The United States World Cup win pushed their fan support on the field to a whole new level. And because of how they won — as outspoken and fearless champions for equal pay and representation — they also built a groundswell of support off the field. As the World Cup champs return to their club teams in the National Women's Soccer League, they’re bringing record breaking crowds with them. Yet their equal pay dispute with the US Soccer Federation is far from resolved. And even less certain is how or if the benefits of a new contract for national team players will trickle down to the rank and file in the NWSL.
Still, it’s clear that the conversation has shifted. And for a breakout star like Rose Lavelle, part of the battle is using her new platform in a way that brings real progress.
“We obviously have a unique platform and us using our voice inspires more people to use theirs. Even just pushing the conversation past just talking and more towards action has helped more female athletes feel like they have the power to do that too.”
Can Minnesota be next?
At the same time, with only nine NWSL teams across the country, it remains to be seen how much the World Cup bump will impact places like Minnesota. With a brand new stadium and a Major League Soccer ownership group with connections and experience in so many other professional leagues, does Minnesota have the right ingredients to be an expansion team?
Carli Lloyd, who has experienced the ups and downs of not only this league but its predecessors, knows it’s not always that simple. But the potential is there.
“There’s obviously tricky things, other than just saying ‘it’d be great to have a women’s team here,” Lloyd said. “But a place like Minnesota I think would probably offer an amazing setup for a team.”
Minnesotan and NWSL veteran Kassey Kallman agrees. Especially if the investment is there.
“I think Minnesota is doing all the right things to have a women’s team at this point. You see the teams that are coming in that are affiliated with MLS teams that are doing so well. The teams that are struggling are the people that are more independent owners that have smaller stadiums. If they put in the resources the same as the do for the men, if they do the marketing the same as the men, it can succeed. People love women’s soccer here.”
Early proof of concept
The highest level women’s soccer team in the state are the Gophers at the U of M. Since current Head Coach Stefanie Golan started in 2012, they’ve won one regular season Big Ten Championship, two Big Ten tournament championships, and had four trips to the NCAA Tournament. The Gophers worst season in that span has still been over .500. That sustained success has led to some of the best attendance in the country for college soccer.
In fact, I’d wager the Gopher Soccer program has sent about as many players into the pro ranks as the football and basketball teams, who receive infinitely more coverage and attention from local media. For more than a decade, Gophers have been going on to have successful careers in Norway (Kelsey Hood) and Germany (Jenni Clark), and while others have made stops in the pro leagues of Sweden, Czech Republic, Iceland, Serbia, Israel, Puerto Rico, and more.
Outside the Twin Cities, high quality programs at the DII and DIII levels. The Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference is largely made up of Minnesota state schools and the MIAC and UMAC feature many of the state’s small liberal arts colleges. And players of all levels are featured in the WPSL, a massive semi-pro summer league with six teams in Minnesota and Fargo.
Fans can make a difference
It’s easy to forget when you watch the national team suit up in red, white, and blue at the immaculate Allianz Field, but the world class soccer we get to experience now is really thanks to years of support for lower level soccer up in Blaine. When finances were tight, and it looked like the Stars (formerly the Thunder) might fold, it was the outstanding fan support and game experience at the National Sports Center that helped convince this ownership group to invest in the Stars, and bring them to MLS as the MN United we cheer for today.
So if we want the chance to see these incredible women play soccer week in and week out for a professional team based right here in Minnesota, and not just for one special night, we need to start by showing our support for the fantastic women’s soccer we already have. Check out a Gopher game. Watch a WPSL game online. And tell your friends and family about your experience. Rather than letting the visit from the women’s national team be a one time high that leads to emotional hangover, let’s use this World Cup win as our gateway drug into the wonderful world of Minnesota women’s soccer.
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