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April 24, 2016 — The slow build, hopefully

On Saturday night in the Citrus Bowl, the Orlando Pride beat the Houston Dash 3-1 in front of 23,403 customers.

This is the fourth season of the National Women’s Soccer League, and it is an extremely hopeful sign that last night’s crowd in Orlando was larger than any in the first three years of the current league.

It’s been a decade and a half since the ballyhooed “Mia vs. Brandi” inaugural of the Women’s United Soccer Association brought 34,148 people to RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. There have been several iterations of women’s pro leagues since then, as well as more than one generation of support.

The fact that it took until Year 4 of the NWSL to set an attendance record, however, is a good sign of the maturation of soccer as a business in this country. Indeed, when you consider that the WUSA’s high-water mark was its very first game, the people who are running the front offices in NWSL isn’t asking about what they did wrong to not attract 34,000 per game.

Instead, they are looking to build on small successes, much like what Major League Soccer had to do after the league contracted in 2001. The NWSL has added franchises in both Orlando and Houston the last couple of years, and, given the crowds coming out for U.S. games the last couple of years, there appear to be plenty of untapped markets for women’s soccer — California, the Rockies, the deep South.

Any NWSL growth is going to have to be incremental, with plenty of vetting of ownership groups so that the fiacos surrounding St. Louis Athletica and MagicJack FC don’t recur.

But the Orlando crowd last night is a great start.

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