[WOMEN'S WORLD CUP COUNTDOWN] There's no guarantee of success, but the launch of the FA Women's Super League is just the latest positive development for women's soccer in England, which opens its Women's World Cup campaign Monday against Mexico brimming with confidence.
“There’s more depth to the squad than we have ever had,” says England coach Hope Powell. “In the 13 years I have been here, this squad is stronger than it has ever been.”
The England squad has a strong U.S. influence -- five players, including star Kelly Smith and U.S.-bred keeper Karen Bardsley play in WPS -- but the launch of the FAWSL this spring means clubs like Arsenal and Everton are stepping up their commitment to women's soccer.
Both have four players each in Powell's England team, which beat the USA, 2-1, in April.
Salaries are still modest -- stars earn about what they'd make in WPS, around $35,000 a year -- but there's a growing acceptance of the women's game.
ESPN is covering six matches live this season and launched a magazine show.
England's success at Euro 2009 -- where it finished second to Germany -- has raised expectations in the media.
“I think it is sometimes easier to go into a tournament as an underdog, when the expectation isn’t on you," admits Powell. "It is a bit easier for players to manage. But now the expectation, the cameras and the focus will be on us. It is a different challenge, a different experience to what we have had in the past."
Raised expectations also make Powell's job tougher. She acknowledges she was lucky to be able to work quietly for so many years.
“We are given time to work, nurture and embed a philosophy,” she says. “If it was the same attitude some people in men’s football have, certainly on my initial results in the very beginning, I am sure I would have been sacked. You need a certain amount of time and practice to embed a philosophy that will improve players. Look at Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. It is not an accident.”