An on-the-ground perspective of a big day in American WoSo
Sky Blue FC is the longest operating women’s professional soccer club in the United States. But their tenure in the National Women’s Soccer League has been less than spectacular. While the 2019 season has shown glimmers of improvements, last year the team earned only one win in 24 matches played. Off the field, players exposed the team’s inadequate facilities in 2018 — detailing their “locker room” with a two-stall bathroom, no AC, and no showers.
Sunday was different. The players were treated to an immaculate grass pitch, top-tier athletic equipment, and yes, AC and showers. With a large interest from fans to see the matchup post Women’s World Cup featuring USWNT stars, Sky Blue moved the game from their 5,000 seat pitch of Yurcak Field at Rutgers University to Red Bull Arena, where a record setting 9,415 fans showed up.
This trip down the road to shiny Red Bull Arena might be seen as a one-off. But it doesn’t have to be. Several years ago, discussions between team ownership of the Red Bull’s and Sky Blue about sharing the venue fizzled out. But, today, a post Women’s World Cup victory buzz has fueled another surge of interest in women’s professional soccer — particularly in the stars whose faces donned TV screens, Sports Illustrated covers, and newspapers for the past months. The question remains whether the buzz is sustainable.
A new broadcasting deal between NWSL and ESPN will put these players faces on TV for more than just a few weeks every 4 years. And from there, more and more young women can discover idols like Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan. Having those stars play in their own cities is just one step towards building up the women’s game.
In Harrison NJ, a mass of young girls in the Players Development Program (PDA), a youth soccer training program in New Jersey, filled a section of the lower bowl. Donned in their light-blue PDA t-shirts, they soaked in the game they love to play, watching some of the best who play it. They screamed for their favorite players on the pitch — four of them were former PDA players.
One young girl held a sign with “Carli, I’m coming for your record!!” written on it. At the bottom it read “Delran class of 2028” — Lloyd graduated from Delran High School in 2001. Postgame, Lloyd gave the girl a high five and took a photo. As a veteran and superstar of the NWSL and USWNT, she knows, perhaps better than anyone, her role in helping to pave the way for a brighter future for the league and the sport.
Maybe that girl will break Lloyd’s high school record some day.
Luke Malanga is a writer and photographer from Chatham, NJ. He is currently studying Sports Marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, PA. Follow him on Twitter at @malanga_luke.