‘We get to get noticed’: Women’s soccer fans turn out in droves for SheBelieves Cup in Frisco

Almost 18,000 people gathered in Toyota Stadium as the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team beat Brazil for the tournament title.

By Sarah AschFebruary 24, 2023 12:43 pm, ,

The energy in the stadium was electric as the U.S. Women’s National Team took the field to play Brazil at Toyota Stadium in Frisco.

Longtime stars Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe played alongside newer players, including Sofia Huerta and Naomi Girma. It was the third time Frisco has hosted part of the SheBelieves Cup, an invitational international tournament held annually in the U.S., since it launched in 2016.

The USA’s Megan Rapinoe kicks the ball past Brazil on Feb. 22, 2023, at Toyota Stadium in Frisco.
Yfat Yossifor / KERA News

The U.S. won the game Wednesday 2 to 1 – and won the cup based on the results of six games played between the U.S., Japan, Canada and Brazil over the last two weeks in three host cities.

Many of the fans in the audience were soccer players themselves: girls from around the state who drove with their families or their club soccer teams to watch some of the best players in the world compete.

Kendall Soileau, an 11-year-old from Plano, was at the game with a handful of her teammates. Soileau said she switches off between playing all the positions – attack, midfield and defense – and that she likes to watch the national team’s technique on the field.

“I like watching all their skills and, like, how they move around and how they pass the ball and connect,” she said.

She also likes that the U.S. women’s team is known for winning games and tournaments.

“I just think it’s cool that we get to, like, get noticed,” she said. “And if you think about it, we actually probably play better than the men, because most of the time they’re on the ground whining because they get hit.”

Her teammates agree with this assessment. Another thing they agree on? Their favorite player: Alex Morgan.

A young fan holds up a sign as the United States women’s soccer team enters the field for the game against Brazil during the SheBelieves Cup on Feb. 22, 2023, at Toyota Stadium in Frisco.
Yfat Yossifor / KERA News

Theo Lloyd-Hughes, a Texas-based freelance soccer journalist and podcaster, said Frisco has become part of the lore of women’s soccer in the United States.

“Back in 2020 – around this time, the 2020 SheBelieves Cup – Frisco really came on the map when it hosted the final SheBelieves Cup game that year because the players walked out with their training tops inside-out as a statement against the U.S. Soccer Federation, who at the time were fighting an equal pay lawsuit against the players,” he said. “That became such an iconic moment for this USA women’s team.”

Lloyd-Hughes said the National Soccer Hall of Fame’s location in Toyota Stadium – where MLS team FC Dallas plays – is another draw for soccer fans to the area.

A number of fans have made the pilgrimage to Frisco multiple times to see the U.S. women’s team play. It was the third SheBelieves Cup match for Madeline Whitacer, who lives in the Dallas area and traveled to the game with two friends – all three in team jerseys and red, white and blue face paint.

“We came last year when we were kicking ice off the seats,” she said. “So we’re very happy that it’s pretty weather and that it’s warm and just excited to be here.”

Fans scream and take photos as the U.S. National Women’s Team enters the field for the game against Brazil on Feb. 22, 2023, at Toyota Stadium.
Yfat Yossifor / KERA News

Whitacer doesn’t think the team has been in peak form in every Cup match. She hopes that game play improves building into this summer’s Women’s World Cup in New Zealand and Australia, where the U.S. will be defending back-to-back World Cup wins in 2015 and 2019.

Whitacer said she is also a fan of the players’ efforts outside the game itself.

“Our women’s soccer team is not only inspiring on the field, but also what they’re doing outside of the field by this equal pay,” she said. “Getting all these women involved and that we finally won. So that’s been really exciting.”

Lloyd-Hughes said soccer has always had a massive following in Texas, especially among immigrants from Central and South America. But that following has been growing in new ways over the past decade.

The USA’s Mallory Swanson kicks the ball to score against Brazil during the 2023 SheBelieves Cup in Frisco.
Yfat Yossifor / KERA News

“Growing domestic, local soccer — so your Major League Soccer on the men’s side, your National Women’s Soccer League on the women’s side, and NCAA —  these have maybe taken a lot longer to develop,” he said. “These leagues on the men’s side are about 25 years old; on the women’s side, only 10 years old. So you’re looking at a much more recent history of local domestic professional soccer in the U.S. and especially in Texas.”

The increased interest in local soccer has also meant a growing fan base for the U.S. Women’s National Team in the Lone Star State.

“We’re seeing women’s soccer just grow at an exponential rate. I think it’s vastly outstripping the men’s game in regards to relevance on a national scale,” Lloyd-Hughes said. “And a large part of that is to do with the USA national team. In 2019, when they won their second World Cup in a row, I think that just kind of galvanized the nation and Texas as a state. I think you saw huge, huge viewing figures in Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio. And that team, when they travel around the state, just brings out huge numbers.”

Mark Farley, a history teacher in the Dallas area, attended Wednesday’s game with his two kids. He grew up in North Texas and said he’s seen the popularity of soccer skyrocket in the past decade.

In the last 10 or 15 years, not only has soccer gotten bigger, but I think women’s soccer has driven that,” he said. “Show me a men’s national team game where North Texas responds like this. I’d be shocked.”

Farley’s daughter, who was at the game with him, is a soccer fanatic – and he said it means a lot to him to take her to watch professional women athletes at the top of their game playing her sport.

The U.S. Women’s National Team celebrates their 2-1 victory over Brazil and tournament title in the 2023 SheBelieves Cup.
Yfat Yossifor / KERA News

I love it. I love the fact that she has an example,” he said. “This actually inspired her to go try out for the North Texas Olympic Development Program, which she has done. This is her jam. And I love the fact that we can show it to her in person.”

There are not currently any Texans playing for the U.S. women’s national team. However, Lloyd-Hughes speculates that it won’t be too long until a Texan makes her way onto the roster.

The country is falling in love with soccer, you know, there’s no doubt,” he said. “But I think when it comes to producing great players, Texas is almost more of a hub than a lot of other places.”

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