leaning on geographic draws. The Saint Louis Athletica, for instance, has local product Lori Chalupny on the roster.

The 10-round draft gave franchises an equal shot at the top emerging college players along with other prospects. The Boston Breakers had the overall No. 1 pick and selected forward Amy Rodriguez, a member of the U.S. national team and an Olympic gold medalist last year.

"This is such an honor and I'm so pleased to be moving out there," Rodriguez said. "I just think it's going to be such a great year."

Another U.S. team member, midfielder Megan Rapinoe, was selected No. 2 by the Chicago Red Stars.

"I couldn't be more excited to head to Chi-town," she said.

Brandi Chastain, who scored the winning goal for the U.S. in the 1999 World Cup, was taken in the seventh round by FC Gold Pride, the San Francisco area team. Gold Pride coach Albertin Montoya said the 40-year-old player will be a good influence for young players.

Saint Louis drafted forward Kerri Hanks, who starred for NCAA runner-up Notre Dame and won her second MAC-Hermann Trophy this month.

Nervous players filled the first few rows of the draft room, applauding each selection as they waited their turn.

"It's a dream come true just to even be here," said Julie Williford, Arkansas' career leading scorer. "Being a part of this is big."

The league apparently has no nervous owners.

"They're not looking at year one -- it's a 10-year business model," Antonucci said. "They're all committed for the long term."


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