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Loving the Cult Hero

Never the best players on their teams, cult heroes continue to remind us why we love football in the first place.

They play with taped up skulls and blood skipping down their temples. Brilliant beards and sumptuous ‘staches (pre-hipster days) adorn their sweat drenched faces. Their socks crinkle around the ankles, and their boots are black as caves. They tackle like garbage compactors and win headers like rams in heat. Some have a shit first touch, others hands for feet.

Their hairstyles vary. From long thick tufts and horseshoes, to spotless shining domes, no follicle condition is excluded. Some are rails, others fat. But when they kiss the badge we believe them. They play stay-at-home fullback, hyper active midfield or penalty box sniper. Adored by fans, overshadowed by legendary teammates. These are the cult heroes of football.

Watch any match and you can pick one out. Gary Medel — cult hero. Will Johnson — cult hero. Meghan Klingenberg — cult hero. Messi — legend. Cult hero? No.

Cult heroes compete like you and I believe we would if we graced football’s greatest cathedrals. Honest. Determined. Relentless. And with no regrets. Each match leaving our cold beating hearts on the touch line grass, unable to compete any further.

They look like us, and some lived like us once too. Footballing late bloomers who moonlighted as mild mannered carpenters and car mechanics, hiding footballing superpowers in their boots and overalls.

Why do we cherish cult heroes so deeply? They remind us why football is so awesome in the first place: football is for everyone.

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When The Ticker Tape Settles

They just won the World Cup, but for these brilliant women their greatest challenge lies ahead.

The United States are World Cup champions. It’s a thrilling sentence to type. These women had it all — panache, charm and grit. They’ve earned their ticket tape parade no doubt. But as with any great triumph the question is posed. What’s next?

Despite all the SI covers, White House invites from the President and record television ratings, people, the casual fan will move on. Quick. Not to any fault of these wonderful women, but because our society’s bottomless appetite for the latest winner rages on.

The medals are worn. Endorsement deals are signed. Trophies are clicked shut into display cases and the hustle of being a professional women’s soccer player returns. For some it’s jetting overseas. For most it’s back to the NWSL.

Now, there’s a new pressure on these women. A pressure that extends beyond their World Cup performance. It’s the pressure to grow the NWSL. A pressure to leave a legacy of professional hope for the next generation of girls. Every autograph, every youtube channel, every interview counts. Each can be a step pushing the NWSL into the next season. The league too has its part to play. Secure TV money and market the hell out of each team. It’s a constant door to door sales pitch. But it’s what’s demanded to eat.

Winning a third World Cup was a stunning achievement for these women. Making the NWSL relevant could be an even greater one.

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Parisian Dreams

A certain PSG striker is opening opportunities for young footballers in the U.S.

Paris. City of lights, seduction and world class strikers. Founded in 1970 PSG has a history of signing brilliant strikers. George Weah scored goals and a league title. Pauleta drank from the French Cup. And Ronaldinho…Ronnie came to town and began his European adventure, mesmerizing the masses with exotic touches and devilish free kicks, both on the pitch and in nightclubs.

A bit of Qatari pocket change parachuted in, allowing Ibrahimovic to strut through the door. A Uruguayan matador followed close behind. But PSG wasn’t done. They had another world class striker in mind. A shadow signing that glided past the press. A signing that has altered the career path for women footballers in the United States.

Lindsey Horan. A US striker and Colorado native signed with PSG, becoming the first US women’s player to shun the collegiate system and turn pro.

Horan’s talents offered her a scholarship to UNC, the La Masia for women’s football in the United States. UNC is the dream for all Tobin Heath, Mia Hamm postered rooms of adolescent soccer playing girls in the US. So when Horan turned down Anson and friends more than a few eyebrows curled. The system had been challenged.

The US has now won more Women’s World Cups than any other nation. It can’t be argued that the current infrastructure has yielded results. But a professional, year round European environment has plenty to teach a young player in terms of individual technique and football composure. Traits that most of our girls could still do with a bit of polish.

So far Horan hasn’t missed a lesson. She’s been imperious. Scoring with a blend of calm inside-of-the-foot corner pocket finishes, half volleys and tap-ins. She’s an impact player, PSG’s leading goal scorer and has been rewarded with a new two year deal.

An American striker dominating in Europe? That’s a national team lock, a spot in starting 11. Bizarrely not for Horan. Horan’s national team chances have been limited allegedly because she’s not poaching goals in the NWSL. PSG, despite it’s global footballing clout is far from the radar of US soccer’s decision makers.

Still, Horan has hacked away a new trail, erasing the idea of the collegiate environment being the only path to a professional career.

The next generation of women footballers may not flock overseas to begin their careers, but thanks to Horan at least they know it’s possible.