Nobody messes with our team. So it came as no surprise that one of the biggest marks the women's World Cup made on the national media cycle recently was a tweet from Sports Illustrated writer Andy Benoit, who wrote "women's sports in general not worth watching."
The tweet went viral and was mocked by Amy Poehler on Late Night With Seth Meyers, as men and women alike stood up to defend a sport and a team that seems to be skyrocketing in popularity, adding to the USWNT's profile and a memorable year of increased viewership.
Gunning for its third World Cup title, the American women's team is two wins away from the crown. A semifinal date against Germany Tuesday night will feature the two top teams on the planet, with a final scheduled Sunday against the winner of England and Japan.
But despite continued success, women's soccer is still forging a path for itself in the U.S. The national team is 16 years removed from winning its last World Cup in 1999, a signature final victory highlighted by dramatic penalty kicks and one famous image, which put the game and stars like Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, and Brandi Chastain on the map for a moment.
Then there were false starts, including the WUSA, a league that tried and ultimately failed to capitalize on the success of America's championship. Now numbers indicate that soccer may finally be gaining a foothold in the U.S. once again, with rating for both the men's and women's game on an upward trajectory in recent years, and a record 24.7 million viewers assembling to watch the U.S. men tie Portugal in last summer's World Cup.
Similarly, the U.S. women's victory over Nigeria last week set a FOX Sports record for viewers, peaking at 6.3 million and averaging 5.0 million. It was the third-most-watched women's soccer game in American history behind the 1999 (17.9 million) and the 2011 World Cup finals (13.4 million), and was on par with the recent Stanley Cup Finals. But compared to the 6 million people who tuned in for the NFL Draft, women's soccer still has a way to go. Then again, women's soccer will never be confused with the NFL, which may be part of the charm of the national team.
Players like Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan, and Megan Rapinoe have replaced the 1999 team and helped USWNT join the shortlist of national squads that occupy a special place in the heart of the American sports fan, alongside the Miracle on Ice team and the 1992 Olympic Dream Team. Right up there with those historic giants, we've carried on a love affair with this unit that's different than the passion we feel for any of our other teams, including their male counterparts. Sure, we believe in the men when they play in tournaments like the World Cup and the Olympics, but they've never really won much to back up our pride.
But the women? All they do is win, including four of history's five Olympic gold medals (they got silver in 2000). They've allowed one single goal throughout the entire 2015 tournament.
And yes, maybe the recent resurgence is due to the bright lights of the World Cup. Maybe some men watch the games because the women are attractive, and maybe things would be different if they were competing for air time against the NFL. Or maybe it's because this team is so damn good, so exciting, and fun to watch. And maybe it's because we like a winner.
The backlash was pretty swift and hard after that "not worth watching" tweet. Because nobody messes with our women. And nobody messes with our women's soccer team.