World Cup win even felt locally by Lions

HANCOCK — The United States women’s soccer team World Cup win in early July, where they beat the Netherlands 2-0, was recognized worldwide as a unique victory. However, what does this World Cup win mean for new Finlandia Lions coach Grace Sokolow and her NCAA Division III squad?

“The whole tournament and their utter dominance of this whole tournament, it’s a great moment for women’s sports and women’s soccer in particular,” said Sokolow. “It’s highlighting not just the skill of these athletes at the top of the game, but (also) the quality of soccer that’s played all levels of the game in this country.

“In terms of Division II and Division III, most of the athletes on the national team, they’re going to come from your Division I schools or, in the case of your younger girls, they went straight to professional soccer.”

Sokolow saw this tournament success as not only a win for the United States’ team, but every player at every level. The women playing Division III soccer often do not receive scholarships for playing, but they are learning to become professional in their respective fields of study.

“Seeing that group of women utterly dominate on the world stage is bringing more attention to all of women’s soccer in this country, which is great for all of us,” said Sokolow. “We have a saying that all of our players are going to go professional in something that isn’t soccer.

“These Division III players are going to go be professional doctors or professional teachers or professional engineers. So, we play purely for the love of the game.”

“It’s good for my girls and (younger players) to have role models like the ones on the women’s national team who are unapologetically excellent at what they do,” said Sokolow.

The United States won their first World Cup in 1991 with a 2-1 win over Norway, the next two coming against China in 1991 and Japan in 2005.

Each win carried its own importance but this year’s is special, in part, due to the lawsuit by the USWNT. The desire for the team to earn equal pay carries more weight as they continue to advocate for gender equality and continue to find ways to win.

Sokolow recognized how this year’s victories held a different meaning and influenced her team of athletes.

“We’re in a cultural moment where women are demanding to be heard, where we’re recognizing the value of what women do,” she said. “Why this (series of games) were different, it wasn’t that we watched as fans of soccer, we watched as fans of women’s soccer.

“People are starting to recognize that if you give women the resources, and value what they do, then we will perform at the highest level.”

Often who you watch influences how you play, no matter the level. USWNT athletes like defender Ali Krieger or forward Jessica McDonald are inspiring for Finlandia players, not for the level that they play at, but how they have moved beyond the adversity that they have had to overcome to play their game.

“We talk a lot about (various) role models,” Sokolow said. “The fact that these 23 woman can see what they (the US team) do and can work to emulate it, I think that’s a big piece of it, but I think the best stories for my girls are (players) like Ali Krieger who was off the national team for two years and then earned her way back on and ended up playing in a World Cup final.

“Or Jessica McDonald who thought about quitting playing soccer when she had her child because she couldn’t support her child on an NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) salary and persevere and now is a World Cup champion.”

“It’s those stories of things not going perfectly for you, but putting in the work to make it right and then ultimately being rewarded,” said Sokolow.