Remember the Women’s World Cup this past summer? Remember how media coverage of women’s soccer was everywhere? On TV, in the daily and weekly papers, even we wrote about it wall to wall for a couple of weeks.
Remember how all the pundits and fans felt like it was a real turning point for the women’s game, not just in Canada and North America, but all over the world?
But as the months passed since the US lifted the trophy at BC Place in July, as we expected, interest and coverage of the women’s game quickly waned. At least in Canada.
In England, attendances grew in the FA’s Women’s Premier League after the Lionesses fantastic efforts this summer. In the US, the American women were all over television shows and are embarking on a victory tour at the end of the year.
It’s safe to say though that if you didn’t live in one of the nine markets that plays home to a current National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) side, finding many media mentions of women’s soccer would be a tough task in the months since the World Cup ended.
In Canada, disappointment in the women’s national team crashing out at the quarter final stages of the World Cup, after a fairly flat tournament as a whole, has quickly turned to indifference in the major media outlets.
That hasn’t been helped by the senior national team not playing a match since the World Cup ended and the fact that there are no professional women’s club playing, and to cover, in Canada.
So where is the much talked about legacy from this summer’s successful tournament, in terms of the adult women’s game?
Legacy was a key word bandied about by the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) and the tournament’s organising committee in the build up to, during and in the aftermath of the World Cup. Much of the focus was on the youth game and finding “the next Christine Sinclair”. It always seems like it will be.
All well and good, but what about the here and now and the actual adult Canadian women’s players that currently have to leave their country if they want to have a career in the professional game?
It was a question I posed to CSA President Victor Montagliani at the opening press conference of the Women’s World Cup. Here’s what he told us back in June.
“We have a legacy program, which has other elements in it, but from a footballing standpoint, we’re one of the three Federations that are sort of involved in investing into the senior component of the NWSL,” Montagliani said. “I think the next stage of that is to have women’s teams in that league within Canada. Without mentioning any names, there was two or three that were very close to jumping in to that pool.
“Hopefully this tournament, and with the help of our Federation, we can push that to have two or three teams involved in that league and obviously expand from there a platform to have more, quite frankly, jobs available for women footballers in the future.”
Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a close follower of the women’s game, but I do try and keep up to date with the latest key developments. Movement, even murmurs, in regard to more professional playing opportunities for Canadian women in their home country have not been making any headlines.
Has the legacy been forgotten about already or is this something that will take some time? Clearly it’s the latter and such major changes aren’t going to take place over night. We have to be realistic here for all my snark.
But in terms of the biggest change that could hit and benefit the domestic women’s game in the country, has there been any further talks or developments post World Cup with regards to having at least one Canadian team in the NWSL?
“There has been discussions,” Montagliani confirmed to AFTN at a press conference on Thursday to reveal the economic impact the Women’s World Cup had on Canada’s host cities.
“There is interest. Obviously I’m not at liberty to say who the interested parties are. I think there’s an opportunity. As you saw, Orlando just launched a new franchise with actually our former assistant coach on our women’s national team, Tom Sermanni, being the head coach there. Kaylyn’s [Kyle] one of their first signings as well.”
Excellent news, but at the same time, it’s the same rhetoric we’ve all been hearing for a while and the only expansion team announced for the NWSL of late has been the Pride in Orlando.
That takes the teams in the league up to ten, plenty of potential for further expansion but although 2015 saw an increase in the average attendances at games (helped by the post World Cup bump), it didn’t really feel like a particular stellar year for the NWSL.
And as we’ve seen before, women’s soccer leagues in North America don’t have a great track record when it comes to longevity and survival, although Montagliani firmly believes this time things are different with the NWSL.
“I think that league has an opportunity to actually sustain, which a lot of the other women’s leagues found a difficulty,” Montagliani told us. “And the reason for that is that you’ve seen professional clubs investing like Orlando did. Federations like Canada, the US and Mexico investing.
“That gives it a chance to be sustainable and the next evolution would be to look for a franchise, or two, out of Canada to be part of that league in the next year or two.”
These teams are needed, and quickly. Not just to provide Canadian women with professional opportunities in their own back yard but also to build on the success of the national team and to keep the success and development coming.
As we saw at this summer’s World Cup, the rest of the world has caught up with countries like Canada in the women’s game and a lot of it has been because of investment in domestic programs and leagues in these countries.
“Yeah, they are, absolutely,” Montagliani admitted. “One of the good things, you’ve seen some of our players being signed to European clubs and that’s a good thing. So they’re getting some very good experience playing in Europe. It’s a different dynamic there.
“You’re also going to see more young players from our youth teams being involved at the NWSL level in the next year or two. But if we could get a professional team, or two, in Canada, domiciled in Canada playing that league, I think that bodes well for our future national team program.”
Let’s hope so.