The games were placed in China
A dream come true. That’s what the eight-team Women’s United Soccer Association represents to a remarkably dedicated group of athletes who have sacrificed so much for so long to make next weekend’s Bay Area CyberRays at Washington Freedom game a reality.
Dan was the epitome of class in his writing and life. After being a part of soccer for his entire life, he had his opinions but always ready to listen to other people’s point of view and this calm approach played out in his Soccer365 column.
Although it hardly seemed it at the time, the 1991 tournament was a turning point. The inaugural Women’s World Cup - actually, officially known at the time as the FIFA’s Women’s World Championships for the M & M’s Cup - was little more than an experiment.
The games were placed in China, a country with so little soccer history that its men’s team has still never kicked a ball in a World Cup. Matches consisted of two 40-minute halves based, no doubt, on the logic that women could hardly be expected to endure 90 minutes like the men.
The Chinese government managed to give factory workers enough time off so as to provide matches with an impressive atmosphere but the rest of the world, including here in the States, hardly noticed,Miles Austin Jersey. The Final was aired sporadically late at night on a tape-delayed basis on a series of regional outlets on the long-since forgotten entity known as SportsChannel. Commercials frequently interrupted and preempted the action.
But the big picture was that prejudices about women in sports were slowly starting to be challenged,Von Miller Jersey. Akers’ inspirational performances and her outstanding skill garnered raves from no less of an authority than the incomparable Pele.
From a marketer’s perspective, things were hardly any better four years later,Cam Newton Panthers Jersey. With the exception of the Final, the Swedish-based Cup’s contests were played in half-filled tiny stadiums with audiences in the low four figures. Little wonder that the USA’s initial hosting proposal for chapter #3 called for using intimate stadiums and only on the east coast.
US Soccer - so often the whipping boy for critics - had the incredible vision and courage to back a revised plan that called for a huge roll of the dice. The Americans managed to convince FIFA that venues like Giants Stadium and the Rose Bowl should be utilized despite the fact that the total attendance for the 1995 Cup wouldn’t have filled either of those facilities.
The rest, as the cliche goes, is history. The tournament culminated with an estimated domestic television audience of 40 million and an SRO crowd at the Rose Bowl for the Final.
Just as was the case during the opening game of the 1999 World Cup when the USA defeated Denmark in a packed Giants Stadium, there will undoubtedly be moments this summer when the players will have to battle just to remain focused on their task during that game rather than to allow their minds to drift as to just how much their surroundings have changed.
Relates New York Power star striker Tiffeny Milbrett, "Some of the worst moments were playing in front of 1200 fans or when I thought this was an awesome game with the National Team coming to your city and people didn’t even know there was a game. It was disheartening. We felt that we were fighting the people marketing our team and society. It was just a huge struggle for years. We‘re still struggling with it although it is now better."
As recently as just before the 1999 Cup, Kristine Lilly and friends performed in virtual anonymity at the Algarve Cup. Says the most-capped player in soccer history, "We had about 20 people at those games in Portugal. It’s an incredible tournament but it just hasn’t caught on there."
What this upcoming season represents to Milbrett is even greater. Relates the scorer of the goal that gave the USA the 1996 Olympic gold medal, "I came into the program in 1990. We weren’t paid until 1995 so I had five years of that not-so-peachy-keen National Team. It’s incredible what is happening now. Before, unless you were on the National Team you could not call yourself a professional women’s soccer player. For so many of these women to be able to make a living playing soccer is tremendous. It’s incredible because so many people have not had that opportunity."
Milbrett knew that the tide was turning after winning the 1998 Goodwill Games on the same field that the Power will call home in the New York City suburbs of Long Island. It was during the US Cup in Boston that the Americans tackled Mexico. "Mind you, this is before the World Cup storm," she notes. "We had 35,000 people. We went into the stands to sign autographs afterwards. I was freaked out by the energy. It was a new generation and something was happening to our team and to what we were doing to the American public,Mike Williams Jersey. That’s when I realized that we were getting big. It’s been so incredible for me to see the effect we’ve had on kids and the American public. The World Cup was just the culmination of it. It started well before then."
It was a few months before that landmark event that Lilly was holding court at a media event at New York City’s Supper Club. Proclaimed Lilly at that time, "This is what we’ve been waiting for; the moment for people to be watching us. Our goal is to show people how we can play and why we love this game so much. Any time that we can create attention we do it. This World Cup will definitely help get a league because it’s what is needed right now for the US. All the other countries have leagues. You can see how small the margin is between who is the best team in the world.
"It’s amazing the places that I go and people say to me, ‘When is there going to be a league?’ and ‘We want to see you more.’ All that I can say is that we’ve got to believe."
Like the players,Vernon Davis 49ers Jersey, this fan disguised as a reporter would like nothing better than to see the WUSA thrive. Every success that it enjoys will lift women’s sports and elevate soccer’s profile nationwide.
Nevertheless, there remain many questions yet to be answered. For as much as every well-meaning member of the US soccer community hopes that the WUSA succeeds,Dwight Freeney Youth Jersey, there are concerns that the standard of play won’t be sufficient to sustain long-term fan interest.
The good news is that the WUSA has done a remarkable job of enticing a who’s who of the women’s game. From day one it clearly will represent the gold standard of female soccer. But the fear remains that it could be ahead of its time much as was the case with women’s basketball a generation ago when the initial attempts to launch a forerunner of the WNBA failed.
There might just not yet be enough truly outstanding women’s soccer players to fill an eight-team league. It’s a dirty little secret that our women’s National Team, which remains head and shoulders above all of their rivals except for Norway and China, is badly out-classed in friendlies even with the likes of the USA’s Boys Under-17 National Team.
Another worry is that the League was very late to hire front office staff. One casualty of that has been a dearth of publicity. Compare the media hullabaloo that surrounded the kickoff of the hideous XFL to how little has been written about the WUSA in newspapers.
But the greatest pitfall is that of unreasonable expectations. Perhaps the best step taken by Alan Rothenberg during MLS’ birth was to play down attendance projections. The WUSA’s investors are johnny-come-latelys to the soccer scene who believe that an average gate of 7000 is within their grasp. That figure is about half of what MLS attracts and the Men’s National Team certainly out-draws their female counterparts by a lot more than a two-to-one ratio. Moreover, at least 10% of the MLS gates have a lot to do with staging doubleheaders with the nightcap featuring teams with ample ethnic support. It is highly unlikely that WUSA’s appeal will extend beyond that of the suburban soccer mom and her brew.
Thus, to average 5000 per game in year one would seem to demonstrate that there is a viable market for this product. Yet, to overly-optimistic ownership, such a number could be cause for alarm. One only hopes that this investor group will be patient while fully comprehending just how long it took the NBA and NFL to find a significant audience. That vision was lacking amongst many NASL backers and was a major contributing factor to the folding of a very promising venture.
Dan Herbst was one of the original contributing writers for Soccer365. The longtime soccer journalist was regularly published in soccer magazines including Sports Illustrated, Freekick (the MLS Game Program), and Soccer Junior as well as having numerous book published.
by Dan Herbst
Sadly, he was diagnosed with leukemia in 2001 and after a half year battle passed away on November 9, 2001.
It has been 16 years since the US Women’s National Team made their official debut in a tiny Italian village with our charges compensated at the rate of $15-per-day for their troubles. One decade has passed since Michelle Akers’ two goals against Norway gave America its first global soccer trophy only to see that feat remain for several years thereafter the best kept secret on these shores since the Manhattan Project.Related articles The Rise of Soccer in the U.S. Beckham Clone Euro 2008 Team Profiles