Despite successes, women's pro soccer struggling

United States goalkeeper Hope Solo celebrates winning the quarterfinal match between Brazil and the United States at the Women's Soccer World Cup in Dresden, Germany, July 10, 2011.
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

The U.S. women's soccer team is just one victory from taking home the World Cup. The Americans beat France 3-1 Wednesday to advance to Sunday's final against Japan.

Despite their success on the world stage, CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann reports their profession is on shaky ground back home.

For some Women's World Cup fans, there is more at stake than national pride. Their jobs are on the line.

"Yeah, I think it's now or never, personally," says Cat Whitehill, who played on two U.S. World Cup teams.

Now, Cat stars for the Atlanta Beat in the Women's Professional Soccer League, which is short of sponsors, fans and money.

U.S. makes World Cup final with win over France

Some players earn less than $20,0000. Many work second jobs, and all play in relative obscurity.

"The best players in the world we have in this league. And a lot of people are unfamiliar there's even a league around. Any chance we can get in the public eye is huge for us," Cat says.

Three of the league's 12 teams have folded.

In New Jersey, rookie goalie Kristin Arnold is hoping World Cup excitement will help save the league.

"I just hope that opens up people's eyes to the fact that women's soccer is fun to watch and it's entertaining," Kristin says.

This sport's elusive goal is attracting the general sports fan. It has to move beyond its hard-core followers: Pre-teenage girls, brought to games by their soccer moms.

America produces more top female athletes than any other country, largely due to Title 9, rules requiring equal opportunities for men and women athletes.

But women's team pro sports have never been a winner. American fans have a clear preference for the higher stakes and rougher play in men's leagues.

After fifteen years, the WNBA, subsidized by the NBA, only averages 7,200 fans a game.

The Women's Professional Soccer League gets only 2,800 fans per game, and that number is dropping.

National team alumna Cat says that looking up at those empty seats is frustrating.

"We love to play the game. And we'll come out there and give you the best product we can whether there's one person in the stands or 90,000," Cat says.

Millions will cheer Team USA in Sunday's Word Cup final, but few will be root any harder than the professional women soccer players.

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann was named CBS News Transportation correspondent in August 2011. He has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001, and is based in the Atlanta bureau.