Is the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team “America’s Team”? As the team prepares for its possible third World Cup title today, the increased viewership and buzz after the team’s win over Germany has made them media darlings. It also highlights how soccer, a “foreign” sport, can unite this country in a way no other sport can.
There are very few high-profile sports in the United States where the 318 million population can unite to support a single cause or, in this case, a single team. The most popular sport, American football, doesn’t have a national team. Neither does America’s pastime, baseball. Basketball and hockey have a US Olympics team, but both only raise passing interest every four years.
Not only is the US Women’s National soccer team more accessible, but they’re more representative of the United States. For example, in light of the recent Supreme Court decision, two of the team’s biggest stars (Abby Wambach and Megan Rapinoe) have been public proponents and examples for gay marriage and equality.
The entire U.S. women’s roster represents different parts of the country and different lifestyles: single, married, and parent. Players have returned to the roster after taking time away to have kids and struggle with balancing parenting and career.
Head Coach Jill Ellis was born in England but has lived in and now resides in the U.S. Rising star Sydney Leroux was born and raised in Canada to a Canadian mother but wanted to follow her biological father’s path and represent the United States. She has been open about her struggles growing up as a biracial player and dealing with her dual nationalities.
In many ways, they represent the new America.
Even beyond the US Women’s National Team, soccer has been a unifying force in this country once you get past the usual rhetoric. Across the country, almost every child at some point growing up has played soccer, regardless of location or income or race. While soccer fans in the past have tended to be liberal politically, “soccer moms” for a long time were the swing voters courted by politicians in every election. And more than any other national team, the moments given to us by the U.S. Soccer teams are memorable even to non-fans: just ask where people were for “GO GO USA!” in 2010 or Brandi Chastain’s sports bra.
Every few years, the country can rally around the men’s and women’s teams because even non-soccer fans can understand and relate to the players, more than any other team. And as the country progresses politically and culturally, the soccer culture becomes a better fit. One of the things that struck me about Nathan Nipper’s recent book is that as someone more politically conservative, he has no issue integrating into MLS fan culture. At the same time, MLS fans have been the most welcoming and inclusive of any sport especially to LGBT fans.
As we hopefully celebrate another U.S. World Cup victory on Independence Day weekend, it is that “foreign” sport that may best unify this diverse country in the years ahead.