In the whole of the sporting universe, there may be no two sports as far apart in every conceivable manner as women’s soccer and horse racing. Yet I find myself devoted to the coverage of both, and have spent much of this week at Belmont Park for the lead up to the Belmont Stakes. Needless to say there are not many folks—okay none—at Belmont this week discussing WPS or even the Women’s World Cup, just like no one in a WPS press box is much for extolling the virtues of horse racing.
The differences between the two need not be spelled out here, but are the two sports similar at all?
The most noted similarity is that both are struggling to find ways to attract people to watch them. When the most famous of Belmont Stakes was run in 1973, Title IX was but a year old and there wasn’t a thought that women could actually play soccer in a professional league. And the Off-Track Betting model that sucked fans out of racetracks was also in its infancy. Nearly four decades later, professional women’s soccer is here but struggling. Horse racing remains, but tracks are closing rather than opening and horses are more fragile than ever.
The biggest issue for both though remains connecting to fan bases that, while passionate at their roots, remain far too small and lacking in diversity. Both struggle to find solutions to these problems.
One thing women’s soccer and horse racing can do well is put on an event. Attendance at the Belmont Stakes will be 10 times that of an ordinary Saturday, and could have been double that had an elusive Triple Crown been on the line. The Women’s World Cup of 1999 sold out major stadiums and won over headlines. A similar lightning bolt is expected in Germany beginning later this month.
Then there are the edges each has over the other. Horse racing has centuries of history and an infrastructure that remains solid despite recent struggles. Women’s soccer walks on shaky ground but is free from the regulations of state governments that have handcuffed racing leaders for 100 years.
The point of this little comparison? None really other than to keep the faith for women’s soccer and keep supporting your local clubs at all levels.
Let’s take a look at how Week 10 is shaking out:
Saturday: magicJack (4-2-0, 11 points) at Atlanta Beat (1-6-2, 5 points)
Another suspension for magicJack owner/possible coach Dan Borislow—who by the way once started a horse in the Kentucky Derby—but that shouldn’t slow things down against a Beat team still struggling to do most things. They were better last weekend and Abby Wabach, who torched the Beat for a hat trick two weeks ago, won’t be there.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Brett Maron was shaky in goal for magicJack last weekend and could be an area for the Beat to expose. But they’ll have to find themselves in strong attacking positions to do so.
Sunday: Boston Breakers (3-5-1, 10 points) at Sky Blue FC (2-3-2, 8 points)
The Breakers did not take well to their 2-1 setback to Sky Blue two weeks ago, but played maybe their best match of the season without their US National Team players last week. Sky Blue should be buoyed by holding the Flash to a draw in Rochester and are now unbeaten in three after a tough start.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Sky Blue turned around the last game when Eniola Aluko came in and used her speed to torment the Breakers back line. That’s the point on the field where this one is likely to be decided.
Sunday: Philadelphia Independence (2-2-3, 9 points) at Western New York Flash (6-0-2, 20 points)
The Flash will be trying to extend their franchise-opening unbeaten streak to nine games against a club that has had no success stopping Marta over a year and change in WPS.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Flash are deadly in the counterattack so the Independence must be mindful on the ball at all.
Three points of interest
1) All three of this weekend’s games are rematches of the fixtures from two weeks ago.
2) magicJack jumped right back into the 2012 draft fray, shipping Kasey White to the Atlanta Beat for their fourth round pick. That currently stands as magicJack’s only pick for 2012.
3) A weekly radio show all about women’s soccer will debut Saturday on WHTK out of Rochester. The show, airing at noon Eastern Daylight Time, can be accessed online at www.whtk.com.
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