Many sports fans are finding out this summer what Middle Township High School standout Kira Sides and other local girls soccer players already knew.

The U.S. women’s soccer team is impressive to watch in the Women’s World Cup and can inspire fans and future players with their talent.

“I’ve been seeing a lot of people posting on social media about how they’re watching the games,” said Sides, who will be a senior in the fall. “It’s like ‘Ha, you see how good they are now.’”

Boys get to see their athletic heroes play on national television all the time. Girls not so much. But every four years, the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team grabs the country’s sporting attention. The U.S. women have won three World Cup titles and four Olympic gold medals.

“They’re an inspiration not only to the soccer players but women in general,” said Alivia Handson, who graduated from Mainland Regional in June and was The Press Girls Soccer Player of the Year last fall. “They work so hard, and they’re a powerhouse. It’s really cool.”

The World Cup games this year have been must-watch games for local girls soccer standouts and sports fans in general. The U.S. will play England in the semifinals 3 p.m. Tuesday.

The Middle Township girls soccer team got together as a group to watch the U.S. beat Sweden last week.

The Mainland Regional girls watched some of the group games while they worked out in the weight room. Mainland Regional graduate Christine Napoli, who will continue her career at St. Bonaventure University in New York, watched the games in the lobby of her hotel while on vacation in the Bahamas last week.

“I didn’t even have to ask them to put it on,” Napoli said.

The U.S. women play a physical style of soccer. They tackle hard and sprint all over the field.

“They’re providing positive role models for our girls,” Mainland Regional girls coach Alex Weidman said. “It’s showing they can go out, do their thing and be rock stars on the field and not have to be (worried) about being competitive, being tough or some of the things girls get self-conscious about.”

The U.S. women have a special connection to South Jersey.

Carli Lloyd of Delran, Burlington County, now comes off the bench, but she has been one of the team’s past stars. When Handson was in middle school, she attended a couple of Lloyd’s soccer camps.

“It’s so much more special (with Lloyd being from South Jersey) and you feel a little bit more connected,” Handson said. “I’ve played on the same fields as she has. To know that she came from our area, came from our similar soccer programs, look at where she is now.”

And then there’s U.S. midfielder Julie Ertz. She is married to Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz.

“She married an Eagles player, which is even cooler,” Handson said.

This year’s World Cup has been filled with inspirational moments. A video with Brazilian soccer star Marta went viral where she urged girls to pursue the game with passion. Her words were directed at people in her home country, but they can be used as inspiration for male or female athletes in any sport.

“Cry now so you can smile at the end,” Marta said.

Napoli says the first thing she wants to do after watching a World Cup game is play soccer.

“It’s hard to watch a game and not want to go out and play or just juggle some balls with my little brother,” she said. “Watching this, I can’t wait to get to college soon and play at a high level like that.”

While many young girls soccer players feel a special connection to the U.S. women’s team, its success is reaching even the casual sports fan. Handson said her grandmother, Linda Carson, who never played soccer, hasn’t missed a game. The U.S. win over France set a record for the most-watched Women’s World Cup quarterfinal match on U.S. English-language television.

Ratings are expected to be even better for Tuesday’s semifinal.

“Having a sports team that is captivating and had so much success gets everyone involved,” Handson said. “It’s not just for soccer players. It’s for all girls and all athletes.”

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Contact: 609-272-7209 Twitter @ACPressMcGarry

Staff Writer

I've covered high school sports and variety of other events and teams - including the ShopRite LPGA Classic and the Phillies - since 1993.

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