WHAT NOW for women's soccer? Well, if you just became a fan, it's easy to find your favorite players from the U.S. (and from their competition in other countries; Hello, Christine Sinclair!) in the nine-team National Women's Soccer League, which continues play through September and saw rising ticket sales last week as part of a post--World Cup surge. As one example, the Houston Dash (home to Carli Lloyd, plus fellow U.S. starters Morgan Brian and Meghan Klingenberg) had a team-record crowd of 13,025 for Sunday's 2--1 loss to the Chicago Red Stars (featuring Christen Press, Lori Chalupny, Shannon Boxx and Julie Johnston, last year's NWSL Rookie of the Year).
The NWSL represents the U.S.'s third attempt at a topflight women's league in the last 15 years, and it keeps owners' costs down by having the U.S. and Canadian soccer federations cover the salaries of their national-team players. The league is in its third season, traditionally a tough one for women's soccer leagues—WUSA went kaput after year three, in 2003; WPS suspended its fourth season, '12, before petering out later. "Our goal is to grow the game, and I think winning the World Cup is going to help that," says midfielder Lauren Holiday, who's retiring from the U.S. team but plans to play the rest of this season with FC Kansas City. "I have faith that our fans are going to buy into the NWSL."
Reason not to believe: We've heard this before, to no success. Reason to believe: The NWSL recently announced a new TV deal that will have Fox Sports broadcast six national games, and most of the rest are streamed online, offering critical access and exposure to a growing game. Meanwhile, the U.S. will milk this newfound enthusiasm by playing a 10-game Victory Tour across the country, beginning with an Aug. 16 friendly in Pittsburgh against Costa Rica.
And then? The qualifying tournament for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil (where the U.S. will be aiming for its fourth straight gold medal) takes place in January. For the national team, and for its growing sport: onward.