Women’s World Cup champ (and Ben Davis High School star) Lauren Holiday has been named the pace car driver for today’s Brickyard 400.
The midfielder for the U.S. National team will drive a Chevrolet SS to start the race. It will be the second year in a row that the Chevy SS has served as the pace car.
Serving as pace car driver will be Holiday’s first public appearance in Indiana since the U.S. team’s 5-2 win over Japan in the Women’s World Cup final on July 5. She scored a goal in what turned out to be her final game for the national team before retirement.
After the U.S. Women's team's victory in the World Cup, she has some blunt advice for advertisers/sponsors reluctant to support women’s pro soccer: Get in while the getting is good. Or pay through the nose in the future.
“The potential is huge." Wambach told Sporting News at the Doha GOALS Forum. "You see a little bit of a downtrend in some of these other major league sports in our country. So the corporate sponsors are going, ‘Alright, where’s the next Big Thing?’ And Soccer is it. Soccer is the next big thing in this country. You want to get in on the ground floor. Otherwise you're going to be paying tons of money. Like now people pay for those advertisements for the Super Bowl and the NFL. So get on it people. You guys are going to miss out if you don't."
The good news for women's pro soccer? Attendance is up as the buzz from the Team USA's 5-2 win over Japan in the Women's World Cup Final July 5 translates into increased ticket sales. Bolstered by the return of World Cup stars like Carli Lloyd to the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL), clubs sold out 8 of 14 games in the weeks after the World Cup, according to NWSL spokesman Patrick Donnelly. Before the World Cup? There were zero sellouts.
Said Wambach: "NWSL teams are selling out their stadiums right now. People want to get a glimpse of the World Cup champions. There’s also foreign players in our league who wowed people in the World Cup this last summer. It's an amazing time not only to be a footballer here in the U.S., but to be a female soccer player. We know that bringing home championships just gives us a better platform and another opportunity to start a conversation to get a little bit more pay and bring that pay gap closer together."
Wambach said the pay gap between male and female pro footballers is "entirely too big." Female pros often have to work second jobs to support themselves and fly commercial. Male stars make enough to last a lifetime and fly private jets. Previously, Wambach led a legal challenge to FIFA for staging the 2015 World Cup on artificial turf rather than natural grass field used by the men.
"Look, we're not talking about wanting to be paid just like the men. We understand their World Cup brings in billions and billions of dollars," Wambach told SN. "But we also understand that our World Cup has found success, not just this year but the previous World Cup in Germany. It is my expectation that (FIFA will) start stepping up to the plate and start paying these women a little bit more so they don’t have to have a second job. So their World Cup championships will be closer to what the men are getting paid."
Eight years, two Olympics, one World Cup and nearly another (she was the final cut this year), 113 national-team appearances, two different women’s pro leagues – that’s how far it went. She easily ranks as the best women’s soccer player from the San Diego area not named Shannon MacMillan.
"My soccer career has been wonderful," she said. "The last two years have been a bit more difficult for me with injuries and not making the World Cup team. Those things obviously played into this decision. Turning 30 (Wednesday), starting med school, the timing of everything played a role as well. All these different factors came together.
"I’ve been thinking about it, really, for the last year or two. It just kind of felt right to make that decision, to make that move now." In the women's soccer calendar, the Olympics are the summer after the World Cup. Why not keep playing another year and chase a third gold medal?
"For sure, I definitely thought about trying for the Olympic team," Van Hollebeke said. "But it was different feeling from any other time I tried to make a team. You have to be all in and know that’s what you want. I think my desire for med school just started to become greater. It was a shift. I felt like med school is what I wanted to do now." She quietly finalized paperwork to attend UCSD earlier this month, then picked Tuesday to make the public announcement. Cold feet? "No," she said. "And that's good. I'm glad that I feel that it's right and I feel ready."
Sunday's game at Providence Park against the Washington Spirit may or may not be Van Hollebeke's last. She'll miss Portland's final regular season game on Friday, Sept. 4. It's in Rochester, N.Y. , and she'll be occupied with a white coat ceremony at UCSD and taking her Hippocratic Oath. But if the Thorns make the NWSL playoffs – they’re currently in fifth place and the top four go – and play on a weekend, she might be available to fly in for the game.
"It is difficult to express what a privilege it has been to play for both club and country," Van Hollebeke wrote in an open letter to fans. "If you’ve ever watched me during the national anthem, I take it very seriously and sing with all my heart. Wearing the red, white and blue for over 100 games is the greatest honor of my life and playing in two Olympics has been the highlight of my career. "I will never forget the feeling of standing on the podium, gold medal hanging around my neck. I remember thinking about the countless hours of practice, the challenges and successes, and the people who helped me get to that point. I was so thankful and proud."
The U.S. women's soccer team is in the midst of a Victory Tour following its 2015 World Cup win. Several stars from that group, including Carli Lloyd, Hope Solo and Alex Morgan, will represent the U.S. in today's 1:30 p.m. CT exhibition against Haiti at Legion Field in Birmingham. (Actually the kickoff looks to be around 2 p.m.)
Starters for USA are Hope Solo in goal, Christie Rampone, Kelley O'Hara, Julie Johnston and Meghan Klingenberg in the back line, Becky Sauerbrunn, Carli Lloyd, Morgan Brian, Megan Rapinoe and Crystal Dunn in the midfield and Alex Morgan at forward.
USA has six subs it can use. Midfielder Tobin Heath is OUT for today's match after "taking a knock in training," per U.S. soccer. Sauerbrunn makes her first start as a midfielder after 68 starts as a defender.
65' - O'Hara almost scores a goal but it goes just wide off a header.
59' - USA uses its last sub as Meghan Klingenberg is subbed out by Heather O'Reilly
52' - Amy Rodriguez fires a shot from about 20 yards away and gives USA a 6-0 lead.
* Subs - out are Solo, Sauerbrunn, Lloyd, Rapinoe and Johnston. In are Alyssa Naeher at goal along with Ali Krieger, Amy Rodriguez, Whitney Engen and Shannon Boxx.
U.S. leads 5-0 on three goals from Carli Lloyd, one from Crystal Dunn and one from Julie Johnston
43' - Morgan's header goes off the crossbar and over the goal.
39' - Lloyd has a hat trick, getting a shot over the head of the Haiti goalkeeper on an assist from Rapinoe. It's her fifth hat trick and second straight against Haiti. 5-0 USA
34 - And I should say that Solo got the loudest ovation, and the crowd goes wild when she touches the ball.
31' - It was almost 5-0, but a shot went off the crossbar.
28' - I'm counting 2 touches by Hope Solo so far, on long kicks by Haiti.
22' - GOAL. Lloyd with goal No. 2, assisted by Dunn, and USA leads 4-0.
17' - GOAL. Crystal Dunn scores quickly after the last goal on an assist by Megan Rapinoe. Dunn was recently added to the roster for the matches against Haiti. 3-0 USA
16' - GOAL. Alex Morgan is taken down in the box and Carli Lloyd scores on a penalty kick. 2-0 USA
12' - Sauerbrun in her first start at midfield, had a shot but it went high.
11' - U.S. is controlling possession, as expected. I'm not sure I've seen the ball go past the center line. Should be a pretty easy day for Hope Solo.
1' - GOAL - Julie Johnston scores after a corner, assisted by Kelley O'Hara. 1-0 USA