On July 1st, I had the fortune of traveling to East Hartford, Connecticut where the United States Women's national team were set to face Mexico as part of their 2021 Send Off series before the 2020/2021 Tokyo Olympics. The main goal of me attending the match was to hear fans explain their love and admiration for "the beautiful game". However, as a cynic and devil's advocate, I also wanted to ask fans if they felt seen, heard and valued within the world of soccer/football...
And so, these are their stories (*cue "Law and Order: SVU"'s "dun dun"*)...
Clarissa and Jordan
(Clarissa - left, Jordan - right)
Who are your (USWNT) favorite players?
Clarissa: My favorite right now is (Christen) Press. On and off the field, I think she is an influential leader.
Jordan: (Rose) Lavelle. I'm a pretty big Lavelle fan because she’s a monster and moves so fast.
Do you both feel seen, heard and valued within soccer?
Clarissa: I think it depends on the situation. I feel like there's a lot of talk in soccer but when you get down to it, it's always white players - they’re the “face” of US Soccer. They’re the “big names” of US Soccer even though there are other players who are just as important if not better.
I was a little bit upset with the Olympic roster.
Clarissa: [laughs] I wasn't surprised by it.
Jordan: I love the players, and the players for the most part really seem to be on the same page with what they feel and believe - both with Black Lives Matters, equal pay and so many different issues within women's rights. But when “push comes to shove”, I don't know if they have the power to do things.
What would be your dream soccer match?
Clarrisa: I would love to watch the US play Spain again. (Seeing it) In person, I don't know if my heart could take it. But once Spain gets a reliable striker, they're gonna take us out! I'll quit [laughs].
Jordan: I really want to watch women's versus men’s - just to show what we can do.
Are you fans of the men's national team? Do you follow them?
Clarissa: I will watch them but I don't know anything about them. If soccer is on my TV, I will watch it.
Do you follow any NWSL clubs?
Clarrissa: I was a Utah Royals fan and then my heart just… but now I am really liking (Orlando) Pride this year. They've kind of become “home”. I really like Racing (Louisville) as well. And Gotham FC just for their “comeback kid” story.
Jordan: I'm a fan of the Chicago Red Stars [laughs]. [points to Clarissa] She tells me who to cheer for [laughs]. So I’ll cheer for whoever she says to cheer for!
And what does soccer mean to the both of you?
Clarissa: For me, it's empowerment. I tend to go to a lot of NWSL games as well as national games and I love seeing the little girls in their jerseys. I just think that's so cool for girls of this generation to have this team (USWNT) to look up to.
Jordan: I have never been a huge sports person and this is the first sport and team that I actually care about and know people's names and follow closely. So it just kind of makes me feel what “sports” are all about [laughs].
Clarissa: That’s legit!
Clarissa: I don’t care about sports except for soccer!!
Eleana and Connell
So why are you all here?
Eleana: To support women's sports, the US women's national team and have a fun night!
Do you have a favorite player on the team?
(Photo of Eleana)
Eleana: Oh my god! Probably the Mewises (Sam and Kristie Mewis). Being from Massachusetts, I gotta rep the hometown crowd. And Alyssa (Naeher), she counts as hometown too.
Connell: I would say on this team, Crystal Dunn but I'm really excited about Casey Short. I hope she’s not an alternate but like an actual player on the team.
How long have you all been fans?
Eleana: I grew up going to Boston Breakers games and watching the ‘99ers. I think stuff kind of quieted down and I wasn't quite aware of what women's soccer had to offer and then in 2015 got back into it. Sadly, the Boston Breakers kind of went away but with the World Cup in 2019, I got much more invested. I really got into the NWSL as well.
[looks at Connell’s hat and shirt] So Sky Blue? And Utah Royals?
Connell: Now I root for Sky Blue. I would say I'm a newer fan.
Eleana: All of their merch is outdated.
Connell: Yeah, I'm a newer fan. I caught games occasionally but since the 2019 World Cup, it’s been more consistent.
Eleana: Now I root for Chicago [Red Stars].
You used to root for Gotham/Sky Blue?
Eleana:I used to live in New York. If I stayed in New York longer, I think I would have gone for Gotham but I’m going to be in Indiana and I have friends in Chicago, family in the Midwest, so it feels right to root for Chicago (Red Stars).
What would be your dream match to attend?
Eleana: Well, I already have plans to go to the World Cup in Australia. I'd love to see the Netherlands versus the US.
Do you hope to see more matches in Australia? New Zealand? Or both?
Eleana:Both. My mom actually lived in Australia growing up and hasn't been back so she wants to go. It also depends on what we can get tickets to!
Do you all feel seen, heard and valued within the world of soccer? For me, it’s 75% - no and 25% - yes.
Eleana: I'd probably say maybe, 50 - 50. I think there's a lot of frustration with access. I'm a very dedicated fan but it's still hard for me to support the players. And I think being queer, there's better representation and there's getting to be more openness about that. But there's still a lack of representation in terms of not all players recognizing that. There’s frustration with the players not uniting as one team.
What do you want to see changed? The roster? Accessibility wise? Sustainability wise? Social identity wise?
Eleana: Equal pay [laughs]. US Soccer needs to understand that they are fighting a losing battle. I think we're getting there in terms of the team better representing what the US soccer landscape looks like and committing to that more overall, but I think that's driven by players rather than the corporate entities of US Soccer.
Oh we have a trader amongst us [laughs].
[Eleana looks at her friend who is slowly pulling a Mexican flag out of their backpack]
Connell: My wife is Mexican-American, and she couldn't come tonight because of work. She was like, “you have to wear my flag!”.
(Photo of Connell wearing a Mexico flag)
Emily and Jackie
(Emily - left, Jackie - right)
Emily (left) and Jackie (right), a mother and daughter duo explain their love for the USWNT and what soccer means to them:
Emily: The first ticker tape parade we went to, when they won the first World Cup, was really nice. We stayed around the parade route and all that stuff was falling on us. The last ticker tape parade we went to, we listened to the speeches.
Jackie: They were throwing law books out the window because of the lawsuits and that was really cool to see. It was cool that we got to hear them speak.
Emily: We went to the one where Megan (Rapinoe) was talking and empowering people. That was pretty neat. It was a once in a lifetime sort of thing. People were nice, and we were talking to people and finding out where they were from.
I don't expect players to sign stuff this time but they're really good in a non-pandemic year about signing stuff. Tobin (Heath) signed a couple of things for me and we've gotten things signed from (Meghan) Klingenberg. We hope to see (Emily) Sonnett tonight. We’re really excited.
So the motto for my platform is, “united we see. united we hear. united we are.” - do you both feel seen, heard and valued in soccer?
Jackie: With my daughter, you know, I've seen her play. When I was in school, there wasn't a soccer team. It was field hockey and that was the only thing you could play. So unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to play. But this way, I get to support it.
I'm a teacher, so in my classroom I have a lot of girl empowerment things. I showed the girls (in her class) soccer, and a couple of times I put on the World Cup. The boys would go, “Oh, those are girls playing soccer!”. And I'm like, “yeah, and we're gonna watch it!”
You said almost.
Emily: The equal pay thing. I feel like it's getting better so that's why I say almost. We’re working on it! [laughs]
Jackie: I find the advertising is not right. Like, I watch soccer games and noticed this was the first year we had pregame shows. They didn't cut us (the match) off because the next show was coming on. Sometimes shows would be a repeat, and I didn’t understand why the game would be cut off.
But I think that aspect is a lot better or getting better. You know, I would like to see them (USWNT) advertised on regular TV because I think more people would watch if they knew they were out there.
Who do you all look up to? Or who are your favorite players?
Emily: Megan. She’s just been my favorite.
Jackie: I like Tobin but since (Lindsey) Horan has been on the field, I've really liked watching Horan. I really love watching Sonnett. I'm so glad she made the cut despite what Alexi Lalas said. I think she's gonna step up and do well.
And lastly, what does soccer mean to you all? The cheesiest question I ask…
Emily: It's fun. I think it's cool that I get to watch it at this level. I wish I could play at this level although I stopped playing.
Jackie: It's a way for us to stay connected.