Here in Cosmos Country, we supporters run the spectrum of sports knowledge and experience, from four year olds chasing a ball to accredited academia. Many lay claim to a fair bit of knowledge of the sport we follow. But one area that likely far escapes some Cosmos fans’ awareness is the state of Americans womens soccer. We have a beloved Women’s National Team with a history of excellence. (And maybe they’ve seen Bend it Like Beckham.)
Lately they have not been doing as well; people might say that eight games into 2017 they’ve won five matches and only lost three, but in all of 2016’s twenty-five they lost zero. Coaching concerns are sometimes mentioned as a cause. To me however, the problem is not so much that the quality of the Women’s National Team has been getting worse, it’s that global womens soccer everywhere is steadily improving.
The USWNT, in a remarkable bit of dramatic irony, have been a major driver of attention and rising expectations for global womens soccer. Countries with far richer soccer histories paradoxically had something to learn from the United States – something of a guilty pleasure for US womens soccer fans. Coming off the success of the 1999 Womens World Cup, a Division 1 professional league formed and put a professional face on US womens soccer. As Cosmos fans know only too well though, initial momentum can only take you so far. Starts and falls followed, but through it all many of our national team players had workplaces in which to perform and improve.
And improve they did. This year, the D1 National Womens Soccer League (NWSL) celebrated their fifth season, and expansion franchise in their second year. While it’s still early days, many NWSL teams have shown good stability and an engaged fanbase. (If you were wondering, Kelly O’Hara and Sky Blue FC are closest to Brooklyn, playing in Piscataway, NJ.) NASL fans may have taken note of North Carolina Courage, a D1 NWSL franchise affiliated with North Carolina FC. Three other NWSL teams are affiliated D1 MLS franchises – the most successful of which is the Portland Thorns FC, affiliated with the Portland Timbers.
Division 2 was left fallow for years, interspaced by a number of false starts but was again occupied in 2015. United Womens Soccer (UWS) organizes three conferences out of twenty-one teams. Time will tell if all these D2 teams can build identities and followings, and become more than development teams. A few – like the New England Mutiny and Brooklyn’s New York Magic have a history going back decades.
But this brings us to the question suggested in the headline – what about an affiliated womens side wearing the green and white? In the 1970s and 80s, it might have seemed faintly ridiculous. But worlds are quickly coming together. North Carolina FC are leading the way in seeing the leverage in uniting two maturing streams of support to strengthen a club following. The Courage are fourth in NWSL attendance so far this season (4k last game), and their single-game ticket prices are the same as NCFC’s.
As I see it, it’s a self-regulating feedback loop. The U.S Women’s National Team (and US womens soccer) must broaden its potential talent and development pipeline if it’s to grow its remarkable supporter following. Expanding the range of one area of US soccer expands it for all. If anything was clear from the SheBelieve Cup in Harrison I attended with my daughter’s travel team families, it was that twenty-five degree wind-chill was no match for a following that filled the stadium twenty-six thousand strong for an early March doubleheader. But to move forward, the professional and development base must expand. Local womens soccer must rise and be recognized.
For the New York Cosmos participate in that expansion, either at the second or first division level, could be a door to a more sustained, if perhaps less broad, local fan that has as of yet been underserved by a (great) Sky Blue FC side 2.5 hours away by public transportation. The talent, performance and supporters experience would need to be there, but it would represent an honorable evolution for our club that ultimately brings more people together under a common experience and love that is the New York Cosmos.
US Soccer is slowly (too slowly) changing. If the Cosmos are also to be written into that future, womens soccer will be a part of that landscape. Why wait, then?
Let’s go, our Girls in Green!