As recently as 2018 Madeleine Albright said “You [women] are going to have to work twice as hard. It’s just a simple truth. . . there’s plenty of room for mediocre men, there is no room for mediocre women.” Fortunately the US National Women’s Soccer team has been full of extraordinary women since 1985, with each generation of players building on the hard work and success of their predecessors.
Caitlin Murray recounts the history of women’s soccer in the US through many of the player’s personal stories and highlights of the national team’s greatest and worst moments. It also includes all the political and economic struggles of the team to gain respect, pay and decent working conditions.
Throughout the team’s history, amazing women have done so much with so little. So little pay: (Brandi Chastain got $500 for winning the World Cup in 1991), so little support: the 1999 USWNT trained and went on publicity tours to girls’ soccer leagues around the country to drum up ticket sales for the World Cup. FIFA and US Soccer had so little faith in women’s soccer in 1999 that they wanted to hold the World Cup tournaments in small stadiums so as not to embarrass themselves. (there were over 100,000 fans at the Rose Bowl for the final) Even after winning in 1999, pay, training facilities, support, travel expenses, turf conditions have remained issues until today. The National Team has fought for every improvement along the way.
The women of the USWNT are super heroes. They persevered through battles with the US Soccer Federation, FIFA, tough conditions and last but not least, other national teams. The struggle to form a women’s professional soccer league so that women could play when not competing in the World Cup and the Olympics is part of the story as well and a continuing one. The current league, the National Women’s Soccer League is doing better than its predecessors but success is not guaranteed. The NWSL’s teams are not equally supported or funded, some teams until recently haven’t had real practice facilities, medical support or even clean locker rooms. In talking about the pushing the NWSL to improve conditions across the league Becky Sauerbrunn says “These are little things that we didn’t want teams to get away with, because it was affecting all the players . . . S0 we had to keep pushing the level of professionalism higher and higher.” Throughout the past 35 years, these women have pushed for improvements not just for themselves, but for future players, for the game.
The accomplishments of these women, their positive attitudes, their sense of humor is inspiring. The new edition ends with a cherry on top: the 2019 World Cup (which I had the good fortune to attend). What a crazy tournament that was, starting with the 13 -2 thrashing of the Thai team, the criticisms of the celebrations, Rapinoe vs. Trump , the Pose, and in the end they won it all! It was all so much to take in at the time. Ashlyn Harris summed it up quite well: “When all is said and done, we probably won’t remember very much from this match. But the legacy we leave behind of pushing women forward and standing up for what’s right, that is what’s important and that’s what we are continuing.” The 2019 World Cup win was all that. It was a moment in which the team proved good things are possible. The National Team gives us everything it took to get there and illuminates what an amazing journey its been.