Women’s soccer expands the game

Women’s soccer is at its highest interest point since 1999. (AP Photo)
Women’s soccer is at its highest interest point since 1999. (AP Photo)

By Kevin Luo
Staff Writer

This summer, the United States Women’s National Team won the hearts of the national public with their amazing run in the Women’s World Cup, capped off by the stunning 5-2 victory over Japan in the finals. During the run, I read the story about two national team players, Meghan Klingenberg and Morgan Brian, living with ESPN NBA Analyst and former head coach Jeff Van Gundy and his family.

Something about this story fascinated me to no end. Quick Disclaimer: Klingenberg became one of my favorite athletes recently and Van Gundy coached one of my favorite teams ever, the Yao/T-Mac Rockets. However, the thing that made this story interesting to me was the fact that two starters on the best women’s soccer team in the world had to live with a host family during most of the year. If two of the best players in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) have to live with host families, what is the living situation like for the bottom level players?

Van Gundy was set up with Klingenberg and Brian through just casual conversation with the managing director of the Houston Dash, Brian Ching. Ching told Van Gundy of a host family program that the Dash have for their players. Many other NWSL teams have similar host family programs. This story shined a bright light on the financial situation of the league.

National Women’s Soccer League teams operate with a salary cap of $265,000. The top players in the league make between $20,000 and $30,000 per season. The lower level players make less than $7,000 per season. In comparison, the MLS minimum salary is about $50,000 per season.

Professional women’s soccer in the United States has had financial issues since its inception many years ago. The thought was that when the famous ’99 team gained the public’s attention, that women’s soccer in the United States would increase in popularity. But, the excitement with this team didn’t last as emphasized by the financial issues in the professional leagues. Multiple professional women’s leagues in the United States have failed to last over the last decade, most recently Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS).

Following the triumphant run the United States Women’s team had in this past World Cup, American sports fans — especially people who cheered on the national team — have an opportunity to prevent the NWSL from experiencing the same fate. Over 25 million people watched the Women’s World Cup Final, breaking the U.S. viewing record for a soccer game. More people watched the final than watched any game in the most recent NBA Finals.

Women’s soccer has never been hotter in the United States than it is right now. This is the perfect time to use the momentum of the Women’s World Cup to grow the women’s game as a whole, specifically the NWSL. All of the biggest Women’s National team stars play in the NWSL. Hope Solo plays for the Seattle Reign, Alex Morgan plays for the Portland Thorns, Carli Lloyd plays for the Houston Dash. The NWSL and USWNT have the potential to grow the game hand in hand.

Following the World Cup, many people were talking about how it was unfair that the U.S. Women only left with $2 million in prize money compared to $35 million to the champion German men and $9 million for the American men who came in 11th place. However, talk is cheap. This disparity should further emphasize the need to grow the game. If you’re a fan of the Women’s National Team, you should want to watch the women’s game more than once (or twice — the Olympics) every four years.

You can attend a game or watch them online if you don’t have a team in your local market. All NWSL games are either on YouTube or FoxSports (I know, I’ve watched a handful of Houston Dash games since the World Cup). The league is quality soccer and the players are great personalities and role models for youths, both male and female. They’re not interested in growing the game for themselves. They want the game to grow for the future of women’s soccer that currently idolize them and cheered them on every minute of their World Cup run.

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