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Hope Solo, Alex Morgan draw new fan base for women’s soccer

Cody Cousino / Photo editor

I’m no newcomer to the world of women’s soccer. I grew up playing the sport and did a project on Mia Hamm in the sixth grade. However, the fans that showed up to see United States women’s national soccer team players, Hope Solo and Alex Morgan, Thursday night at the Ohio Union were a little different than the pre-teen girls who made up the 1999 team’s fan base.

The crowd Thursday was mostly dudes in their North Face jackets scrambling to get a moment at the microphone during the Q-and-A so they could ask Solo or Morgan on a date. Real smooth, guys. The pony-tailed little girls who had cheered the 1999 team were all grown up and dispersed among the crowd. Ohio State’s women’s soccer team, whose coach hosted the event, represented a large portion of the females in the audience.

After my initial, “Well, this isn’t right,” reaction to the crowd demographics, I realized that it’s 2012, and it doesn’t really matter who is taking an interest in the sport or why. I’m just psyched it’s happening. People can say what they will about Morgan’s scantily-clad poses in “Sports Illustrated,” but when they’re on the field, the girls can play soccer. No question.

Solo put it well during the event, when she set the record straight about her sex-symbol status.

“We want to stay true to the athlete in us,” Solo said. “At some point, you don’t want to become the Anna Kournikova of soccer, because let’s be honest, she’s not that great at tennis.”

The statement captured Solo’s unapologetic attitude she’s taken toward her stardom. She even filled in an awkward moment on stage by doing the worm — a dance move you didn’t see on “Dancing With the Stars.”

Morgan was a quieter contender on stage, but the 22-year-old still spoke passionately about the game and her teammates. She even captured my heart a little when she commented on her team nickname, “Baby Horse,” because of the funny way she runs.

We haven’t seen nearly as much public interaction from Morgan as we have from Solo, but I’m guessing that Morgan’s recent appearance in the “2012 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition,” in which she is covered in body paint, will bring more opportunities for her.

With the Olympics only five months out, I couldn’t help but feeling a little giddy hearing Solo and Morgan talk about their plans to bring home gold. It should be interesting to see how well the team does and how much media coverage and hype their games will get in comparison to the 2011 FIFA World Cup.

I and women across the country will watch these Generation-Y soccer stars take on the world in July and August. Men will tune in for the hotties, but stay for the sport. Solo, Morgan and the rest of Team USA have given new recognition to soccer across a more diverse fan base, and at the end of the day, a soccer fan is a soccer fan, regardless of demographic.

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