For those of us enamored with the sport, the U.S. national soccer team’s performance at the Women’s World Cup in France over the past month was one for the ages.
Admittedly, the squad entered the 24-team field as the favorite. But the U.S. lived up to that hype — and maybe even exceeded expectations — by going undefeated in seven games and outscoring its opponents 26-3 with four shutouts.
And American fans took notice. According to Fox Sports, the team’s 2-0 win over Netherlands in the finale drew a U.S. audience 20 percent larger than the one that watched the Men’s World Cup championship game last year. Of course, the U.S. men’s team didn’t qualify for that tournament, but the women’s viewership this year was 1 percent higher than in 2015, when the U.S. took the crown with a 5-2 win over Japan.
“The team is just bigger, faster, strong, more talented and with a lot of swagger, but the talent and results back it up,” said Scott Lyons, a longtime youth coach in Eau Claire who blogs about the sport at his website westwisconsinsoccertalk.com. “A really amazing week of games and they are clearly the best team in the world.”
• • •
Dooley’s Pub is the home base for the Eau Claire chapter of the American Outlaws. The organization, according to its website, is comprised of 30,000 members who support the U.S. national teams.
The time difference for the Women’s World Cup kept the games well outside of prime time stateside. After all, the championship game was held at 10 a.m. locally.
Nevertheless, pub owner Mike Dooley said fans came out for the games, especially for the finale.
“Even with the game occurring on the Sunday of the Fourth of July weekend, attendance for the WWC championship was tremendous,” he said. “Attendance for the U.S. men’s national team Gold Cup Final match (a 1-0 loss to Mexico) on Sunday night was better than anticipated.”
• • •
Lyons started his blog about two years ago to provide more coverage of high school soccer at the local level. It’s expanded to include local club soccer, and national and international news.
“It’s not a ton of viewers,” he said, “but every now and then I talk to someone who read a post and really enjoyed it ... and that’s all I need. It touched someone.”
As a student of the game, his assessment of the women’s national team’s run is telling, and specific.
“This team just seemed a bit better than every team they played,” he said. “It was just a matter of time until they would break through with a score. Offensively, their wing players and midfielders were just more dynamic. They created more 1 vs. 1 opportunities and looked more dangerous in the offensive third.”
Tobin Heath “was amazing outside,” said Lyons, who added that fellow forwards Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan delivered, respectively, “all the big goals” and “the knockout blow against England.”
“My favorite all tournament was (former Badger) Rose Lavelle,” Lyons said. “It feels like she is the new rising star and maybe the best midfielder in the world right now.”
And the team as a whole may just inspire a next generation of players in the U.S. Lyons coaches an Eau Claire United U-13 girls team and has already seen an influence.
“We would have group texts during games, and players and families would send out updates on the big goals,” he said. “The girls were watching; they were all excited about the event.”
Lyons added that members of his team already are asking when they can get out and start practicing again.
“The (national) team took the responsibility to inspire the next wave of players, and I think it will happen,” he said. “Did you see the crowds in Kansas City and Chicago and other soccer towns around the U.S.?
“And their quest for higher pay is equally as important. They certainly have earned that right. It’s not just soccer, but about inspiring girls to dream big and have confidence in themselves.”
— Liam Marlaire, assistant editor