It has been a week since Team USA riveted the nation with its exciting Women’s World Cup victory over Japan, and already the National Women’s Soccer League is reaping the rewards.
The team that appears to be getting the biggest boost is the Houston Dash, which features tournament MVP Carli Lloyd, and fellow U.S. starters Meghan Klingenberg and Morgan Brian. Lloyd scored three goals in a span of 13 minutes in the championship match, and fans in Houston are coming out in big numbers to welcome her back.
As of Thursday morning, more than 10,000 tickets had been sold for Sunday’s Dash home match against the Chicago Red Stars. The crowd is expected to reach 14,000. The Dash typically draws between 3,500 and 4,000 per game, and its largest crowd (8,000) was for its inaugural match.
“The phones have been ringing off the hook all week,” said Dash managing director Brian Ching, a former member of the U.S. men’s national team. “We have already eclipsed our biggest all-time crowd. Carli did more for our ticket sales in 15 minutes than we could have done in a year. Of course, we put out special ads, have been reaching out to people online, but the greatest advertisement for these players is what they did last Sunday in Vancouver.”
Between the two teams, there will be 14 World Cup players in the game, and Ching said they are planning a special ceremony to honor all of them. The Chicago roster includes U.S. players Julie Johnston and Christen Press.
The key, Ching said, is to get fans into the stadium and then give them a memorable experience so they will come back.
“The first step is getting people to know we have a women’s league,” Ching said. “A lot of people, including our local media, didn’t even realize Carli plays on a team in our town until the knockout rounds of the World Cup. That U.S. team has brought more than a spotlight to our league, it has put sunshine on us. People in Houston now know Carli plays here, Meghan plays here, Morgan plays here. The whole league needs that.”
The NWSL is the third attempt since 1999 to professionalize women’s soccer in the United States. The first two failed. The league has teams in nine cities — Chicago; Seattle; Portland, Oregon; Washington; Kansas City, Missouri; Houston; Boston; Piscataway, New Jersey; and Elma, New York.
Player salaries range from $6,000 to $30,000, with most in the $15,000 range. U.S. national team players have their salaries subsidized by the U.S. Soccer Federation. Most teams have a Host Family Program in which players live in homes with local families to help defray the cost of living. Klingenberg and Brian live with the family of NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy.
The Portland Thorns have the biggest following, with average attendance of 14,000. Most of the other teams average between 2,500 to 5,000. Seattle’s team, the Reign, normally draws 2,300, but more than 6,000 fans bought tickets for their game Saturday. Among the players on the Reign are U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo and midfielder Megan Rapinoe.
“It is extremely important for the future of our women’s national team that we have a league in which players can develop and get regular playing time week in and week out,” Ching said.
Nations with the strongest pro women’s leagues are France, Germany, Japan and Sweden. The NWSL hopes to stick around for a long time.
“We’re really hoping for a lasting legacy from this World Cup championship,” Ching said. “Will it be at this magnitude of 25.4 million people watching on TV? No. But if we can consistently get 5,000 or 6,000 to our games instead of 3,500, that would be great.
“Men’s soccer got a big bump in this country 20 years ago, when we hosted the World Cup, and it has increased a little bit every year since then. I can see the same thing happening with the women’s game. The more people see these women play, the more they will want to support our league. It’s an exciting time.”
▪ Gold Cup continues: The U.S. men’s team, which won its Gold Cup opener 2-1 over Honduras, plays on Monday against Panama at Sporting Park in Kansas City. Team USA is the defending champion of the regional championship, and the 23-man roster includes 17 players from the 2014 World Cup. Among the veterans are Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Brad Guzan, Kyle Beckerman, Chris Wondolowski, Mix Diskerud, Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya and Clint Dempsey, who scored both U.S. goals against Honduras. Monday’s match is at 9:30 p.m. on Fox Sports 1.
▪ On the move: Preki, a Serbian longtime Major League Soccer player and coach who spent a season with the Miami Fusion, is expected to be named coach of Leicester in the English Premier League. Preki played for Everton early in his career, and had expressed an interest in coaching in England. His most recent job was coaching the Sacramento USL team.
In other news, Manchester United forward Robin Van Persie is leaving for Fenerbahce of the Turkish league.
Major League Soccer: East — D.C. 35, Columbus, Orlando and New England 24. West — Seattle and Vancouver 32, Portland and Los Angeles 31.
On the tube
Sunday: New York City vs. Toronto (5 p.m., ESPN), Colorado vs. Salt Lake (7 p.m., Fox Sports 1).