Soccer….Family Style


Can Women’s Soccer Survive is the Wrong Question

Twitter: the fastest way to get me from sleeping to blogging at 2 AM. @FromaLeftWing responded to Sport’s Illustrated writer Grant Wahl‘s tweet about @NoahEDavis‘ article “Can Women’s Soccer Survive in America?” (which by the way, was published by @Awl). Davis writes a decent article comparing the 1999 Chastain sports bra flash moment and this year’s Donovan miracle last minute goal and the impact those moments had on US Soccer for the men’s and women’s games. He talks about how the 1999 women’s team was a standout team, and that while the men’s game has improved over the years in between those moments, the women’s game hasn’t, and that’s why the women’s game is faltering in the US.

The tweet spree that went back and forth about Wahl’s and mass media’s reporting of women’s soccer and WPS viability was just getting interesting when I realized I had more to say on the subject than 140 characters at a time. I was in the stadium, tackling the guy next to me, at both moments, and I as the representative old school US Soccer fan, here’s my response, Twitterverse, if you have the attention span for paragraphs.

Davis talks about the popularity of the 1999 USWNT, and calls out Mia Hamm as the Greatest Player of All Time, and quotes Scott French saying “There was a perception in 1999 and 2000 that women’s soccer was more popular than men’s soccer, but it was never true” when actually, it was true, for a moment in time. American sports fans like to win. And anyone who was with us in France in 1998 knows, it wasn’t the USMNT that was making it happen. Americans were fascinated by the USWNT that summer because they were winning, and they made it really exciting to watch. It was captivating, and you could see ordinary Americans really enjoying coming to soccer games. It wasn’t just the ultra fans, it was the soccer moms and their minivans. For that one summer, Women’s Soccer was more popular because the games were fun, we were winning, and it was better marketed.

Yes, marketed. And Davis proves it. Because Hamm may have had better marketing, but wasn’t the best player ever, Kristine Lilly was, is, and will always be (at least until my 8 year old daughter turns pro). Lilly has more goals, more caps, but not as successful marketing. But I’ll tell you this: I am a passionate soccer fan. My cat was named Mia, but my daughter’s middle name in Lilly. Marketing can’t buy that.

Davis is correct, the USMNT has shown dramatic, if not linear, improvement over the past decade, while the international women’s game has caught the US women. We knew this would happen, because you couldn’t help but sit in the stadiums in 1999 and watch USWNT dominate and think, in 10 years, the rest of the world will catch up with us and then we’ll see what women’s soccer is made of in the country. And here we are, competitive to a fault. Now Americans assume that USWNT will qualify for the World Cup, and we’re shocked when they don’t with ease.

I think the lack of this team’s popularity has more to do with a lack of marketing and a misdirection in the management of the WPS league. Hopefully the marketing will pick up with next summer’s Women’s World Cup (Nike? Wheaties? Who wants to be a hero?) but the WPS needs to take a serious look at where they’re putting their teams, because if they were thinking, they’d skip Dallas and LA and stick one right here in Des Moines.

Have you finished laughing yet? Ready to hear my point? Go get a drink of water….I’ll wait.

Here’s why: the East Coast and West Coast are full. They have NFL, NBA, MLS, NHL, and a million other things to do. Where’s the best attendance in the PDL? What’s that? Omigosh! It’s Des Moines?! I had no idea! Iowa also has a proud history of supporting women’s athletics, and (at least until a few years ago) it has the highest percentage of per capita youth soccer participation in the US. But most importantly, you’re not competing for sporting dollars against every other sports team in the country. Build WPS where it has the best chance to grow; and putting it on the coasts is like trying to grow your full sun flower garden under a rain forest canopy. Give these women a little sunlight and breathing room.

Finally, I’d like to respond to Davis’ snarky parting shot, where he ends with the sad little send off, reflecting, if there was another Brandi Chastain moment, “who would be watching?” The American Outlaws Des Moines chapter sent more members to watch the USWNT do or die qualifier in Chicago than we did to the USMNT game a few months prior, and the only female there was my daughter. American soccer ultra fans are ready to support the women’s team, probably not at the level of USMNT yet, but I think we should be prepared for an outpouring of support from those of us young fans who are now raising daughters. But do not mistake us for the mass media favorite “soccer mom.”

Do not DARE call me a soccer mom, because while I do parent a soccer player, I am a mother who is obsessed with soccer. I do not drive a minivan, and my daughter missed her last game of the season because we were in South Africa watching the World Cup. Do not expect to be successful marketing to the soccer moms, who lovingly support their children but could not explain the offside rule. Market to us, the families who love soccer, and want our daughters growing up with the same athletic dreams as their brothers. Market to the women who can tell you where they were when Chastain whipped off her jersey, and Donovan scored. I can tell you what it feels like to have you five month pregnant belly flip a full 360 when hit with the wall of sound created by a stadium full of Koreans chanting in unison, and what it feels like to have morning sickness at the PDL Referee fitness test, and I await the day when people mean me when they say “soccer mom.”  I am not alone. There are women (and men) in this country that are watching US Women’s Soccer, as long as there’s someone savvy enough there to sell it to them.

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Girl Fight
November 27, 2010, 1:41 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , ,

1999 was one of those blissful pre-kid, pre-business owner years for me, when I could pick up and go to soccer games whenever I wanted, and I was a newly minted US soccer ultra fan, despite our performance in 1998 France World Cup. I wanted to see as many Women’s World Cup games as I could. My mom had a contact in New Jersey that was able to get us tickets to the opening match, which remains the only game I’ve seen with my mom (and I wasn’t even that rowdy at that game!)

That was all it took. I was hooked on the Women’s World Cup and continued on to games in Chicago and the final in Pasadena. Americans clearly loved soccer, but I remember talking with my travel buddies that night as we relaxed around the hotel pool after the final about how this was quite possibly the pinnacle for the USWNT. We hypothesized that it was only a matter of time until the rest of the world caught up to our skill level, and an unknown whether the US could support a professional women’s soccer league.

So here we are, eleven years later. Women’s professional soccer has sputtered and struggled along over the last decade. And the USWNT had become so dominant, that I think people forgot to support them. I took my daughter to a USWNT World Cup game in 2003, but I haven’t traveled the world for them as I have the Men’s team (there are limits to money and vacation time after all). We assumed that the US Women would qualify for 2011 Germany, and we’d go visit family and see them there.

Then, the unthinkable happened. We didn’t advance. And now we’re playing for our WWC lives today in Chicago. In our family, we’ve decided it’s time to start supporting the Women’s game, and I know we’re not alone. It’s fun to read women’s soccer fans learning about American Outlaws, and awesome to see American Outlaws coming out to support not just the USMNT. It makes me proud, as a soccer fan and a mother to a daughter that America has woken up to the fact that we can’t just assume our domination of the Women’s game anymore. And now that Mia has retired, we still have some amazing women playing for us, and not just Kristine Lilly (the woman I named my daughter after).

So today, while I dedicate myself to running my retail store on Small Business Saturday, my husband is taking the kids to Chicago with a few other American Outlaws to support US Women’s Soccer. I am very much there in spirit, and hope you will join me in paying a little more attention to the Women’s game. Today. Next Summer. At your local soccer games. We have to encourage our girls to stick with soccer, and continue to build our player and referee development programs for girls. We can’t afford to turn our backs on the rest of the world creeping up behind us any longer. And to the women it has been a pleasure to watch for the last 11+ years, you go girls…all the way to Germany.



Be Safe, Fellow Travelers
June 2, 2010, 11:39 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

I’ve always written about my travels and adventures WITH my children. In my work life, I own a children’s store and blog about my adventures as a parent. My plan for Soccer….Family Style was to write about traveling with my kids. My 7-1/2 year old has a dozen caps, and at the age of 3-1/2 led a German double decker train car in the “Everywhere we go” chant. My 2-1/2 year old sees a flag and starts soccer chants without prompting. They’re great little fans and I love going to games with them.

But even I have to draw the line somewhere. When we realized that just to fly them to South Africa would cost $3700, we had to accept that this trip would be better suited for second honeymoon than family adventure. Thanks to Verizon and Skype we should be able to keep in touch with the kids as they party it up with an extended Grandparents visit.

In the back of my mind, I was a little relieved to not have to worry about their safety. When we were planning to bring them, I had people at my store advising my to write on them in permanent marker with our contact information in case they were kidnapped. But it was hard to take comfort in that since my previous experience has been that the World Cup is typically a very safe place to be. There’s security everywhere, the hosts are excited and helpful, and people are typically in good spirits.

Then I read a story of a mother in South Africa who fought off a child abductor who tried to snatch her child out of her car through a smashed window. I had heard that you should be very careful to always travel with windows up and keep valuables off the seat and out of view, but how are you supposed to extend that to your children? We have two kids…they can’t both sit in the middle.

I would love to have our kids with us. They have a different way of looking at the world that makes sharing soccer with them a pleasure, but in this case, I think they will have more fun getting spoiled by grandparents and we will have more fun knowing we only have to keep track of two grown ups. And we’ll save that $3700 to go visit Germany next summer for the Women’s World Cup.




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