PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Take Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe, put them in U.S. jerseys, along with the rest of the members of the national team, and they’ll put 15,000 to 20,000 fans in a stadium.
It happened a little more than a week ago in Houston when the USWNT beat overmatched Mexico in a friendly at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Put Lloyd in her Sky Blue FC jersey against Rapinoe of Seattle Reign FC in a more competitive matchup for the National Women’s Soccer League and they draw 1,193 fans, as they did Sunday at Yurcak Field at Rutgers University.
Now to be fair, the miserable weather — which included bone-chilling temperatures, strong wind, and rain that devolved in a downpour after halftime — kept the crowd down for the New Jersey-based franchise.
The hardy souls who braved it all deserved full salutations for their dedication.
The hope is that Lloyd, the Delran native, Rutgers graduate, and two-time FIFA World Player of the Year (2015, 2016), will be the name attraction who will make Sky Blue an anchor franchise in a league that shows potential but still faces challenges. She was dealt to Sky Blue from Houston in January.
“Any type of draw that can excite people from an area is huge,” Lloyd, 35, said after Sky Blue fell, 1-0, on a penalty kick by Rapinoe. “A lot of my friends and family bailed today, which I don’t blame them for. For our fans to have stuck it out like this, because the conditions got worse as the game went on, says a lot about them. Hopefully, the next home game will be sunnier and a lot warmer, and we can get a full house.”
Ever since the 1999 USA Women’s World Cup team captured the nation’s attention, the dilemma has been how to transform enthusiasm for the national team into a thriving women’s professional league in which current stars can make a living and the next generation of players can develop to make sure that the USWNT is on top of international soccer.
Entering its sixth season, the NWSL has lasted longer than the previous two attempts at professional leagues.
While Mexico’s soccer federation pulled out its commitment to pay NWSL salaries of select national team members, the United States and Canada still do. A few franchises – Houston Dash, Orlando Pride, Portland Thorns and the expansion Utah Royals – are operated by their counterparts in Major League Soccer.
The rumor is that MLS expansion franchise Los Angeles FC is all but committed to adding an NWSL franchise for 2019, bringing the league to 10 teams.
As long as that financial commitment from U.S. and Canadian soccer remains and MLS franchises are willing to continue to explore opportunities in women’s soccer, the NWSL may have the time to become a lasting professional league for women like the WNBA – which is now beginning its third decade.
Sky Blue FC, which actually dates back to an earlier league, Women’s Professional Soccer, is the longest continuous women’s pro soccer franchise in the United States.
While weather in New Jersey can be unpredictable, it will be pleasant for the bulk of the season, and Sky Blue will get a chance to see what the impact of a superstar player like Lloyd will be.
“It’s exciting,” she said. “I’ve heard the buzz. I’m just looking forward to building with Sky Blue.”