Why are US Women so much better at soccer than US Men?

Tomorrow, in what has become an Olympic tradition, the US women will play in the Gold Medal final of the Olympic football tournament. The US have made the final every year that women have competed in football at the Olympics (1996 was the first year), and have only had to settle for silver ONCE.

The US men’s national team, by comparison have never made it to ANY medal match at the Olympics (Gold or Bronze) even though men’s national teams have been playing at the Olympics 88 years longer than the women.*

The situation is similar in the World Cup: In the 6 FIFA Women’s World Cups that have been held, the US have made it to the final three times and have won it twice. The men have had far more chances — there have been 19 FIFA World Cups for men — but the US have NEVER made it to the final.

Boys get that excited just over making it out of the group stage? Cute.

It’s hard to resist asking: Why have US Women been so much better, relative to the rest of the world, than US Men at the world’s most popular sport?

There might be any number of factors contributing to the “achievement gap” in American soccer, but I’ve identified two broad themes that might help explain it. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, but they do sound a bit contradictory.

Perhaps they can’t both be entirely true, but they certainly go some way toward explaining the US’ gender achievement gap in football.

1. Gender roles in US sports

The most lucrative sport in the US, at both the professional and collegiate level is American football.  So for a young, male athlete who’s talented enough to play in any sport he chooses, there is undoubtedly strong pressure, both internally and externally,  to play American football.

Yeah, soccer’s totally a girlie-girl sport, isn’t it Abby?

But American football is seen as a “man’s game” so for a similarly talented young female athlete, it’s not an option (the rise of lingerie football notwithstanding). Soccer is popularly (and inaccurately, I would add) viewed as more effete, and therefore is the corresponding choice for young women.

Because of this gendered bifurcation of talent, the US women’s national soccer team is comprised of the best and most suitable athletes, while the US men’s national team is comprised just of the most suitable athletes who weren’t interested in American football.

2. Gender parity is sports financing

Thanks to Title IX and several landmark Supreme Court rulings, high schools and universities in the US must make equal provisions for men’s and women’s athletics. Not many other countries have similar provisions, including some of the football powerhouses (on the men’s side) in southern Europe and Latin America.

So while the US are a mediocre regional power on the men’s side, we rise to the top of the global table on the women’s side because several countries that could be fielding top-class national sides fail to invest in girls’ sports.

This would explain why some other countries (say, Norway) with more gender-equal societies can be so lackluster in men’s football, but so successful in women’s.

But maybe there are other explanations…


*1908 was the first year that national teams competed in football at the Olympics, but at the 1900 and 1904 Olympics, three clubs contested. Football was not a medal event at the time.

10 responses to “Why are US Women so much better at soccer than US Men?

  1. I think your second point is the main reason. Female athletics around the globe don’t get near the same amount of financing/attention as male athletics. In America that gap is a lot less…

  2. Our best male athletes are playing other sports than soccer, it’s as simple as that. Women also had to opportunity to play soccer in America than some of the traditional soccer powerhouse nations. I predict that America women will lose their dominance of the game over the coming decades.

  3. I don’t see why the U.S. will lose it’s dominance in women’s soccer anytime soon. If other countries don’t already care about their women’s soccer program (in which the sport is the most popular in every country on the planet EXCEPT the U.S.) I don’t see why that will change anytime in the near future. The U.S. men’s side however can only get better in the coming decades as the sport gains more popularity in the states and more of our elite athletes decide to play that instead of football or basketball.

  4. in Britain for example girls are not really encouraged to play football( soccer), the girls are expected to play lacrosse and Netball whereas in Britain soccer and rugby are played by guys it’s just the way it is over here…

  5. US Men’s soccer is on a whole different level the women’s. There are friendlies and scrimmages for U-14 and U-15 men’s beat US woman’s soccer. Again under 14 year olds and under 15 year olds. It would be like 30-0 if the men played women.

  6. Hello!

    I found your blog looking for some information about Team Usa soccer and your blog is great!!!


  7. Or perhaps it is simply a matter of talent too… United States have never had much finesse. Don’t put it down to not even athletes, still got millions more than many other countries and infrastructure to support them. No excuses.

  8. Pingback: Playing Like a Girl? | jaclynweissenberger

  9. Pingback: Women’s National Teams Now In FIFA 16 | Dusk

  10. Realist Person

    The ignorance, hahaha
    Why do people say that our best atheletes are playing different sports? Face it, i don’t thin Lebron James would do too go playing soccer lmao, please stop

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s