Since the 1970s, people have been predicting a soccer boom in the United States. It’s happening, perhaps more slowly than the experts thought, and it has come in a way that couldn’t have been imagined more than 40 years ago.
The boom has been led by female athletes.
“You look around in modern media for female athletes, and soccer probably is it,” Clarence girls soccer coach Tom Furminger said. “These kids watch the sport, and they know the game.”
American women’s soccer has won three World Cups, in 1991, 1999 and 2015. Obviously the sport got its initial jump-start well before any of them.
“Title IX in the ’70s was a watershed moment for female athletes in this country,” Furminger said.
Federal legislation resulted in more equality in high school and college athletics and continues to have a ripple effect among women of all ages.
“In fact, the men’s team is making changes on how they deal with high school athletics because in terms of soccer, the men aren’t developing as fast. The best women’s soccer players in the world come to the U.S. to play in the college ranks because this is where they develop the most.”
The ’99ers are credited with putting women’s soccer on the radar in this country. Players such as Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Brandi Chastain and Julie Foudy are considered pioneers and legends. But as difficult as it may be for some to believe, those names are about as dusty to today’s high school players – who in some cases weren’t born in 1999 – as Ken Griffey Jr. and Pedro Martinez are to the boys on high school baseball teams.
“ ’99 was a major moment, but these kids weren’t around then,” Furminger said. “They know the players of today, and they appreciate that level of play. The whole thing intertwines.”
Clarence’s Shannon Carr is an example of that interest. She went a few hundred miles to Montreal to see the U.S. team in the World Cup.
“I actually watched a game, the semifinals,” she said. “It really inspired me. They did so well, coming back from a loss in the last World Cup. They came back and worked harder.”
Could someone like Carr play on the American World Cup team in the future? She’ll have her chance. The midfielder already has been part of the Region One team of U.S. Youth Soccer, consisting of the best high school players from Maine to Virginia.
Carr also has been practicing at the WNY Flash Academy, a program run by the region’s pro team designed to work with boys and girls.
“I just started with them,” she said. “I’m just practicing. But I was told if I do well, I might be able to practice with the team sometime.”