The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup saw a considerable rise in viewing figures this summer, highlighting just how rapidly the women’s game is growing. The United States saw the sharpest increase, with approximately 3.3 million Americans tuning in to watch USA beat Australia in their opening game – a 200% increase on their opening fixture four years earlier.
It is no surprise that women’s football is increasing in popularity in the States, given that the American team leads the way when it comes to success. Jill Ellis’ side claimed their third World Cup title in July, a phenomenal record, considering there have only been six tournaments to date, and they have never finished outside the top three.
The US women’s team asserted their dominance over the sport back in 1991, when they claimed the inaugural World Cup title with ease, and they have never looked back since. Mary Harvey, the woman between the sticks, was a vital part of that winning squad. While the tournament will be best remembered for the huge volume of goals they scored, Harvey is to thank for the small amount that they conceded – just five goals in six games.
Harvey began her soccer career with the California Golden Bears at the University of California. After graduating, she moved to Europe to begin playing the game at a higher level, albeit only semi-professionally due to the lack of professional leagues in the sport’s earlier years. It was then, while playing for FSV Frankfurt in Germany, that she caught the eye of the American national team.
By 1991 she has cemented her place as USA’s number one and went on to win the first World Cup trophy, as well as a gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games. Her last appearance came later that year, as the emerging Briana Scurry began to take her place. However, Harvey would remain a memorable name in the history of women’s football in the States, and she was duly rewarded with a place in the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
As her playing career came to an end, Harvey became a member of the US Soccer Board of Directors, overseeing the development and progression of the women’s game. It wasn’t long before her abilities were recognized by those at the very top, as she was approached by FIFA to fill the role of the Director of Development, some seven years after she had hung up her boots. Her role would hand her control over a multi-million-dollar budget, and her main goal was to increase interest in the less popular variations of the game, such as women’s soccer, beach soccer and indoor soccer.
After the Women’s United Soccer Association folded in 2003, USA was left without a professional women’s league until the formation of Women’s Professional Soccer in 2008. With the experience she had gained at FIFA, Harvey departed the governing body to take on the role of Chief Operating Officer at the newly formed league. While WPS also folded in 2012, it was the base for the National Women’s Soccer League, which is still going strong.
Now working as a part of the US government’s Sports Envoy program, which sees trained athletes travel the world to teach specially designed sports programs to youngsters, Harvey continues to help not just women’s soccer, but the entire sporting world, to grow.
Her contribution to the sport has been of the highest level for many years. Having been fortunate enough to coach and work alongside Mary throughout various summer goalkeeping camps, as well as the Russia 2006 Under-20s Women’s World Cup, I truly believe that, were women’s soccer just as popular as the men’s game, Mary Harvey would undoubtedly be one of the sport’s most recognized figures..