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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Hope popularity of women’s soccer lasts

Special to the Saipan Tribube

The Women’s World Cup has been over for almost two weeks now, but the effects of the tournament still run high, at least for the Americans. Though they placed second in a tournament most fans thought was theirs, the U.S. team was welcomed back to their country with great appreciation.

Players have done countless media sessions—everything from Good Morning America, the Today Show, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, to Late Show with David Letterman and George Lopez Tonight, as well as slots on ESPN, CNN, FOX, and MSNBC.

Hope Solo and Alex Morgan even hit the red carpet to attend the season premier of the hit TV show Entourage. The Women’s Professional soccer league, WPS, has been sold-out for numerous games and have broken attendance records since the team’s arrival. In fact, in Abby Wambach’s first game back with her team Magicjack (based in West Palm Beach, Florida) against the Western New York Flash, the home of Marta and Alex Morgan, attendance was 15,000 plus, a record for the league. Wambach’s home town of Rochester, New York even declared July 20 “Abby Wambach day.”

For now, women’s soccer is as popular as ever. But will it last? After the 1999 World Cup final in which the USA beat China in front of a sold-out crowd of 90,000, people thought women’s soccer was going to take off. The first women’s professional league was created (WUSA) and stars like Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, and Brandi Chastain, as well as other international stars, were all on display. But, unfortunately, the league folded in 2003 and, again, the women were left with nothing to play for but their national team. And the WPS, which has been around since 2008, is looking to face a similar defeat. Attendance before the World Cup averaged 2,000. Several teams have already folded since the inception of the league, and money has become an issue. And, even with the best female athletes in the world playing week in and week out, the popularity just hasn’t been there.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I hope that this recent surge of interest stays. And, to be honest, I don’t see why it shouldn’t. Here is a league with women who are not only good at what they do, they aren’t plagued with so many of the issues that harm professional sports today. There are no steroid debacles, ego issues, or money debates. Players aren’t getting arrested for DUI and they aren’t featured in the tabloid magazines. This is a league where the players play for the love of the game. Why wouldn’t anyone not want to watch that? These women, as we’ve seen in the past few weeks, can play the game well, but they’re also fantastic role models for girls to look up to.

So I hope you all continue to support women’s soccer and it’s growth, whether it’s on the TV or in person. These women deserve to have a league of their own, to play the sport as professionals, to be role models for all the little girls out there who dream of becoming the next Megan Rapinoe or Abby Wambach. If you ever happen to be in Philadelphia, Boston, Buffalo, West Palm Beach, Atlanta, or New Jersey, go and see a WPS game for yourself. This team doesn’t just need bandwagon fans who hop on every four years, they need fans who stay. My experience in Germany following the Women’s World Cup showed me first hand how popular women’s soccer can become, how good it can be. Why should it be that these women play in front of almost 50,000 people for a tournament and then go home to a crowd 50 times less? With the Olympics coming up in a year, the team will play in the qualifying tournament this January, as well as a number of other matches in preparation for London. There are also sure to be a couple of matches in the next few months. Let’s continue to support this fantastic sport and these fantastic women, who truly gave us one of the most exciting sporting events ever. I know I had a summer of a lifetime and I hope I was able to give you all a little insight into the tournament and women’s soccer. Thanks, and I hope to see you all in Canada, come 2015!

Jewell is a member of the CNMI Women’s National Soccer Team.

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