It happened again.
Just as they did four years ago in Canada, the United States Women’s National Soccer Team have won the World Cup. That’s half of the eight WWC tournaments that have been held to date, more than any other nation, and also the second to win back-to-back titles (Germany was the first with titles in 2003 & 2007). They’ve also won the third place match three times, and only finished second once when they lost to Japan in the 2011 final in Germany.
It’s an insane run of success in any sport, but it feels especially important as an achievement for a women’s team in the world’s most popular sport. On the men’s side of the game, only Germany, Italy, and Brazil have won as many or more. America is unquestionably the dominant country in women’s soccer, but we’ve seen the other major nations begin to close the gap to an extent.
Now the 23 players that Jill Ellis took to France are all returning to play for their National Women’s Soccer League clubs, with most if not all of them, expected to take starting roles on their teams. The opportunity to support these players beyond the four-year cycle of their biggest tournament is at hand for America to grab a hold of and people beyond the typical sphere are starting to take notice.
Now in its seventh season, the NWSL has outlasted the two previous attempts at women’s professional soccer combined. ESPN recently made an agreement to televise a weekly national match for the rest of the season, and Budweiser has also signed a major sponsorship deal. Though average attendance is a bit below last season’s record high, the Portland Thorns have played half as many home matches as the rest of the league and will surely bring the numbers back up.
The players have been doing their part, reminding everyone that just because the World Cup is won they aren’t done playing. They’ve been very outspoken in letting their fans know that they are all headed back to their club teams and need support to grow. Real Salt Lake head coach Mike Petke asked on his coaches show how people can show the level of passion they have for the last month, wake up early on a Sunday to watch the USWNT triumph, and then put it all in the closet for four years.
The reality is that without a passionate fan base making the league viable, it’s going to be harder to get the equal pay that so many seem to want for these players. Becky Sauerbrunn is on record saying that without a reliable club salary to fall back on, the national team players have been hesitant to push too hard towards changing their pay structure to match the men. If U.S. Soccer is going to give them equality, NWSL owners have to be able to pay these women when they are not representing their country.
That means getting people into stadiums, getting viewers on television, adding more sponsors, and expanding the league to have more teams in more cities. It means we can’t just walk away from the game until it’s 2023, and we’re watching to see if they can win three in a row. We have to be there now, filling the seats and supporting these teams and their players. If you’re in one of the eight NWSL cities that isn’t Portland, it’s time to start showing up for these matches.
Rapinoe. Morgan. Heath. Press. Sauerbrunn. Lavelle. O’Hara. Naher. They put on uniforms in the Seattle area, Orlando, Portland, Utah, Washington, and Chicago every week, and put on the same display of world-class ability we’ve been loving for the last month. The real celebration of what the United States has accomplished in women’s soccer goes beyond a parade or a few friendly victory tour matches. It’s time to embrace our highest level of club competition and make sure that NWSL remains the highest standard of play in the world, the destination league for all great players who want a challenge.
I’ll see you on Saturdays (or Fridays or Wednesdays) at the stadium for Utah Royals FC games.