Interesting quote in this espnW report on the USA-Germany game:
The new coach, (Abby) Wambach told reporters this week, will have to be someone who “can put all the X’s and O’s together but who can also treat this more like a business. Gone are the days when the players aren’t recognized. We’re selling out stadiums.”
Rewind to two years ago, when I had one of many good conversations with the ever-thoughtful Wambach at the Maryland SoccerPlex:
“It feels like I’m doing something wrong,” says Washington Freedom forward Abby Wambach. “It feels like I’m failing at my job. I wanted to be part of the thing that kept it going. Now it feels like we have taken a step back at some level.”
So here’s the question*: What’s “normal” for women’s soccer? Selling out stadiums and being recognized? Toiling in obscurity at the SoccerPlex with a few empty seats in the bleachers? Or something in between?
Let’s rewind further to the WUSA (2001-2003). The typical post-mortem of that league is that expectations were wildly inflated after the 1999 Women’s World Cup, when the players were recognized and were selling out stadiums. The league leaned heavily on those stars.
Women’s soccer stars have shown staying power. Brandi Chastain still draws enthusiastic fans everywhere (Twitter exceptions duly noted). Julie Foudy is still an authority on leadership. Mia Hamm draws squeals from fans who were maybe 3 or 4 in 1999.
But how much can the “business” of women’s soccer depend on players being recognized? When Wambach, Solo, Rampone and company are gone in 1-5 years, will enough stars emerge alongside Alex Morgan?
Women’s soccer has gone from obscurity through a boom, bust and boom cycle. Will this boom last? Or are up-and-down cycles inevitable?
That’s what Sunil Gulati, U.S. Soccer business planners and a few team owners are surely trying to quantify right now.
* – You could also argue that the question is what the U.S. women’s coach has to do with running things “like a business.” Isn’t the new coach’s job to evaluate the whole talent pool and get the best players on the field in the best spots? Shouldn’t other people be worrying about the “business”? A conspiracy theorist would say a “business” would mean leaving the same core players on the field ad infinitum while they’re being “recognized,” but I don’t think that’s what Wambach meant.