When History Repeats Itself

There are times when the “past repeating itself”  is a wonderful thing – for example when the U.S. Women’s National Team won the World Cup last summer for the third time and the first time since 1999.

And, then there are times when the “past repeating itself” is better if the past, well, just stays in the past – for example when women’s professional soccer teams play on a “field” that is the outfield of a baseball field.

Let me explain.

This past Sunday July 10, we celebrated the 17th anniversary of the 1999 Women’s World Cup victory.

This win reminds us of the amazing women athletes that helped launch U.S. women’s soccer into the limelight.

Mia Hamm became a household name and Brandi Chastain will be forever remembered for ripping off her jersey in pure exhilaration after knocking home the winning penalty kick in the final.

FILE - In this July 10, 1999, file photo, the United States' Brandi Chastain celebrates by taking off her jersey after kicking in the game-winning goal in penalty shootout goal against China in the FIFA Women's World Cup Final at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The last time the United States played China was at the World Cup final in 1999. The two countries play on Friday in the quarterfinals of the FIFA Women's World Cup in Canada. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

This anniversary encourages us to reflect on how the women’s game has grown.

Since the ’99 World Cup, women’s soccer has experienced many ebbs and flows. We’ve witnessed two failed domestic professional leagues (lasting only three years each), and most of the success around the women’s game has seemed to hinge on a world championship that takes place every four years.

The 2011 Women’s World Cup brought even more attention to women’s soccer. The US Women’s National Team has since played in front of no fewer than 15-20,000 fans and the majority of those stadiums being sold out. And, winning last summer’s World Cup in Canada set the stage for even greater excitement surrounding the sport.

However, this past Saturday night – one day before the ’99 World Cup anniversary the WNY Flash and Seattle Reign of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) played in Rochester, NY. The Flash’s permanent stadium was occupied by a concert therefore relocating the match to the local baseball stadium.

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Photo Credit: SounderAtHeart

As you can see, even the average person would clearly recognize this “field” as unsuitable by any standards.

How is this possible? Especially with U.S. Soccer being in the midst of a lawsuit against the USWNT for equal pay (Equal Play, Equal Pay), it seems uncanny and a really bad move on behalf of the NWSL to allow for these kinds of playing conditions.

The funny thing is, I played in an exhibition game on that same field thirteen years ago! It’s like a horrible blast from the past. During this time I was playing with the Washington Freedom in our first women’s professional league, Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA). As players we were a little more forgiving of these particular field conditions because 1.) The match we played was an exhibition match and 2.) Rochester is Abby Wambach’s hometown and we played this match to promote awareness for the league.

Fast-forward to July 10th 2016, playing on the exact same joke of a field is completely disrespectful, not only to the players but to the fans of the game as well. The field itself measured 100 yards by 58 yards. The NWSL standard field dimensions are 100 yards by 70 yards.

Although “Equal Play, Equal Pay” is directed toward U.S. Soccer, fundamentally, both gender-based pay disparity and the conditions of last Saturday’s “NWSL-approved” field highlight the same issue: a lack of respect for the women’s game and the athletes who work tirelessly to advance it.

Only two seasons removed from my pro-soccer days, this kind of nonsense still gets my blood boiling. Following backlash of the 2015 Women’s World Cup tournament games being played on turf and the subsequent need to cancel a victory tour match in Hawaii due to unplayable turf conditions, you would think playing conditions and athlete safety would be top of mind.

It should be noted that there are some great aspects about the NWSL such as the quality of play and many of the stadiums are wonderfully equipped. However it is clear that the standard needs to be higher and consistently met across the board.

We’ve come a long way since the ’99 World Cup but Saturday’s field debacle reminds us of the work still to be done.

Let’s discuss – let me know your thoughts by leaving a reply in the comments section below.

 

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