The United States Women’s National Team drubbed Japan in the Women’s World Cup Final on Sunday, bringing a tournament that had already been a rousing success on American television to a thunderous end: According to early estimates, nearly 20 million people tuned in to the Americans’ 5-2 victory.
The USWNT will reassemble next month for two friendly matches against Costa Rica that will likely serve as career send-offs for veterans Christie Rampone, Shannon Boxx and, of course, Abby Wambach. But beyond that, there is no major competition in store until next summer's Olympics, when the U.S. team will try to defend its gold medal performance at the 2012 games.
Now that the World Cup is over, the best place to see national team players is in the National Women's Soccer League, where most of the Americans and several top international stars play professional club soccer. The fledgling league, now in its third season, has always hoped a World Cup held in North America would help boost its popularity. And thanks to a new television deal the league signed last week, watching American stars will be easier than ever, even for fans who aren't in one of the NWSL's nine markets.
The league already broadcasts many of its matches and highlights on YouTube, but as part of the deal, Fox Sports will show seven regular season matches -- starting with July 22’s meeting between the Portland Thorns and the Seattle Reign -- in the runup to the league’s playoffs. It will also broadcast semifinal matches and the final game. The first four games will appear on FoxSportsGo.com, an online streaming service available to cable subscribers, while Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the final six matches, including the playoffs. (A full schedule is here.)
Eight of the league's nine teams will appear in the Fox broadcasts, and there will be plenty of stars from the U.S. Women’s National Team. The first match will feature USWNT goalie Hope Solo and midfielder Megan Rapinoe, both of whom play for Seattle, squaring off against Portland’s Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath. (German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer and Canada star forward Christine Sinclair also play for the Thorns).
On July 29, Carli Lloyd, who scored a hat trick in the final and won the World Cup’s Golden Ball award as its best player, will play in the second televised match. That game will include seven USWNT players: Lloyd, Morgan Brian and Meghan Klingenberg for the Houston Dash, and Lauren Holiday, Becky Sauerbrunn, Heather O’Reilly and Amy Rodriguez for FC Kansas City.
World Cup goal scorers Christen Press (Chicago) and Kelley O’Hara (Sky Blue FC), as well as breakout defender Julie Johnston (Chicago), will play in later matches.
The NWSL is the third attempt to build a sustained women's professional soccer league in the U.S. -- two previous leagues, the Women's United Soccer Association and Women’s Professional Soccer, folded after just three seasons. This is the NWSL's third small TV deal, and the league's top officials are confident they can build on the success of the World Cup. That success, though, requires that fans who fell for the USWNT over the last month to not wait four more years to tune back in to women's soccer.