Transforming Clumsy Allies to Soccer Fans
Last week, when the interest in the US Open Cup couldn’t have been higher, several of our writers fired off articles tangentially related to competition. I wrote a piece on the need for ESPN+ to begin including the qualifying rounds of the tournament in their broadcast coverage. Dan Creel wrote a piece on the lack of women’s clubs playing in the Open Cup. After establishing that is wasn’t banned in the rules, his piece moved to it’s primary goal - “where is this USWOC?” His passion for WOSO getting an equal opportunity for an Open Cup was clear throughout his piece. When we ran the story, I looked it over and posted it as I always do with Dan’s work - he’s an accomplished writer with interesting takes, and I felt this was within the guidelines of our site and coverage.
Several hours later I received a text message from RJ Allen. If you don’t know who that is, I highly suggest checking out the site she edits and writes for, Backline Soccer. One of the best WOSO sites in the country, RJ is a leading voice in WOSO journalism and has been at it much longer than I have. We met when she was a guest on a podcast I hosted about 3 years ago and is one of those people in the soccer community who gets my attention - when she speaks, I listen. She knows what she’s talking about. The text encouraged me to remove the article from the site. I was stunned.
When I read the piece, as I’m sure Dan felt when he wrote the piece, I saw a piece that backed WOSO and encouraged equality and respect for the women’s game. A piece that was critical of the promotion of the men’s game over the women’s. A piece that encouraged change and reevaluation. So when I saw that message, my first response was to bristle and be defensive. RJ, who has always been patient with me, explained “the problem with pieces like that are [that] they tap into a lot of the things that we fight against from the trolls and from people who don’t take women soccer seriously.” She explained for several more messages and I began to think things over. I didn’t remove the piece, in fact, if you want to read it, it’s right here. But I did decide that night that I would talk to RJ about the article more and also reach out to other WOSO journalists who could offer their perspective on the issue. And that article is this one.
So for the purpose of this article, I spoke with RJ Allen (Backline Soccer) and another former podcasting buddy, Chelsey Bush. Chelsey has written for multiple sites but currently writes for another great WOSO site, The Equalizer. Both of these great writers were happy to share their perspectives on the USOC, the idea of women’s clubs in the tournament, a women’s only USOC, and finally what issues are facing women’s soccer currently.
“Why not play in the USOC?”
Both writers were quick to shoot down the idea of playing in the tournament currently. “It’s a flat out nonsensical suggestion,” RJ said. “The full USWNT loses to U17 boys clubs. Semi-pro women’s teams would be demolished and it would become a line in the sand for people who don’t understand why to believe that all the things they think are correct. It’s a lose/lose for the women’s teams that would enter.” Chelsey doubled down on the idea. “As much as I’d like to support it, I can’t. The fact remains that men and women are physically different. Yes, there are some players who could hang but a team by and large would not be able to compete for long…Now if a team wanted to enter simply to make a point about equality, then sure, I’d support it.”
While I, like so many passive fans of WOSO (or more specifically the USWNT), are amazed at the level of play by Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, it is a mistake to imagine these players could compete physically with the majority of professional male soccer players. I’ll admit, it pains my woke hands to even type that sentence, but this is science, not opinion. There are physiological differences that advantage men in the game. That doesn’t mean watching or supporting WOSO is fandom of some sort of lesser form of the sport, it’s just a different form. As the fan of a lower league side (UPSL) club, I do not mind that the players for FC Grande couldn’t compete with the average or even poorest MLS side. It doesn’t shake my support for my club.
“What about a USWOC?”
What’s amazing was how aligned the answers were from both writers, regardless of them living in different cities, writing for different websites, rooting for different clubs. Chelsey pointed out the issues in the current WOSO pyramid. “I don’t think the women’s pyramid is set up for an open cup competition yet. There is such an enormous gap in quality between the NWSL and either the WPSL or UWS.” She also highlighted some other issues. “NWSL rosters aren’t large enough to support multiple competitions. They have to play midweek games and struggle enough as it is. The WPSL in particular is such a sprawling organization I’m not sure what it would take to organize it into a cup competition with other leagues.” RJ hit on the same issue, but with a slight twist. “There should be work done on the second divisions first to get them in a more solid position. But one day, yes, I believe so. Personally, I’d like it without the pro teams but that is a personal belief - that pro teams shouldn’t play semi-pro teams for any meaningful matches.”
“So if not USOC, what should WOSO be focusing on?”
“I’m not the best person to answer this, I want to preface that,” RJ began with her response. “Support in general would help. More connections to the NWSL clubs, more money, more people giving a damn.” Chelsey was more verbose in her response. “Year-round livable wages. Longer seasons. Larger rosters. A true pyramid in WOSO, which means figuring out where WPSL and UWS stand. Homegrown contracts. Making [sure] each pro club can stand on its own and exceeds minimum standards. For the NWSL specifically, removing itself from USSF control.”
“How can WOSO allies be more effective in their support?”
I asked this question because when we ran that USOC story, I assumed we were being effective allies to WOSO - promoting the sport and equal opportunity. When the pushback came from those in the game, I realized that re-analysis was needed. Chelsey kicked off with a rallying cry I’ve heard in lower league soccer for years. “Go to games, buy merch, talk about it like a sport and not a cause. Find your team and go in.” RJ hit the same notes in her response - “Give them money. Go to NWSL games, buy a kit, donate to the NWSLPA. If you want to support a second division team, the same would apply there too. These teams need butts in seats, money and people caring about them.”
We cover a level of the game that is often ignored by the vast majority of the soccer fans in the United States. No matter how much we love our local soccer club, we will always be outnumbered by the big-money operations that dominate this industry. So we should always be able to understand the plight of WOSO in this country, because they have it even worse than our local men’s sides. So be an ally and support a WOSO club. The UPSL has been rapidly expanding it’s women’s teams and many NPSL clubs are expanding into the field as well. It’s about soccer, no matter the gender of the players on the field. So let’s listen, grow, and root for a club, as fans.
- Dan Vaughn
If you want to know more about WOSO or find a club to support, I suggest hitting up any of these great WOSO sites: