The crisp London air Thursday evening was a perfect backdrop for the United States Women’s National Team victory over Japan for the Gold Medal. After a year of hard work and dedication, the US returned to global dominance by defeating the same team that ousted their chances of a World Cup title in 2011. Thanks to sensational goals by Carli Lloyd, the Yanks won a grueling battle with the Japanese that ended in a close 2-1 final score. As the US celebrated their victory, questions began to loom around the new number one team in the world, and women’s soccer as a whole. With three years until the next renowned international tournament, women’s soccer will hope to continue its gained popularity from the last two summers. But with the United States domestic league in flux, the future of women’s soccer could become stagnant until the 2015 World Cup.
Women’s competitions have been established throughout the World for over a century, but it wasn’t until the formation of the World Cup in 1991 did media and fan attention grow to a prominent level. Unlike the Men’s National Team, the US Women’s National Team is regarded as one of the world’s elite, specifically due to the advancements in women’s sports equality from 1972’s Title XI. The UWNT has won two World Cup titles and now four gold medals, but the moment that changed US Women’s Soccer was the 1999 World Cup Final in the Rose Bowl. The famous penalty kick shootout is claimed to be one of the most iconic moments in women’s sports and launched the national prose of female athletes around the world. The “golden generation” undoubtedly set the standard for future players, but how long can their legacy remain as icons of the sport?
With the popularity of both the 2011 World Cup and recent Summer Olympics, there seems to be the transition to a new generation and new standard for women’s soccer in the United States. And with the rise of player popularity through social media and television coverage, the stars of today are even more recognizable than those of the 1999 World Cup team. Although their impact is recognized, new athletes address the desire to move forward from the ties of the past, specifically Hope Solo; whose recent autobiography highlights her reaction to her 2007 World Cup semifinal benching. “And the fact of the matter is, it’s not 2004 anymore. It’s not 2004. It’s 2007, and I think you have to live in the present”. But what is the present status of women’s soccer today?
With the faces of Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach, and Solo plastered over billboards and TV commercials, Americans can recognize the sport’s prominent stars. But three years is a long time to keep the game’s popularity afloat by only a few faces, and like men’s soccer, popularity in domestic leagues is crucial for national success.
Unfortunately US women’s domestic achievement is far below their national status. Founded in 2007, Women’s Professional Soccer folded this past year due to ownership agreements, disbanding the top-tier level in the US. Since the WPS breakup, the league’s stars have moved to other teams in the USL W-League that mixes collegiate and international players. Since the fall of WPS, certain MLS teams, including DC United and Seattle Sounders who have W-League teams under their MLS franchise name, jumped to sign popular players. The teams hope to lead their established MLS fans to support the equally branded women’s team. This strategy is popular in Europe, specifically in the English Premier League, which has established multiple teams based on popular English clubs i.e. Manchester City LFC. The United States has a great advantage with their national team notoriety, in the fact that domestic leagues can highlight many notable names that dawn the US crest. Seattle Sounders Women have already used this tactic thanks to their abnormal soccer fan culture by signing players like Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, and Megan Rapinoe.
Although some cities may not have enough fans to adequately support another team, a men and women’s club partnership is the best strategy to promote female clubs. A Sporting Kansas City image is going to have far greater success than a women’s team named after a cable company with an annoying add campaign. If women’s soccer wants to show growth instead of surviving from international competition to international competition they need to quickly formulate a sincere relationship with MLS franchises. Only then can women’s soccer launch from their established roots and take center stage as the greatest women’s professional sport.
Fresh Link: mlssoccer.com’s opinion of an MLS/Women’s League partnership.