The ticker tape parade in New York is over. The confetti has fallen to the ground. Some of us aren't done cheering.
The U.S. women’s national soccer team has won the World Cup, its fourth title on the global stage. And while that victory is a feather in the cap for this 23-member squad and another trophy for the country they proudly represent, the win brings deep pride to many women who’ve played the game for decades.
Marietta resident Sharon Loughran has been a soccer player for 28 years, and a coach for 33 years. As a former coach for the Olympic Development Program (ODP), she remembers watching all three of the Georgia players on the current women's national team – Emily Sonnett of Marietta, Morgan Brian of St. Simon's Island and Kelley O'Hara of Fayetteville – rise above the ranks as youths.
Loughran served as the state chairwoman for the high school All-American soccer voting body when Brian won the national accolade in 2010.
Loughran also recalls the days that Sonnett and her twin sister, Emma, played U-13 ball with United Quest soccer club. “They were very, very good technically for their age,” she said. Emily went on to play college ball at the University of Virginia. Emma played for the University of Georgia.
“It’s amazing to have three players from the same state the size of Georgia” on the national squad, Loughran remarked.
Actually, it’s thanks, in part, to people like Loughran, who’ve dedicated themselves to making the game better and creating more opportunities for ladies.
During the years that Loughran was an ODP coach, there was not a dedicated training site in Georgia. (The girl’s training center currently is in Conyers and will move this fall to fields intown to Inter Atlanta FC’s play space on Arizona Avenue.) Practices were held “wherever we could get fields,” she said. It could be Fayetteville. Or Marietta. Or Gwinnett.
Loughran also sought a U.S. Soccer Federation coaching license in the mid-1990s. “I think I was the first female in Georgia to get my A (license),” she said. “I took it very seriously. If I was going to coach, I felt like getting licensed, going through the coursework, would help me.”
Head these days to practically any game organized by the Greater Atlanta Women’s Soccer Association (GAWSA), and you’ll find ladies who know Loughran. She’s still a fixture on the field, nearly two decades after she was the player-coach for the Atlanta Green, an over-40 women’s team that earned second place in 2002 at the Veteran’s Cup, the premiere national tournament for adult soccer.
“I used to love it for the competitive aspect,” Loughran said. But time has changed her feelings about the game. “What really drives me is the camaraderie and friendship.” Plus, soccer has room for bodies of all types: “You can have different kind of talent you can bring to the team. You don’t have to be the fastest or tallest to keep playing and enjoy it,” she said.
It is evident that Loughran enjoys the beautiful game. She’s one of the more vocal players on the pitch, and one of the best finishers I’ve ever seen. I know because I am her teammate.
I’ve played with her since my move to Atlanta in 2015. Even before I signed a lease on an apartment, I signed up with the Five Seasons recreational adult women’s team. A soccer field is home for me and many other females.
This latest World Cup women’s title has reminded me and many current and former teammates how much we love the game, what it gives us and what it ignites us to keep fighting for.
“Absolutely a phenomenal team! Go Georgia women! Go soccer women! Feeling very proud,” responded my teammate Michelle Dziak in a group soccer chat soon after Megan Rapinoe raised the trophy in France.
“I see myself and my teammates when I watch Rapinoe, (Tobin) Heath and (Crystal) Dunn,” wrote my former teammate, Lauren Maugeri. She is 41 and has been playing since she was 6.
“I play for the love of the game, for the feeling when my pass to a teammate becomes a goal, for that feeling of seeing the ball in the net. I still get butterflies before the whistle blows,” she acknowledged.
Nancy Mozier, 62, has been playing soccer in a women’s rec league for the past 20 years, on a St. Louis team aptly named the Late Bloomers, since it is comprised mostly of women who picked up the game later in life.
“I love seeing the strength and confidence of these women,” Mozier wrote about the USWNT. “Playing soccer makes me feel strong and good about myself as I find myself with the common aches and pains of aging. Being able to work through those issues and continue playing, albeit slower and less vigorously, is important to my mental health. Soccer is where I forget about everything and just have fun!”
Having fun and getting a workout. It’s a common thread among the adult ladies who take to Sunday rec soccer. They might not know someone’s last name, their occupation or if they have kids. They have found an identity beyond that any of that.
It doesn’t mean, however, that they forget how much they yearn to see equity on and off the field. Many picked up soccer as adults because soccer wasn’t available to them in their youth. Title IX didn’t come about until 1972.
“It started with some of the gals you see in our league (GAWSA) who have been doing this and fighting for rights in soccer then. They paved the way for the next group,” Loughran said. “Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain … it’s evolving.”
As for the current conversation about equal pay, Loughran takes a mediated approach. “Is it butts in seats? Promotions? Equal pay for equal time? Before, there wasn’t even a conversation. You were just grateful that they got you a league. We don’t want to turn people off, but you have to show a lot of courage if you want to have a conversation. It’s important to grow the sport.”