women’s soccer

Portland Thorns FC led the NWSL in attendance during the 2016 season with an average of 16,945 fans per match. (Photo by Ray Terril)

The National Women’s Soccer League begins its fifth season this week with markers of success that eluded the two failed U.S. women’s professional soccer leagues that predated it. Perhaps first and foremost is the league’s longevity. Both the Women’s United Soccer Association (2001-2003) and Women’s Professional Soccer (2009-2012) folded after three seasons. With no sign of impending failure, the beginning of a fifth season for the NWSL bodes well for this league’s ability to break into the national sporting imagination. Currently, when I ask the undergraduates I teach to name a women’s pro sports league, they are only able to recall the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). This could change in the future, but only with a league that lasts long enough to build a national profile.

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Team USA’s starting 11 before a friendly match against Romania, November 2016
Team USA’s starting 11 before a friendly match against Romania, November 2016. Photo from YouTube.

The United States Women’s National Soccer Team will take the field on March 1 for the SheBelieves Cup. With no upcoming major international tournaments, these matches will be the team’s most publicized events of 2017. Though the team’s success has been rightly celebrated as an achievement for women in sports, there has been far less analysis about the racial and ethnic diversity of the players. Prior to the 2015 World Cup, several journalists noted the team’s overwhelming whiteness, but this discussion largely took a back seat to female empowerment narratives and Title IX salutes that followed their victory, celebratory parade, and subsequent time in the spotlight.

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