Please stay open-minded reading this. As a fan of soccer there is nothing I want more for the US Men’s AND Women’s teams to both be the best in the world, and I truly do think this is possible.
I can think of three major organizations that sponsor both male and female sports: The NCAA, The Olympics, and the FIFA World Cup. The Olympics can unify entire countries (I’d argue Chloe Kim was the highlight of USA’s 2018 Winter Olympics) while entire schools can bond over their successful teams regardless of gender.
When it comes to international soccer, America couldn’t be any more different the two organizations listed above. We have opposite situations - The Women’s team is fantastic but needs more exposure while the Men’s team has more nationwide attention but far worse results historically and recently. Instead of both teams working together to improve each program, we’re at a point where the teams are being constantly compared as if they played in the same league.
This comes after a lot of controversy following the Women’s 13-0 thrashing over Thailand. The majority of the discussion was about sportsmanship (To put an end to this discussion, yes the celebrating was excessive but the Thai women still played in a World Cup. I’d rather play in a World Cup and lose every game 100-0 than never play in one at all. The players will be fine), but there was one particular article that stood out to me in particular. The CNN headline reads “The US Women’s National Team scored more World Cup goals in one day than the men did in the 2006, 2010 and 2014 World Cups combined”. I’m sorry, but what does this have to do with the Women’s World Cup? I understand the authors’ intent - they just want more people to watch the Women’s team, especially those following the far-less successful Men’s team, but this approach isn’t going to attract any new fans of the Women’s team. Everyone who even remotely follows sports knows the status of each team and continuing to compare the two with negative articles like this is only going to worsen the battle.
I know there are pay issues that cloud this argument. I don’t have analytics to support this (and I’m not going to pretend like I have all the facts), but the wage equality will get there over time. I can’t even begin to imagine how frustrating it is to be a woman being paid far less despite being far more successful in their field compared to the male counterpart. I think this is a societal issue that is going to change over time. To put it frankly, women have been treated like shit since virtually the dawn of mankind (And on behalf of the entire male population who has ever lived, I sincerely apologize for that. Many of the closest people in my life are women and I don’t want to imagine a world where I look at them as inferior to me solely because of gender). It’s a long and frustrating process, but we are headed in the right direction. It may be difficult to recongize the progress, but 100 years ago at this exact time women were just being given the right to vote. What they have done since then is truly admirable.
Suggestions to improve support:
Annual COED Training Camp - Take a page from the NBA: The league and its players are the biggest supporters of the WNBA in America. The camp idea may not be well received by the Women’s team initially - why would they want to train with players who are less successful but make more money? I sympathize, but I also recognize that is not the fault of the male players. I’ve never met Christian Pulisic, but I can just about guarantee he is a huge supporter of the women’s team and wants nothing more for them to receive the support and pay they deserve. While the political issues may remain, improving the relationships of the male and female players is going to unify fans of each and create a more wholesome US Soccer community instead of constantly comparing the two programs.
Women - Target the youngest demographics possible. We are a very stubborn society - it is difficult to convince us to change our minds. A male Baby Boomer isn’t going to just hop on US Women’s Soccer and become a huge fan. They’ve spent the majority of their lives viewing women as subservient in more traditional in-house/family roles while they provide for their family with a job. However, these times are rapidly changing. A 60-year-old isn’t going to wear an Alex Morgan jersey, but it is becoming more and more accepting for a 6-year-old boy to wear it. If the US wins the Women’s World Cup this year, there will be young males that will be inspired by that, the same way young female basketball players have been inspired by players like LeBron.
Men - Be more open-minded. YOU ARE NOT BETTER THAN ANY FEMALE PLAYER ON THE WORLD CUP TEAM. PERIOD. They have remarkable skill and intuition that makes them some of the world’s best athletes. Next time the Women’s team is in a city near you go to their game. National teams are way easier to follow than a club team, get behind them because they need male American support more than female. Finally, other Women’s programs will catch up (To put into perspective, Saudi Arabia just granted women the right to drive a car in 2018. Women in America are very progressive on a global scale) and create a more competitive and exciting cup. More and more countries are going to challenge the USA and we are going to see less and less games like the 13-0 Thailand beatdown over time.
The Men’s team can win the Gold Cup this summer therefore qualifying for the Confederations Cup in 2021. This would be a huge step in the right direction for us after the abysmal 2018 qualifying campaign. It would be the perfect warm-up tournament for Pulisic & Co. before their first major cup in 2022 in Qatar (Assuming they qualify this time LOL). The Women’s team are aiming to repeat as World Cup Champions. The ideal scenario is both teams winning their respective tournaments, and comparing the programs to one another is not going to help us achieve this.
Author: Living in Southern California, Robert Sweeney has been a fan of soccer since he played as a young child. Since then, he’s become a diehard Tottenham and US National Team fan. Rob enjoys writing about the impact soccer has had on his life in hopes that it betters others as well. Twitter: @robsweeney11