Capturing hearts and minds

By Josh Brown

MIAMI COUNTY — This time around, it might be known as the “Carli Lloyd effect.”

The U.S. women’s national soccer team captured its third Women’s World Cup championship Sunday night, routing Japan 5-2 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada — and in the process also captured the imaginations of another generation of young soccer players across the country.

“I think it provides a wave of excitement, especially right away,” Troy High School girls soccer coach Michael Rasey said. “A lot of high school girls tuned into the game, and it jazzes them up. I think in the immediate future, you’ll see it create a lot of excitement about the sport, just like in 1999. There will be a spike in attendance at games and in participation in the sport.”

The last time the U.S. women’s team won the World Cup was in 1999, and the effects of that are still being felt as that generation of players matures. In fact, many of the players on this year’s championship national team likely got their start in soccer because of the excitement that victory created.

“You’re going to see something like what happened in 1999. People started paying a lot more attention to soccer,” Piqua High School girls soccer coach Flo Loisy said. “A lot more kids came out to play soccer, on both sides, but especially on the girls side.

“I grew up in France in 1998 when the men’s team won the World Cup, and that’s what made me start playing. Seeing one team create so much joy for one country, that’s what made me want to play soccer. I wanted to be part of that. And I think you’re going to see another rise in interest in soccer — not just for the girls, but across the board.”

It’s happened before — and not just in soccer. When swimmer Michael Phelps broke the record for most gold medals in one Olympics in 2008, the sport of swimming saw a massive rise in participation across the country. All of Miami County’s high school reported rises in numbers going out for the team, and years later a couple of high schools that didn’t have swimming teams were able to form them thanks to the younger kids that had gotten interested in the sport maturing. Coaches called it the “Michael Phelps effect.”

This time, it’s Lloyd’s turn.

Lloyd, who was awarded the Golden Ball as the best player in the tournament, scored a hat trick within the first 16 minutes of Sunday night’s championship game to seal the win early. Her first two goals came not even three minutes apart as the U.S. jumped out to a 2-0 lead by the fifth minute.

“Carli Lloyd was just unstoppable,” Rasey said. “She had a great tournament and just put the team on her back. She had a lot to prove to herself going in, she had a great tournament and she’s just had a great career.”

With the U.S. up 3-0, Lloyd scored her third of the night, a backbreaking goal that came on a remarkable shot — a 54-yarder from midfield that simply sailed in over Japan’s goalkeeper’s head.

“That goal from midfield that Lloyd scored, all my girls were talking about it the next morning at conditioning,” Loisy said. “All the girls were talking about that game. For them to be talking about it and to be so excited about it the next day, that’s what you want to see.

“You could tell the U.S. team was just focused. The championship game got away from them the last World Cup, and they came out firing Sunday. They went up by one, and they didn’t let the foot off the gas. That’s what good teams do — and to be able to do it on that stage, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

“You knew the U.S. was hungry to redeem themselves from four years ago,” Rasey said. “They showed a lot of intensity. A lot of them had said they weren’t thinking about that loss to Japan in the title game four years ago, but deep down, you could tell they were. Once they executed on that first corner kick, that just gave them the confidence they needed the rest of the way.”

And more people saw it all happen than any other soccer game in American history.

According to an Associated Press story, a whopping 26.7 million viewers watched the game. Fox reported that its English-language coverage drew 25.4 million, and NBC’s Telemundo averaged 1.27 million viewers. It set an English-language record for soccer, easily beating the 18.22 million that watched the U.S. men’s national team tie Portugal 2-2 in last year’s Men’s World Cup. The previous high for a women’s game was 17,975,000 viewers — naturally, the 1999 World Cup championship victory over China.

It also topped three of the most recent major sports championships: San Fransisco beating Kansas City in Game 7 of last year’s World Series (23.5 million), Golden State’s NBA Finals-clinching win over Cleveland last month (23,254,000) and Chicago’s Stanley Cup-clinching victory over Tampa Bay last month (8,005,000). The most recent sporting event that had more viewers was Duke mens basketball’s victory over Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament’s title game in April (28.3 million).

“Soccer’s the No. 1 sport in the world, but here in the U.S> it has to compete with the NFL, the NBA, baseball, hockey and more,” Loisy said. “That first 15 minutes of Sunday’s game were exciting though. I think you’ll see a big rise in interest in soccer in the U.S. now.”

“It’s all about capitalizing on that,” Rasey said. “Overall the last few years, U.S. soccer is doing a lot better job of that, both on the field and in the media. It’s all about giving these players name recognition and trying to make soccer as mainstream as possible. It’s up to us to capitalize on this excitement now.”

Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.