“All The World’s A Stage”: How the rise and fall of the WPS led to a more globalized game.
This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of Our Game Magazine.
[Sidelines] Playing international football is not always easy, nor is living abroad or being in a constant state of transition. There is a lot that goes into being a world traveler. The packing alone requires thought and effort, in order to prepare for a successful journey. As traveling is part of being a footballer, I always take the time. I always make the effort. After all, these are small sacrifices in return for a chance to play the beautiful game!
So, in preparation for my move back to Sweden, I created a playlist for the seemingly endless flight: a mixture of relaxing songs in acknowledgement of another sad goodbye to home with some uplifting pop beats to celebrate a new adventure. And that’s when I came across Swedish House Mafia’s hit, Don’t You Worry Child. I smiled as memories flashed in my mind of friends from home singing to this song at a nightclub and the countless spontaneous dance parties that broke out in the locker room in Sweden to this favorite local beat. The song reminded me that although there are 7,000 miles in between, my two lives are not that far apart. As I turned on this tune during my trans-continental flight, I thought how the Swedish artists performing high energy House Music in English is symbolic for the globalization in football. Like the sport of football, sharing world music is a beautiful thing. I relaxed as my mind drifted back, toward my past, and forth, toward the future... How will the globalization of football play out?
In its short existence and with all its problems, the WPS was undoubtedly the strongest women’s league in the world. The seven and then six team organization planted a tight-knit network of elite female footballers and seeds of globalization took root. The highest caliber of international women footballers (including Marta, Carolyn Seger, Kelly Smith, Christine Sinclaire, and Homare Sawa) flocked to the states to play alongside an incredibly strong domestic group. During its existence, very few Americans played abroad, as rosters in Europe’s long-standing leagues were comprised almost entirely of domestic players. However, when the WPS ceased operations, both domestic and foreign players scattered throughout the world in search of clubs. In 2011, my former team Kopparberg’s Göteborg FC roster was entirely Swedish. Then, for 2012 they signed five internationals. For 2013, my current team Tyresö FF’s includes two Americans, two Brazilians, a Dane, a Dutch, and a Spaniard, all of whom once played in the US.
And where will all this “free trade” in football lead? Well, if my experience is any indication, then, I think we are headed in the right direction.
From watching international football, we see how stylistically distinct football can be from different countries. From playing international football, I have observed how much different styles of football reflect the attitude and concerns of the country’s culture.
At the top of the women’s game today, American soccer epitomizes physical dominance and mental toughness, resulting in a fast-paced, intense football style, reflecting a culture that emphasizes personal achievement and competition. Of course, I was reared in this style of play. And then there is Sweden, with its culture of “lagom.” Roughly speaking, lagom means in moderation or sufficient. From a young age, Swedes are celebrated for fitting into the status quo. Not surprisingly, their football style spotlights team tactics and fulfilling defined roles within the unit. And although I will always proudly flaunt my American competitor attitude, I’m learning to embrace this “balanced approach.”
I’ve found that when you have a blend of cultures and football philosophies together on the field everyday, these international teammates share ideas, skills, and training regimens and grow in ways they might not be able to in a homogenous environment. In time, what often starts out as a cacophony of styles, transforms into a very sophisticated melody. Don’t you worry, don’t you worry child!
Football is the world’s sport. We’ve seen that for years on the men’s side where even every small country, poor province and remote island manages to field competitive teams. If women playing abroad is not proof enough that a global philosophy is the sign of the times, then how about the fact that both our men and women’s national teams are lead by foreign head coaches?
Now, with the commencement of the National Women’s Soccer League in 2013, we shake things up again. The league will blend Mexican, Canadian, and American national team players with a domestic group and potentially two additional international players per team. The NWSL did not, however, present the same immediate lure for international players as the WPS, and many chose to stay in Europe. Time will tell how this crucial development of the women’s game in the United States affects the world, as many international and American players, myself included, look on from afar with hopeful eyes.
As for me, I am determined to make Sweden a part of me, both on and off the pitch. I know there is so much to learn here. But just as significant, I intend to leave my footprint here on the Swedish turf. As a Californian, I believe in the beauty of The Melting Pot. Globalization in football is the wave of the future…and the future is now!