There is a Julie Foudy trading card now, and there are times after games when Foudy and her U.S. national soccer teammates sign autographs for 30 minutes while little girls go crazy.
There are clinics and speaking engagements, and there are meet-and-greets like the one last year when a 17-year-old from Tarzana met Foudy.
“It was like, ‘Oh my gosh. I can’t believe it’s Julie Foudy,’ the girl gushed. “She’s my total idol.”
Soccer boosters have spent decades predicting when the youth soccer boom would lead to American competitiveness in international soccer. Now they wait for the results of the World Cup to see if the enthusiasm of the new fans lasts, and how the present and planned pro leagues will fare.
But they have almost always talked about the men’s game, and it is the women’s game that has been the quiet success story--too quiet. When the first World Championship was held in China in 1991--the equivalent of the World Cup--the U.S. team won. This month, the U.S. team swept through the CONCACAF qualifying tournament for the 1995 FIFA World Championship, outscoring opponents, 36-1.
Recognition grows, slowly. The little girls, though, they know.
If the World Cup was a splash, the women are feeling the ripples.
“Is it going to help us? Definitely,” said Foudy, 23, who starred at Stanford after a remarkable career at Mission Viejo High. “Right after the World Cup was probably the first time we’ve had our games on live TV. Prime Ticket did our games in the Chiquita Cup. I thought that was great.
“I don’t think you could get anything negative out of the World Cup. There was just so much enthusiasm. I had a blast. It was great to see so many people who had no idea about the game getting into it.”
But there were the men, still a fledgling team by international standards, suddenly famous, suddenly being covered in news reports like the NFL, with injury reports and intrigue about who would play when and where.
“People say, ‘Are you mad? Are you upset?’ ” Foudy said. “You are sometimes, but (the men) have gotten some negative criticism, too. And they say, ‘Yeah, (we’re being noticed) but you guys are the world champions. You guys are the best.’ It’s mixed emotions.”
Just as many of the U.S. men do, the best players on the women’s team play overseas--not that they have an option in this country after college. Foudy is taking a rest in Menlo Park for a few weeks before returning to Sweden next month to finish the season with Tyreso Football Club, where U.S. players Mary Harvey and Kristine Lilly are teammates. Is this where the hard work pays off in the pocketbook?
“We’re not making millions of dollars or anything,” Foudy said with a laugh.
In fact, they make expenses.
The lure is not money. If it were, Foudy could play in Japan, where players including former Laguna Hills star Heather McIntyre make around $35,000, plus expenses. If it were about money, Foudy would probably have taken her 1993 Stanford biology degree and gone straight to medical school.
Instead, she plans to play in the 1995 World Championships and then in the 1996 Olympics, where the U.S. women will have an opportunity to win the first gold medals in women’s soccer. Then, she hopes, she’ll begin medical school (Foudy took the MCAT on April 23, left for Sweden on April 25, then returned home to compete with the national team and wrap up the med school applications and is soon headed back across the Atlantic.)
Foudy plays in Sweden because she needs to play to keep improving. And she needs to be at her best for the U.S. team to reach its goals.
“Myself, I had to go overseas,” she said. “It’s a really good 10-team league. It’s pretty competitive. I’d say it’s better than (NCAA) Division I.”
Her fiance is in Northern California, but the soccer there for Foudy consists mostly of pick-up games with the guys or training with the college teams until their season starts. In Japan, she could make a little money for those tuition bills. But the Swedish league is more competitive, so that is where the best players go.
Foudy naturally wants to see a women’s pro league flourish in this country, though she isn’t from the same mold as the untold numbers of athletes in little-publicized or financially unrewarding sports--women’s or men’s--who resent not being able to make a living at what they do well.
In fact, if there is a women’s pro soccer league in this country in, say, 1996, don’t expect Foudy to be in it. She hopes to be hanging around cadavers at Stanford or UC San Francisco. But she sees the need for a league--and wishes those proposing to start one would seek her advice that it be a small, competitive, well thought-out league of maybe 10 strong teams.
Her desire to see a viable league isn’t just so other women will have opportunities she didn’t have. It’s because for the United States to remain dominant in international play, she believes, there has to be an easier opportunity for women to compete after college.
“You look at our team from the last World Championship, and a lot of us were still playing in college,” she said. “Now a lot of us have moved on. The transition is from training every day and getting in a game or two every week to training on your own. Now you’re getting in 10 games a year outside the national team. That’s why I went to Sweden.”
Foudy doesn’t say it, but at a time when there are indoor and outdoor men’s soccer leagues, a roller hockey league, an arena football league, and a tennis league in this country, why not women’s soccer?
The youth enthusiasm already is there, making it perfect for the budget-minded families who are flocking to less expensive pro sports outings.
And its appeal is broad because the women’s game is more similar to the men’s game than in other sports. Soccer lacks the problems that face women’s basketball, for instance, which many fans are slow to accept because without the above-the-rim play and the dunking it differs so much from the men’s game.
And the best argument is simply that women soccer players in the United States are among the best in the world, there are already stars, and they might actually win the world title next year--not just delight at being in the tournament.
Foudy intends to win, and she hopes the United States will be able to keep winning after she’s done.
“I was talking to (recent U.S. and University of North Carolina Coach Anson Dorrance) and I told him I was worried about it,” she said. “We’re trying to play pick-up games with guys just to have competition. I just worry that some day it will catch up.”