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.
Salvo and Maplebrook looked to have narrowed the Northern Conference championship down to a two team race, but Mankato has absolutely refused to let that door close. Now, entering the final weekend of the regular season, Mankato still has at least a slim mathematical chance to force a three way tie where head to head records may land them in the playoffs.
How we got here
Last Friday, Salvo had the chance to essentially lock in their first place finish a whole week early. But the Fire worked hard for the full 90 minutes and managed a tie on Salvo’s home turf, keeping both Maplebrook and Mankato in the playoff picture at least through their matchup this Friday. The two tied in their first matchup earlier this year and Mankato has come on strong their last few games. But both would essentially need to win both of their final two games in order to have a chance at unseating Salvo. And if Salvo eventually wins their final match, at home, against Mankato on Sunday, they can render all the lead up moot.
Believe it or not, if Salvo plays its cards right, it can have home field advantage now, all the way through to the national championship. The WPSL has confirmed that the Central Region Playoffs will be hosted by the Northern Conference (Minnesota + Fargo). So, if Salvo wins on Sunday, they will then host a four team playoff (matchups by blind draw) between the Northern, Mountain, Heartland, and Red River Conferences within the Central Region. The four regional champions then head to Oklahoma for the WPSL Championship the following weekend.
We’ll plan on live tweeting at least one of the Friday/Sunday games this weekend and we’ll absolutely be covering the Central Region Playoffs, likely with some extra help for pregame/halftime/postgame analysis on Twitter.
Well. We’re finally here. The WPSL season is underway and there is plenty to catch up on. This is the first in our regular WPSL roundup where we’ll hop around the league for updates and embed and interviews or content along the way.
It’s still early and two teams haven’t even played yet, but the standings do give us a bit of information to work with. Salvo and Maplebrook have yet to lose in multiple games and Dakota looks to be in rough shape after only two games. You might think writing teams off before June is a little premature, but you essentially have to win the conference to qualify for the postseason and some of these teams are already 20 percent through their schedule.
We took our first road trip of the season (don’t worry, Mankato, we’ll still take a trip for an actual match) for Mankato’s kickoff party at Mankato Brewery. They’re looking to play an aggressive style of soccer and it seems like they might have the squad to pull it off. They drew a much-hyped Maplebrook squad 1-1 on the road and they’re Mankato State heavy roster has an interested mix of D1 talent from the North and South Dakota schools.
Maplebrook opened with a tie against Salvo in maybe the worst weather you could hope for: 38 degrees and raining. It went about as well as you’d expect. In pretty brutal conditions, each team looked fairly composed. But it was also the first match of the season and gave the teams almost no time at all to practice or build chemistry. They followed it up with a decisive win again the Fusion and another draw. They might need to step it up if they’re going to leapfrog Salvo in the standings but they’ve also shown some grit getting points in all three matches so far.
They looked solid against Maplebrook to kickoff the season and absolutely shallacked the Fusion to the tune of a 7-0 win. You can rewatch the whole match or the highlights on mycujoo (the new streaming service for the entire WPSL) to get a taste of their build up play. They looked crisp and connected - and that can be tough to accomplish with such little practice time and a roster assembled from numerous places. They’ve shown that, so far, they are likely the team to beat in the North.
Fire and Rochester
After getting the chance to meet the people behind upstart Mankato United, we’re excited to see what Rochester brings to the table. They’ve gotten the least attention from us so far, but their roster might have the most interesting mix in the conference. Brazil, Spain, Botswana, Columbia, and England are all represented. To say nothing of the other domestic states like California and Texas. Plus, they’ve had a little more training time prior to their opening game this weekend so maybe they’ll have some magic against Mankato.
The Fire are a different story. After bursting onto the scene last year and recruiting a star-studded roster, internal club drama has meant an exodus of as many as 15-20 top players. They have yet to play their home opener, but chances are the starting 11, or even the full roster, will look quite a bit different than their promotion materials would suggest.
Prepping for pros
As part of our Going Pro series, we’re following three Gopher Soccer seniors who are looking to go from college to the pros. And, it just so happens, that two of them will be suiting up in the WPSL this summer as they wait for the summer transfer window to open. Emily Heslin has looked commanding in the midfield for Salvo and Molly Fielder took the long drive out to Utah to play for the Royals Reserves where she’ll be coached by members of the Royals NWSL staff. They don’t seem to stream any of their games, but we’re going to watch her suit up by watching the stream of other teams in the conference (like Colorado Rapids Women) on MyCuJoo.
Supporters giving $10/month and up
Chad Flynn & Mary Lahammer
Salvo Soccer Club
Jim & Kristen Gray