by Lizzie Weiderecht

I love soccer. I love it more than a lot of things in my life. I grew up playing rec soccer like most American kids. I was terrible. No part of me was ever made for running, and I now prefer roller skating over everything, but I loved it anyway. I loved being part of a team. I loved the friendships you could only make by being comrades with a common goal (pun intended). I played JV throughout middle and high school. In college, I found an intramural team and played with ragtag gang of people who weren’t on fraternity/sorority teams. I never really played for a great team, but that wasn’t the point. It was exercise, a social gathering, and therapy, all things I’m super terrible at. I don’t think I would have kept going with soccer as long as I did without women’s soccer specifically. Growing up, I had Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach, Marta, Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath and many more. They were and still are icons of women’s soccer, but we need more.

The closest professional women’s team to Tampa Bay is in Orlando, and you can imagine my hesitation of ever wearing anything Orlando Pride around my Rowdies friends. Women’s soccer has had growing pains like you wouldn’t believe. We’d have a league for a while, and then it would fold. WUSA (Women’s United Soccer Association) was the first in 2000 with eight teams, but it only lasted three seasons. The closest team to Tampa Bay was the Atlanta Beat. WPS (Women’s Professional Soccer) tried again in 2009, with seven teams. We got closer with “The magicJack,” a team in Boca Raton whose mismanagement ended up being one of the nails in the coffin of the league in 2012. With the NWSL, currently the longest running women’s league in US history at eight years, it seems like every time we gain a new team, we lose an old team: Boston and Kansas City in 2017 and the Utah Royals in 2020. Eight years, and we’re STILL sitting at ten professional teams for the whole country. Why is that? There’s just not enough infrastructure in place and even in some places where it is, the conditions are abhorrent. A quick google search for “sky blue fc player conditions” turns up tons of articles documenting the horrendous player conditions that the renamed (and reformed) NJ/NY Gotham FC subjected professional athletes to. Locker rooms without showers, inadequate training facilities whose location would change on a whim, little or no housing. All with pay that often forces professional players to find side jobs, or to leave the sport they love altogether.

The US has arguably the best women’s soccer team in the world, but we’re only the best because other nations are still developing their women’s soccer programs. When it comes to opportunities for players outside the national team set-up, we’re horribly underdeveloped. We have one professional league for women, but there’s a whole pyramid on the men’s side with dozens of professional teams. We won’t stay the best for very long if we keep up this snail paced “growth.” We need an expanded pyramid, with every MLS/USL team having an NWSL/USL-W affiliate team, and investment from the USSF. The players are there, the fanbase is there, the damn money is there, why aren’t we capitalizing on it? It’s a waste of an amazing opportunity for soccer as a whole in this country, not just women’s. We’re losing players left and right to European teams. Tobin Heath played for Manchester United, and currently plays for Arsenal. Alex Morgan had a stint with Olympique Lyon, and Catarina Macario is there now. Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle played for Manchester City. Why did they go there? For a new challenge that they couldn’t get here, and in that aspect we have failed professional women’s soccer players in the United States.

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