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WOMEN'S FOOTBALL

A multi-racial U.S. squad heads to Women’s World Cup

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Women's World Cup Final - United States v Netherlands - Groupama Stadium, Lyon, France - July 7, 2019 Crystal Dunn of the U.S. in action with Netherlands' Danielle van de Donk REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

A new era is dawning for the U.S. women’s national soccer team, as the most diverse squad the program has ever produced will pursue an unprecedented third consecutive title when the World Cup kicks off this month in Australia and New Zealand.

The squad represents a major shift from its early days and even more recent USA teams that were overwhelmingly white. Trinity Rodman will make her World Cup debut alongside veteran defender Crystal Dunn on a team that features seven Black players.

“The issue is partly about economics and partly about how hard it is to eliminate stereotypes people have about who can succeed at what sports,” said Jon Solomon, editorial director of the Aspen Institute Sports & Society Program.

Retired USA goalkeeper Briana Scurry said, “for decades I was the only one of color on the roster that started.”

“(Now) you have players that are really making inroads and making impacts and impressions in more ways than one who are going to be there a long time because they’re very young,” she told Reuters.

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Scurry’s penalty kick save in front of 90,185 fans at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, helped the United States win the 1999 Cup, turning the team into idols for millions of American girls, in what was seen as a turning point for women’s sports.

That squad offered little representation for girls of color. Scurry said she struggled to secure endorsement deals after her heroics, as the only openly gay player and as a Black woman

“I was always going to be authentically me. I never hid that I was gay. I just was being who I am,” said Scurry, a Hall of Famer and the host of the “Counterattack” podcast.

Scurry now sees the diverse soccer landscape she had wanted to be part of, and feels gratified that her pursuit likely provided some inspiration. “It’s awesome because now other young girls think that they can, too.”

Dunn helped the United States to its fourth overall title in 2019, but said last month she struggled growing up to feel she belonged.

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“It hasn’t been the easiest road, obviously,” Dunn told reporters. “There are moments where I felt like I needed to conform to the environment and say, ‘Okay, let me tone down who I am because I feel like there’s very few of us on this team.’”

Dunn was often the only Black starter for her country in the 2019 World Cup, then celebrated as the most diverse U.S. women’s squad.

“There’s so many more great young players out there that are more of a better mixture of what this country is,” said Scurry. “This country isn’t just white.”

YOUTH ACCESS

The increased diversity at the highest level of women’s U.S. soccer coincides with a multi-year effort to get more minority kids onto the pitch.

“It’s often difficult and takes time to widen the demographic pool of young players,” said Aspen Institute’s Solomon.

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The institute’s most recent survey found that 39% of Hispanic and 20% of white students had played soccer in high school versus only 10% of Black students.

A U.S. Soccer Foundation survey in 2008 found that even as the game experienced tremendous national growth at the youth level, large swathes of the country were being left behind.

“We developed a strategy and a business plan that focused and made a priority of increasing access and opportunity for underrepresented populations, particularly children in underserved, underrepresented communities,” U.S. Soccer Foundation CEO Ed Foster-Simeon said in an interview.

The foundation has provided more than half a million children from “under-resourced” communities with free programs, building more than 600 “mini-pitches” designed for the youth game across the country.

While minority participation has improved “quite a bit,” Foster-Simeon said, “it’s nowhere near where we want it to be.”

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The problem has not been limited to soccer.

Girls at predominantly white high schools typically see 82% of the athletic opportunities boys do, according to a Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) report last year. That figure falls to 67% in schools where students of color are the majority.

Girls of color are “short-changed” in school and club programs, said WSF research head Karen Issokson-Silver.

“Sport is a microcosm of society, so a lot of the things that we see in society, whether that’s systemic racism or archaic gender norms … then you are likely to see them in sport,” she said.

WSF’s Sports 4 Life program, founded nine years ago in conjunction with espnW – the cable network’s women’s sports branch – works to increase participation for girls of color.

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The chance to see a World Cup team with many diverse players will play a part for the next generation, said Issokson-Silver.

“When it comes to girls having an opportunity to see what’s possible for themselves, that kind of visibility, whether it’s a high school level, the collegiate level or… at the elite levels of play is monumental,” she said.

That message is not lost on the women of the 2023 U.S. national team.

“Growing up, I don’t really feel like that was something that I saw in professional soccer and on national teams,” 23-year-old defender Naomi Girma, who will make her World Cup debut, told reporters. “I feel honored to be that representation.”

At a media event last month, Dunn noted that even things like finding hair and makeup stylists who work with Black women for team events can be a challenge.

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She hopes to leave the sport in a place where those that follow “don’t have to fight for the same things.”

“I can’t hide that I’m a Black woman,” said Dunn. “And so I think for me, just the more that I step into that space and I own it has really allowed and given other women of color the green light.”

-Reuters

 

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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WOMEN'S FOOTBALL

Dominican Republic 2024:Flamingos land in the Dominican Republic!

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Nigeria’s U17 girls, Flamingos, have secured their ticket to the 8th FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup finals to be staged in the Dominican Republic later this year, after a 2-0 defeat of their Liberian counterparts at the MKO Abiola National Stadium, Abuja on Friday.

Victory took the aggregate tally to 6-1 in favour of Nigeria, with extraordinary poacher Harmony Chidi setting a record of 13 goals in a qualifying series that will be difficult to equal in years to come. She had 11 goals before kick-off, but netted the two goals of the evening to take Nigeria’s total of the series to a whopping 25. Central African Republic fell by a dozen goals while Burkina Faso fell 1-7 on aggregate.

Her first came after only four minutes when she sped past the Liberian defence to toe-poke the ball beyond the flailing arms of goalkeeper Makula Konneh from a cross by Shakirat Moshood.

A goal feast was expected, but this did not happen, as Peace Effiong had a close call in the 17th and Moshood rocked the crossbar a minute after from 20 yards. Moshood also missed from close range with 10 minutes left of the first half.

In the 56th minute, Moshood blasted beyond the goalpost when faced with Konneh, but Harmony Chidi made sure of her brace seven minutes later when she lashed the ball beyond Konneh’s reach as Nigeria seized the ball from a defensive slip-up by the visitors.

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The 8th FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup finals will be staged in the cities of Santiago de los Caballeros and Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, 16th October – 3rd November.

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WOMEN'S FOOTBALL

‘It shall be showers of goals’, vows Flamingos ahead of Liberia clash

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Head Coach Bankole Olowookere is confident that the Nigeria U17 girls, Flamingos, will not take their feet off the pedal when they take on their Liberian counterparts in a FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup final qualifying match in Abuja on Friday.

“We are battle-ready for the match on Friday. The girls are raring to go because they want to go to the World Cup. They are already dreaming of flying to the Dominican Republic.

“There is so much excitement in camp, and they are self-assured. However, I have warned them that it is never over until it is over. There should be no display of over-confidence on the pitch. We must approach the match like the first leg was a drawn game.”

Nigeria won the first leg 4-1 in Monrovia on Sunday, with 11-goal qualifying series revelation Harmony Chidi, Shakirat Moshood, Peace Effiong and substitute Blessing Ifitezue banging in the goals for the Flamingos. The hosts got their consolation goal off a penalty awarded with five minutes left of the encounter at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville.

The Flamingos will take part in the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup for the seventh time once they cross Friday’s hurdle.

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They featured at the inaugural edition in New Zealand in 2008, and subsequently at Trinidad and Tobago 2010, Azerbaijan 2012, Costa Rica 2014, Jordan 2016 and India 2022, where they won the bronze medals.  

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WOMEN'S FOOTBALL

Flamingos hammer hosts Liberia 4-1, put one leg in World Cup finals

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FIFA World Cup bronze medallists Nigeria routed Liberia 4-1 in a fast-paced FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup final qualifying round, first leg encounter in Monrovia on Sunday.

The Flamingos got off to a pretty quick start at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex at the Paynesville, but the Liberian girls, who shocked Senegal on the away-goal rule to reach this final round, warded off the early threats.

Nigeria got the ball into the net after 14 minutes, but Chadian referee Lare Lamngar ruled it off. Not to be deterred or discouraged, the Flamingos poured forward once again, and in the 19th minute, Shakirat Moshood opened the scoring from a sweet solo run.

Peace Effiong, who got a brace in the 6-0 defeat of Burkina Faso at the MKO Abiola National Stadium last month, scored in the 29th minute to put a wedge of respect between the two teams.

Usual suspect Harmony Chidi, scorer of six of the 12 goals that sank the Central African Republic, and who equally netted four in the 7-1 dismissal of Burkina Faso in the last round, headed home her 11th goal of the qualifying series in the 36th minute to put daylight between both teams.

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On resumption, Nigeria continued to dominate, and substitute Blessing Ifitezue made it four with 16 minutes left.

Liberia scored a consolation goal with five minutes left, from the penalty spot, through Yassah Gwaikolo, after substitute Onyedikachi Ekezie was adjudged to have committed a foul in the area.

The Flamingos will return to Nigeria on Tuesday, and immediately commence preparations for the return leg encounter scheduled for Friday at the MKO Abiola National Stadium, Abuja.

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