Soccer is the biggest sport in the world, but in the States it’s not even in the top five, in terms of popularity. Our quickest male athletes tend to play basketball, the most physical put on football helmets, the most coordinated pick up baseball bats, and those with endurance play hockey or drive a race car. Some of our best female athletes, however, are playing soccer. And at least a few weeks a year—chiefly during the Olympics and the World Cup—U.S. women’s soccer is more popular on ESPN than any other sport, especially men’s soccer.
“We have consistently been the best team in the world for a very long time,” says goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris. “What separates us from the rest of the world is the American mentality, which is that we may not be the best team all the time in the world, technically and tactically, but we go for 90-plus minutes and we do not stop. We are the strongest team in the world, and we always find a way to win with what we have.”
It’s that confidence that has made players like Hope Solo, Heather Mitts, Abby Wambach, and Alex Morgan household names. The queens’ reign in popular culture got a kick-start 14 years ago when Brandi Chastain whipped off her jersey and celebrated in her sports bra after scoring the goal that won the team the World Cup. It may not be fair that her act brought women’s soccer more attention, but it’s true—and Harris doesn’t discount the fact that looks sometimes get as much attention as skills.
“We do have a very good-looking team, and as much as people don’t want to say that sex sells, it does,” says Harris. “I’m just being a realist: We have beautiful girls, we have great personalities, and we are successful. So you can put girls from the team on Dancing With the Stars or in a swimsuit issue or a Gatorade commercial and people know who they are.”