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Women’s Soccer Success and Challenges: You Should Know

The 2021/2022 season will be the 9th for the National Women’s Soccer League in the United States. 

The league is filled with top international talent, including many USWNT soccer players. It’s continued to grow in professionalism and popularity throughout the years.

Yet at the same time, most games are not streamed on regular sports channels and some aspects lag far behind the level of professionalism deserved. 

Still, it’s my favorite league to watch. It is a place many young girls turn to watch their idols on the field. 

Women’s soccer is growing, in the U.S., and around the world. The sport is gaining popularity and respect, but it still struggles against stereotypes and unequal pay. 

Women’s soccer is filled with so many incredible successes, yet still faces immense challenges.

Despite unequal pay and constant criticism, the USWNT has garnered far more success than the men’s team and is the favorite heading into the 2021 Olympics. 

HARRISON NJ - MAY 26, 2019 U.S. Women's World Cup Team Send-Off Celebration for 2019 Womens World Cup on Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ. (1)
HARRISON NJ – MAY 26, 2019 U.S. Women’s World Cup Team Send-Off Celebration for 2019 Women’s World Cup on Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ. (1)
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Women’s soccer has grown immensely in the last 20+ years. While women’s soccer has definitely experienced growth worldwide, it’s gained significant popularity in the United States.

In 2020, despite the pandemic, women’s soccer in the United States set viewership records. 

The National Women’s Soccer League returned to action as the first professional sports league in 2020, and the Challenge Cup broke viewership records by 300%.

  • The last game of the challenge cup drew 653,000 views, which was in part with an EPL match the same week. 

Sponsorships also reflected the growth of women’s soccer heading into the 2019 World Cup. Nike, Visa, Coca-Cola, and Adidas were key sponsors for the 2019 Women’s World Cup.

Nike created custom uniforms for 14 of the 24 teams. 

According to a 2019 CNBC article,

“U.S. women’s soccer games have generated more revenue than U.S. men’s games over the past three years.”


Abigail Johnson Hess

Financial statements from the Wall Street Journal showed that the 2016 US women’s games generated $1.9 million more in revenue than the US men’s games. 

Take a look at the ultimate guide to women’s soccer cleats here.

Why is US women’s soccer so successful?

The USWNT won its 4th World Cup in 2019, more than any other women’s team. The team is consistently ranked #1 by FIFA and is recognized around the world as the top women’s team. 

One of the reasons the team is so successful is because of Title IX. legislators passed Title IX in 1972, and it prohibits educational organizations from discriminating based on sex.

High schools and colleges around the nation had to add women’s programs to adhere to the law. This pushed women’s soccer into the mainstream. 

Key players from the USWNT’s early years also had a major impact.

Michelle Akers helped define the American soccer style, with her imposing domination in the midfield.

  • In the early years after its 1985 inception, the USWNT was technically outmatched by European teams, but they brought an unparalleled work rate led by players like Akers. 

Success begets success. An early victory for the USWNT was a powerful motivator that set the tone for the legendary team.

They won the first-ever women’s World Cup in 1991, and then again in an iconic fashion against China in 1999. 

On the flip side, the suppression of women’s soccer in other countries contributed to the USWNT’s success. There were times that England, Germany, and Brazil banned women’s soccer

Many other countries simply claimed soccer was not a women’s game and did not invest in its development at all.

In 2006, there were 3 million youth female players around the world. Over half were in the U.S. 

Why is the USWNT so good?

Some of the top reasons the USWNT has gotten and stayed so good include:

  • Investment in women’s sports via Title IX
  • An early triumph that drew interest to the sport
  • Limited professional women’s soccer opportunities around the rest of the world
  • Less competition from an interest in the men’s team 
  • A huge base of youth players 
  • A strong women’s soccer training program 
  • Resources and facilities 
  • Notable players like Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers, etc. who caught the eye of sponsors
  • Determination and winning mentality 
USA vs England Match during the 2020 SheBelieves Cup at Exploria Stadium in Orlando Florida on Thursday March 5, 2020
USA vs England Match during the 2020 SheBelieves Cup at Exploria Stadium in Orlando Florida on Thursday, March 5, 2020

How to play for the USWNT?

Much like playing professionally, there is no secret formula for playing on the USWNT. However, by taking a look at some of the top players, we can see crucial steps.

Rose Lavelle and Crystal Dunn are two very different USWNT players who played in the 2019 World Cup. They both:

  • Played on very strong, successful club/high school teams. 
  • Played D1 college soccer at a Power 5 school
  • Were on youth women’s national teams 
  • Earned several extremely high soccer honors at the youth and college level
  • Were drafted first in the NWSL 

Why is the USWNT better than the USMNT?

The USWNT has had more success and consistently maintained higher rankings than the USMNT. There are several different factors at play influencing this disparity including:

The USA Pioneered Women’s Soccer

While the USWNT largely began on a whim, the program led the way for women’s soccer around the world.

The team generated success immediately, which helped boost the popularity of the sport in the U.S. 

On the other hand, men’s soccer is behind the rest of the world. The first professional league (which folded) did not begin until the 70s.

Compared to other major European countries, men’s soccer in the US is a late player that still has a lot of catching up to do. 

Focus on Men’s Soccer Worldwide

Along that same note, the USMNT struggles because of the passion for men’s soccer around the world.

Because of the early and incredible success of the USWNT, women’s soccer has garnered immense attention here. In other countries, the focus was (and still is) on men’s soccer. 

The passion for men’s soccer in other countries means the U.S men’s team has many many powerhouses to battle against.

  • The USWNT gained an early leg up and skyrocketed their development before many countries even allowed women to play professionally.

The U.S. does not prioritize men’s soccer like other countries. 

Choice of Athletes

Another reason the USMNT team struggles in comparison to the USWNT is because of the choice of athletes.

Top male athletes in other countries choose soccer first, but that’s not the case in the U.S.

Overall, the best male athletes in the United States are more likely to enter football, basketball, and even baseball ahead of soccer.

  • Just imagine the likes of Adrian Peterson had he been trained in soccer. 

Quite the opposite is true for women’s soccer. While basketball is the most popular competitive sport for girls by age 9, soccer is the next most popular, with 10% of girls playing organized soccer by age 14.

The huge pool of talent makes it easier for the USWNT to identify and develop dominant players. 

Lack of Accessibilty 

This problem affects both the USWNT and USMNT but has a clear profound impact on the men’s team. In the U.S. soccer is not accessible to kids in the inner city.

  • Urban and low-income kids do not have the same access to the “pay-to-play” soccer programs, which had caused the sport to take a huge hit in terms of diversity. 

There are talented, athletic kids who could be great soccer players that do not have access to the sport.

Furthermore, the culture of soccer has not permeated those areas either. This is one of the biggest reasons why talent from urban areas turns toward basketball and football ahead of soccer in the U.S. 

Can the USWNT beat a men’s team?

The USWNT could beat a men’s team, but not every men’s team. Your local open-aged outdoor team? Absolutely. A professional-level team? It’s not so clear. 

When pushed to answer if the USWNT could beat a professional German team, Carli Lloyd responded

“if you take those [speed and strength advantages] away, it would be a contest.”

Carli Lloyd

Could USWNT beat an MLS team?

Soccer requires technical, tactical vision, and athleticism. The USWNT is technically and tactically more advanced than most MLS teams.

However, MLS teams generally have a size and athletic advantage that could overwhelm the skill gap. 

While it’s unlikely the USWNT will ever scrimmage an MLS team, many players train individually and in small groups with eachother. 

Difference between women’s and men’s soccer

Men’s and women’s soccer do not need a direct comparison, but many people are keen to attempt to discredit the women’s game with them. 

Media Portrayal

One of the starkest differences is how male and female players are portrayed in media.

On two different Sports Illustrated covers, you can see David Beckham portrayed like a superhero while Alex Morgan is objectified in a bikini.

Media outlets sexualize female players to gain interest. 

Pay Gap

Another difference the USWNT team currently battles is the FIFA pay difference.

  • The average salary for professional female players in the U.S. is between $25,000 and $85,000 per season, while the men make up to $300,000 per player.

For the 2014 and 2015 World Cup, the men’s champions won 17x more than the women’s champions. 

Demands of the Game

Men and women do have anthropometric and physiological differences, but the differences are smaller in professionals soccer players than they are in the general population.

This suggests that female soccer players have improved their fitness and strength relative to the average population better than males. 

Based on the differences in VO2 max, kicking velocity, and height/stature;

“female players have to cope with relatively much tougher demands than males.”

NCBI

While many other sports alter the rules for the two sexes, soccer does not.

If soccer scaled the rules and regulations according to the sex differences;

  • the goal would be scaled down,
  • a size 4 ball or lighter size 5 ball would be used,
  • the pitch would be 77% of its current size
  • the match duration would be 70 minutes. 

Ultimately, it is not fair or necessary to directly compare men’s and women’s soccer based on the current rules and regulations. As the research study in Frontiers in Psychology concludes,

“to give a fair comparison of female and male soccer, one would have to scale values according to the relative physiological capacities and establish gender-specific thresholds.”

Arve Vorland Pedersen – Ingvild Merete Aksdal – Ragna Stalsberg

Did the US women’s soccer team get beat by an u15 team?

In 2017, the USWN lost a scrimmage to an FC Dallas U15 boys team. They competed in the scrimmage to prepare for upcoming friendlies. According to CBS Sports,

“Of course, this match against the academy team was very informal and should not be a major cause for alarm.

The U.S. surely wasn’t going all out, with the main goal being to get some minutes on the pitch, build chemistry when it comes to moving the ball around, improve the defensive shape and get ready for Russia.”

Roger Gonzalez

Regardless, many critics used this scrimmage as a reason to argue why the USWNT should not be paid as much as the men’s team.

Interestingly enough, there is no other information about results from any other scrimmages against boys teams. 

As women’s soccer continues to develop around the world, the USWNT pioneers its growth and serves as a shining example.

Despite the growth of the sport, female players still face many challenges around the world. 

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