Saturday, February 1, 2014

Why you should watch women's soccer.

We've recently become big fans of soccer in this household. It's a pretty fast-paced game, there's strategy involved, and even in the most commercial European leagues it still feels like it's mostly a game and not merely a vector by which large companies reach large audiences. Although I'll admit it's kind of funny watching some of the world's best athletes running around with the name of oil-state airlines and gambling operations. It's like the bottom 10th of NASCAR, where the drivers are sponsored by funeral homes and scam Viagra substitutes.

At any rate. Soccer. We like the game, we like the national teams more than the club teams and we like the women's game most of all. You should also become a fan of women's soccer, both of the national team and of the Phoenix-like US pro league, currently called the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL).

I already know your objections. The women aren't as fast as the men. They don't kick as far or as hard. You're right. But soccer is about so much more than that, and enjoying a sport is also about so much more than that. Let me explain the advantages the women's game has over the men's, at least in the United States.

The USA is really, really good at women's soccer. The USA won the Olympics. We were runners up at the World Cup. We've won the World Cup before. Twice. We're the favorites or co-favorites at every tournament we enter. What that means is that if you see a US Women's National Team match or take in a NWSL game you're seeing the very best athletes in the game. It's like being a Barcelona and Brazil fan on the men's side. However, there are other very very good teams.  You don't get to take victories for granted like the men's basketball Olympic Dream Team.  There is legitimate competition, it's just that the US is the best at it. Just for fun, here's a picture of striker extraordinaire and general badass Abby Wambach setting the record for international goals:


And there's more:

The women's game is tougher than the men's game. The reputation soccer players have for being easily-injured crybabies is severely overstated, but it wouldn't be honest to say that the men's game hasn't brought at least some derision on itself. Some of the highest-profile players and teams in the game have reputations for falling down and clutching their calves at the slightest provocation. Not so in the women's game. There are some teams (Brazil!) which are known for diving but it's not baked into the game's culture the way it is on the men's side.

Going to a USWMT or NWSL match will make you like people and love America and believe in the future again. You should know in advance that you will not match the demographics of the rest of a crowd at one of these events unless you are a nine-year-old girl. The cheering is two octaves higher there than at any other sporting event you've been to. But those girls and the other fans are not annoying drunks. They aren't swearing. They know the players, they know the rules and they know the game. You will have a great time at a game. And if you've got a daughter or niece or someone and take her, you'll be a superhero. And while the median age is indeed somewhere between 10 and 13, there are plenty of other actual adults there so you won't feel awkward if you don't bring a gaggle of kids with you. In fact, some NWSL cities like Portland and Seattle and probably Houston this year have big fan bases drawn from fans of the men's game. Another great thing about going out to a game is...

You can afford to enjoy this sport. You can take the entire family to a NWSL game, park, tailgate, buy snacks and sodas and a souvenier for the price of a single ticket to an NFL or NHL game or two tickets to an MLB game. It's like going to a minor league baseball game (something else you should do!) but again, with the world's best athletes.Oh, and the stars of the game will sign autographs afterwards.  

The NWSL season doesn't start until this spring but the National Team is active now. In fact, they beat arch-rival Canada yesterday and they play Russia on February 8th and again on the 12th. I'd encourage you to catch those games streamed from and if you're in or near one of the seven NWSL cities you should gather up the family or some friends and take in a game this summer.

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