Women's soccer in the United States
The first organized women's soccer matches in the United States were in the 1970s. The United States is now regarded as one of the top countries in the world for women’s soccer, and it is currently ranked first in the FIFA rankings. Despite the consistent success of the national team, it has struggled to maintain fan interest outside of major tournaments, and several attempts at professional leagues have shut down in the face of financial issues. The lack of finances could be fixed if the team had a more consistent fan base during the regular season instead of just during their bigger games.
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The women’s national team was formed and played its first games in 1985. In its first years, it played in little more than friendly tournaments, primarily against European teams, as no competitions for women’s national teams yet existed. After the United States was awarded the 1994 FIFA World Cup and the first FIFA Women's World Cup was announced for 1991, increased investment in both the men’s and women’s national teams by the USSF led to the United States' team rapidly improving and hosting the first women’s World Cup. The popularity of the team exploded in the aftermath of the US 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup win as a result of penalty kicks in front of a sold-out Rose Bowl. The close win increased the tension, giving the team a more lively reputation as a sport.
Since then, the Americans have remained a force in international women’s soccer, having finished third or better in every World Cup, reaching the championship game once again in 2011, as well as appearing in all five Olympic gold medal games, winning four, despite only 7 of the 18 players in the 2012 squad holding a professional contract and none playing professionally overseas. The national team also competes in other tournaments such as the annual Algarve Cup. The primary source of young players for the national team is NCAA College soccer, which feeds players to the U-20 national team and eventually the full senior team. Because the United States often lacks a professional women’s league, interest in the team only peaks around major tournaments and the team has historically struggled to maintain interest between said tournaments. Recently, the United States has also faced increasingly competitive European national teams, many of which have well-established women’s leagues in their countries from which to draw players. 
The success of the women's national team has not translated into success for women's professional soccer in the United States. The first attempt at a national women's soccer league was the Women's United Soccer Association. It featured successful American players Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, and many other national team stars including Germany's Birgit Prinz. The WUSA ceased operation at the end of 2003. Many of those involved in the league worked to restart a professional women's league in 2009 under the banner of Women's Professional Soccer, initially with seven teams. The league started the 2010 season with eight teams, as one charter team, the Los Angeles Sol, folded and two new teams joined. However, another charter team, Saint Louis Athletica, folded during the season, bringing WPS back to its original number of seven teams. The 2009 season was successful, with Sky Blue FC winning the title in Cinderella fashion and the league met its financial goals. The 2010 season, however, saw considerably more instability. In addition to the in-season demise of Saint Louis Athletica, champions FC Gold Pride folded after the season, and the Chicago Red Stars failed to meet financial requirements to stay in WPS and regrouped in the WPSL. The Western New York Flash joined in 2011, making WPS a six-team league operating entirely along the East Coast. WPS suspended operations in 2012, following a 2011 season marked by near-constant conflict between the league and franchise owner Dan Borislow. The W-League of the United Soccer Leagues and the WPSL have also had some success with teams in cities all across the country, and the WPSL established the semi-pro WPSL Elite League in the 2012 season to provide an outlet for professional teams in the absence of WPS. WPSL Elite was meant to be a stopgap before a planned 2013 return of WPS.
Fully professional women's soccer returned for 2013 in the form of the National Women's Soccer League, officially announced by U.S. Soccer in a November 21, 2012 news conference with the league name unveiled the following month. The NWSL, which launched with eight teams, is directly operated by U.S. Soccer, with the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) and Mexican Football Federation (FMF) also providing financial support. All three national federations are paying the league salaries for many of their national team members, with U.S. Soccer funding 23 players in the 2013 season and the CSA and FMF funding 16 each. Of the league's eight charter teams, four have direct WPS ties—the Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, Sky Blue FC, and the Western New York Flash. Another team, Portland Thorns FC, is owned and operated by the Portland Timbers of MLS. The league added its second MLS-linked side for 2014, welcoming the Houston Dash, owned and operated by the Houston Dynamo.
America's approach to growing the game among women has served as a model for other countries' development programs for women at all levels. The relative lack of attention afforded the women's game in traditional soccer-playing countries may also have contributed to the United States' early dominance of the international women's game. Another contributing factor is the role of women within American society, which includes relative equality (especially rejecting hardened gender roles) for women in the United States relative to many other countries. This is also reflected in official government policy regarding women in athletics, specifically Title IX, which requires college and public school athletics programs to support men and women athletics equally. A final factor is the lack of competition from American football for female athletic talent; since American football is generally not played by women, far more high-caliber female athletes are available to play soccer.
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