THE HYPE continues to build as we move through the knockout rounds of the World Cup, but did you know that what we refer to worldwide as the World Cup is actually the men's World Cup and that the women's World Cup is next year in Canada?
As a soccer fan, player, and woman, I didn't realize this until I started thinking about my favorite players and how often I get to watch them on the world stage. If I didn't realize there was a women's World Cup as a female soccer fan, chances are many other soccer fans haven't, either.
Women's soccer didn't become popular in the United States until the 20th century, as social conventions of what was considered "appropriate" exercise for women prevented them from participating in soccer outside of recreational collegiate games. In fact, in 1922 when a female English team visited the U.S. for a playing tour, they had to compete against men's semi-professional and professional teams simply because the women's clubs didn't exist. Is it hard to believe that what's now a recreational sport for 29 million women and girls worldwide was practically taboo less than 100 years ago?
Momentum for women's soccer slowly snowballed throughout the 20th century and took off in the early 1990s. The first Women's World Cup was in 1991, with the United States winning. The U.S. women's national team has not placed below third since. World Cup. The same is true for the Olympics, with the U.S. taking home the gold medal in 1996.
In the world of women's soccer, the U.S. is undoubtedly among the best in the world. You could make the argument that the U.S. women's national team is the best. FIFA agrees, ranking the United States No. 1 for years. The U.S. team has seen some of the most prolific players in international women's soccer history, including Abby Wambach, who has scored a world-record 167 international goals. FIFA has crowned her the "globe's greatest international goal scorer."
You'd be hard-pressed to make the same argument about the men's side, even after Tim Howard's stunning performance against Belgium July 1. While many people think of U.S. men's soccer as mediocre at best, (although they have consistently qualified for the last seven World Cups), U.S. women's soccer is consistently the best in the world.
If all this is true, why has so little attention been paid to women's soccer?
There are two obvious barriers to contend with. The first is that women's sports, across the board, do not receive nearly as much attention as men's sports. Second, soccer overall is not widely watched in the United States, despite all the World Cup hype this summer.
Polls have shown that the NFL is, by far, the most popular sport in the United States. Soccer is seldom ranked.
While many people have heard of Major League Soccer, there also is a women's pro league, the National Women's Soccer League. Philadelphia is not among the nine teams, but Sky Blue FC is based in Piscataway, N.J., and plays at Rutgers' Yurcak Field.