Commentary / US / US Soccer / USWNT

The Victory Tour feels wrong

Photo: Marjorie Elzey

On the surface, last night was a great night for soccer in Philadelphia.

The newly-crowned Women’s World Cup champions were in town playing in front of almost 50,000 people at Lincoln Financial Field. The United States Women’s National Team dominated Portugal, local legend Carli Lloyd scored her 115th goal in an American kit, and coach Jill Ellis raved about the atmosphere. The weather was beautiful.

Take a step back, though, and something feels off. Take a hard look at what the Victory Tour is and Thursday’s record crowd doesn’t feel so special.

First of all, the entire concept of a Victory Tour is bizarre. Can you imagine the World Cup winning French national team traveling across the country to celebrate its victory? Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe, Hugo Lloris, and all the other French stars immediately jumping into a string of friendlies after winning the biggest trophy in the sport?

A Victory Tour is painfully American. The U.S. is just about the only major country in the world where it would happen.

The reason is obvious — it was a no-brainer money-making opportunity. The federation and everyone involved will tell you it’s about showcasing the players and growing the game, but that’s not why the Victory Tour was spawned. That’s why it should have been spawned, but those approximately 50,000 tickets sold for this match — one of five friendlies in total — were the real reason.

The reason the best players on the planet, the ones that just won back-to-back World Cups, are stepping away from their club teams to play a run of friendlies is all about money. Why should they go from playing in the biggest match of their lives to playing an Ireland squad that didn’t produce one shot on net and didn’t qualify for the World Cup? It feels dangerously close to exploitation.

Of course, some of that money goes to the players, too. They’re getting paid (not a lot) to play and they’re getting paid more than they would for playing a National Women’s Soccer League match, but is that really a reason? They deserve to be paid and they should all make exactly what the men do (if not more), but why in this form? If some of those players are motivated to play in such a friendly because of an extra paycheck, our system is inherently wrong. They just won the bleeping World Cup.

That doesn’t necessarily apply to Lloyd in a Philadelphia match. She undoubtedly wanted to play in her hometown stadium and for her, this tour is a proper sending off. She deserves that. For the rest of players, though, the ones that have nothing to do with Philly and the ones that just conquered their sport, how does it feel to play in these games? Not the atmosphere or the bonding with teammates or the paycheck — the actual game. To go from worldwide intensity in France to… whatever this is.

To be clear, there’s no evidence that the players are out there unwillingly. And some players are simply seizing an opportunity. Ellis will be rotating some young talent in on the remaining matches of the tour and for those players, it may be a dream coming true. A chance to display their talent and represent their country. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just like there’s nothing wrong with New Jersey natives going to see Carli Lloyd play last night. She has inspired many and because of her, the next USWNT star have been in the crowd.

The bigger picture is just calling for more. Not only did the players win the World Cup (again), but they did so while campaigning for equal rights. So much of the conversation this summer hasn’t been about soccer at all. They’ve been fighting for a monumental cause for months and the next thing you know, they’re playing in a cash-grab Victory Tour to “celebrate” being the best team in the world.

I’m just not buying it.

I’m not buying the “thank you fans” banners across the stadium because the federation won’t do anything to retain the 50,000 fans at the game last night. When this tour ends and the Lloyds and Megan Rapinoes of the world retire, what will change? What makes you think the USWNT won’t fade back into obscurity for three years? We’ve seen this before.

As I think about the young girls in the stands last night that came to watch their heroes play soccer, I can’t help but think about the context. I can’t help but wonder if the next generation will have it any different.

“There will be days to focus exclusively on that issue — equal pay for the the women’s players. And days to speculate about who will replace Jill Ellis as the national team’s head coach. And days to wonder what type of impact this team’s success might have on professional women’s soccer.” 

That was Josh Peter of USA Today before the Ireland match earlier this month, talking about putting all that aside for a second and celebrating soccer. Isn’t that just what the U.S. Soccer Federation would want? To put off the equal pay conversation for a couple months while we play more soccer? When will those days arrive?

If we’re stuck wondering about what this team’s impact was two years from now, it will be too late. Those days are right now and the Victory Tour isn’t helping anything.

If anything, it’s making a historic World Cup win less meaningful.

6 Comments

  1. Buccistick says:

    Thank you for articulating this, Christian — right down to that final, damning line.
    *
    No matter the size of the banners that bear them, feel-good slogans cannot hide American exceptionalism and its perniciously pecuniary ways.
    *
    Sadly … and I think I can say this without undermining your hypothetical point about the FFF or other constituent FAs … the same applies to FIFA.

  2. NWSL would disagree with your premise wholeheartedly. They stand to gain a lot from the exposure. As does women’s soccer in general. Strike while the iron is hot.
    .
    The game at the Linc Wed night makes more sense than the endless friendlies of ’17-18. Those seemed more cash grabs. Though it did keep the team out of the “3yrs of obscurity”.
    .
    How can you discount one of the largest crowds for a USWNT game? As far as “context” goes, I don’t think the future Alex Morgan in the crowd who is going to be leading scorer in WC’27 is going to remember anything about a disingenuous USSF marketing scheme – but will remember a great game on a historic night with an amazing crowd.
    .
    Lastly, it’s not like this game doesn’t have meaning. The Olympics are only a few months away, and these players are fighting for spots – especially with a new coach on the horizon. Men or women, 10 mos before a major tournament I am absolutely checking to see which players are looking good.
    .
    If you are not seeing the importance of Wednesday’s game, on many levels, you are not looking very hard.

  3. O captain my captain crunch is gone says:

    Cash in now ladies while the stock is hot! This time next year you’ll be an afterthought. Cute article Christian. Hope your virtue signaling pays dividends.

  4. FFS. Lighten up dude. All professional sports are about $. Make it now, make it fast. What is your alternative for the women after the World Cup to maximize revenue? I’m sure they would like to here it.

  5. Money to be made sure, but I expect that US Soccer has a broader and longer term vision than you are giving them credit.

    This game was for the thousands of girls that didn’t get to attend a match in France, that watched entranced as these incredible athletes performed at the highest level, that waved and screamed as the women walked around the field clapping in appreciation after the final three whistles sounded.

    This match was about building for the future of the sport. And yes, there was also money to be made. Not a bad thing for all involved and part of the beauty of the beautiful game.

  6. I can’t say I agree with this take at all. The women’s game in the US has a lot to gain from showcasing this team. As SilverRey said, the NWSL really needs the exposure, and this is a way to get that, indirectly. The point is to extend the glory of the victory so they DON’T just fade into background. You don’t just whine about how that happens — you DO something about it. And yeah, this won’t be enough, but it’s a start. A whole bunch of people — especially girls— get to see Rapinoe and Morgan et al play live. How is that not exciting for them??

    Meanwhile, you’re also missing the enormous political value of this from the players’ perspective. My own thought about this tour is: how can US Soccer continue to justify the pay discrepancy when the team draws crowds like this?? It becomes closer to impossible.

    Let them play to gigantic crowds all over America, get people excited about the women’s game, and ratchet up the pressure on US Soccer. I think it’s glorious.

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