Women's Soccer Draws Record Crowds

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(CNS) - US men's Major League Soccer (MFL) officials - along with many professional sports pundits - are shaking their heads in amazement as the US women's soccer team generates a level of excitement and US fan interest that far outstrips anything men's soccer has yet been able to attain. What's the score?

"Obviously the US women's team has for a long time been the best in the world, and that's something that's easy to attach to. They're winning," said a spokesman for two-time MFL Cup winner D.C. United, in an interview with CNSNews.com.

The game is the same. The scores are low - at least compared with popular American sports - yet women soccer players are drawing crowds that their male counterparts can only dream of.

An enthusiastic crowd, including President Clinton, his wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea, turned out at Cooke Stadium outside Washington, D.C. on a hot, humid night last week to watch the US team beat Germany 3-2, in a win that qualifies them for the 2000 Olympics.

The women's team attracted big crowds for the Americans' first round victories - 80,000 at the Giants Stadium opener in New York, a record for women's soccer; 65,000 at Chicago's Soldier Field, and 50,000 at Foxboro, Massachusetts.

The U.S. team won the first Women's World Cup in China in 1991. The second Women's World Cup, in which the United States was beaten by Norway in the semifinals, attracted 112,000 fans in Sweden.

The numbers didn't rise dramatically until 1996, when large crowds turned out to support the American women's soccer team at the Summer Olympics. In the gold medal game played in Athens, Georgia, more than 76,000 fans watched the United States beat China, 2-1, in a hard-fought match.

Women's soccer is expected to rival the WNBA professional women's basketball league, now in its third year, for fans and television viewers.

The enthusiasm goes beyond a TV-generated fascination with "women in shorts" running around a field, or the "roller derby" syndrome - the thrill of seeing the demurer sex jockeying for position, shoving their rivals aside, analysts say. Americans love winners, and many have not had the patience to wait while the men's team develops into a world-class contender for the men's World Cup title.

"When you talk about U.S. national teams, either women or men, I think both receive tremendous support. Anytime the men's national team flies the flag, Americans are very big in supporting them," the D.C. United spokesman said.

"The women's team certainly deserve the support they're getting. Whether they can translate that into success at sustaining a long-term women's league, sustaining individual franchises and such, is a different question, and one that our league has had to confront since the World Cup in 1994. There's a lot involved, but if there's a time to do it, there probably isn't a better time than right now," he said.