Last Friday morning, I took off from work to watch the city celebrate the U.S. women’s soccer team winning their third World Cup with a ticker tape parade from Battery Park to City Hall. I had watched every game the U.S. played. I’m a soccer player myself. I started at age 7 and still play on a few teams today. I signed the petition for the parade that circulated the Wednesday before and forwarded it to my teammates.
So, yeah, I was going to this parade.
Pressed against the guardrail, surrounded by people of all genders and ages and races, I felt a sense of validation. Women’s soccer probably will never be as popular as football or other men’s professional sports. But that’s not the point. Millions of people tuned in to watch the U.S. beat Japan 5-2 in the finals. To be precise, 25.4 million people tuned in — more than the total viewers for Game 7 of the 2014 World Series or this year’s NBA Finals. And among tens of thousands of cheering fans and a storm of confetti, I saw this team prove that women’s soccer is no longer a niche sport.
The fight for recognition is far from over. Teams in the Women’s World Cup didn’t just have to battle each other. The media seemed more interested in writing articles about the “surprisingly high” viewership or other stories that had nothing do with the actual games. The games were all played on artificial turf, which is inferior to natural grass for soccer. Sepp Blatter, the much-maligned head of soccer’s global governing body FIFA, once said women’s soccer might be more popular if the players wore tighter shorts. In my own experience, I’ve been told women’s soccer isn’t a “real” sport, and I’ve played on co-ed teams where the men don’t pass to the women.
The U.S. women’s national team played through it all, and people paid attention. They saw the world-class goals (six from tournament MVP Carli Lloyd alone) and a defense that conceded just four times all tournament. They noticed female soccer players “dive” (pretend to get fouled) and fake injuries far less often than their male counterparts. After a shaky start, the U.S. cruised through their last three games and proved — now more times than any other women’s team — that they deserved the World Cup title. And they deserved their parade down the Canyon of Heroes, the first celebrating female athletes since 1984 (for all the ‘84 Olympians) and the first ever dedicated to a women’s team.
Women’s soccer gets a bump of attention around the World Cup, and then interest tends to drop off sharply. But it doesn’t have to be that way this time. If you’re like me and you want to keep supporting women’s soccer, there are a few things you can do. Sky Blue FC, a professional team with the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) and home of national team stars Christie Rampone and Kelley O’Hara, play in Morristown, New Jersey — check out one of their home games. Tune into a few of the 10 NWSL games FOX Sports 1 will air this season starting Wednesday, July 22. Or even just go out and buy one of the super-cool official Nike “World Champion” T-shirts, with three stars above the crest for the team’s three World Cup wins.
I hope next time the Women’s World Cup rolls around (2019, in France), the media coverage won’t have to focus on pay inequalities (which are egregious) or the playing surface or how amazing it is that people actually like to watch women’s soccer. Instead, the coverage should focus on the amazing athletes and their work on the field. And hopefully, we’ll get to watch the Americans win their fourth title.
Isabel Angell is a reporter for The Press.