Women Play Soccer Too

Women Play Soccer Too

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Photo: Abby Wambach / EFE

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With all the hype around this weekend's knock-out rounds of the World Cup, did you know that what we refer to worldwide as the World Cup is actually the Men’s World Cup and that the Women’s World Cup is next year in Canada?

As a soccer fan, player and woman, I myself didn’t realize this until I started thinking about my favorite players and how often I get to watch them on the world stage. If I, a female soccer fan, hadn't realized that a Women’s World Cup actually existed, chances are most other soccer fans haven’t either.

Women’s soccer didn’t become popular in the United States until the 20th century, as social conventions of what was considered “appropriate” exercise for women prevented them from participating in soccer outside of recreational collegiate games.

In fact, in 1922 when a female English team visited the U.S. for a playing tour, they had to compete against men’s semi-professional and professional teams simply because the women’s clubs didn’t exist yet. Is it hard to believe that what’s now a recreational sport for 29 million women and girls worldwide was practically taboo less than 100 years ago?

Momentum for women’s soccer slowly snowballed throughout the 20th century until it really took off in the early 1990’s. The first ever Women’s World Cup was held in 1991 with the U.S. winning the tournament. The U.S. Women’s National Team has never placed below third in any subsequent World Cup. The same is true for the Olympics, beginning with women’s soccer in 1996 where the U.S. again took home the first, first place.

In the world of women’s soccer, the U.S. is undoubtedly among the best in the world, along with Japan, China, Germany, Sweden, Norway, the Korea Republic and Brazil, among others. You could easily make the argument that the U.S. Women’s National Team is THE best. FIFA agrees, ranking it number one for months on end.

On top of all this, the U.S. Women’s National Team has seen some of the most prolific players in international women’s soccer history, including Abby Wambach, who surpassed Mia Hamm’s international scoring record of 158 on June 21st with her 159th and 160th goals against the Korea Republic. FIFA has deservedly crowned her the “globe’s greatest international goalscorer.”

You’d be hard-pressed to make the same argument about the men’s side, even after Tim Howard’s stunning performance against Belgium on July 1. While many people think of U.S. Men’s Soccer as mediocre at best, (although they have consistently qualified for the last seven World Cups), U.S. Women’s Soccer is consistently the best in the world.

If all this is true, why has so little attention been paid to a women’s soccer team that so well deserves it?

There are two obvious barriers to contend with. The first is that women’s sports, across the board, do not receive nearly as much attention as men’s sports, regardless of the type. The second is that soccer as a sport is not widely watched in the U.S., regardless of what any World Cup hype may indicate. According to a Harris Poll published by ESPN, “in 2014, 35 percent of fans call the NFL their favorite sport, followed by Major League Baseball (14 percent), college football (11 percent), auto racing (7 percent), the NBA (6 percent), the NHL (5 percent) and college basketball (3 percent).” Soccer didn’t even make the list.

Thus, it’s about time these ladies started getting the attention they deserve. While most people have heard of MLS (Major League Soccer), there also exists a professional women’s league, the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), the only professional Division 1 women’s league in the country.

The nine-club league has no Philly-based team to root for, but Sky Blue FC play their home games at Rutgers’ Yurkak field, barely over an hour outside the city. Tickets are as low as $15 and you'll get to see greats like Christie Rampone play live.

It's nice to not yell at your TV every once in a while.

So now that the World Cup has ended, and the carnival-esqe hype begins to fade, remember that there are world-class athletes right around the corner, they’ve been dominating the field for years, and they deserve your attention as they too play the beautiful game.