C.J. Brown has been one of the most consistent players in the history of Major League Soccer. A tough, intelligent, and tenacious defender, he has appeared more than 250 times for the Chicago Fire since 1998, the year the club joined the league.
But ask him about his two daughters, aged 4 and 5, and he becomes the proverbial puppy dog. His voice gushes with enthusiasm and love, and the high-octane testosterone-filled world of men’s professional sports quickly disappears.
“Having a daughter puts everything back in perspective,” he tells me when I catch up with him after a Fire practice this week. “It’s a big eye-opener.”
For one thing, he suddenly realized that his daughters can’t really relate to what he does every Saturday. Which is why the proud father is looking forward to the launch of Women’s Professional Soccer, the new league set to kick off this weekend. The inaugural match between the Los Angeles Sol and the Washington Freedom takes place on Sunday at the Home Depot Center, outside Los Angeles.
“My daughters see soccer from a men’s point of view,” Brown explains. “I want to get them surrounded by women’s soccer as much as possible. I want them to relate.”
The Chicago Red Stars, Brown’s home team, open their season next weekend away to St. Louis Athletica. Their first home game, at Toyota Park, is on April 19 against Sky Blue FC (New York/New Jersey), and Brown and his daughters will be there.
The Fire defender is not the only figure in the men’s soccer world looking forward to taking his daughters to WPS games this summer. New England Revolution TV broadcaster Brad Feldman is thrilled to be able to show his eight-year-old daughter, Miriam, that women can be pros just like the men.
“She’s a keen soccer fan,” he tells me. “She loves the Revs, and watches EPL games, but she doesn’t identify with those players the way she does star women’s players. She’s known who Kristine Lilly is since before she could walk.”
Miriam is involved in several clubs in the Boston area, including Lexington United and the Grasshopper FC Academy. Being able to go see the local WPS side, the Boston Breakers, on a regular basis will do more than help her develop her skills, Feldman says.
“As she evolved as a soccer player, I was always disappointed that there wasn’t a women’s league,” Feldman says. “I’m not necessarily trying to make her into a pro soccer player. But the players are really good role models and it gives my daughter something to aspire to, which is important.”
Former US international and current ESPN commentator Alexi Lalas (full disclosure: my brother) has a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter who is still too young to really play the game. But Lalas is planning on taking her to the league’s inaugural game on Sunday at the Home Depot Center.
“Regardless of whether she ever plays the game or not, I at least want her to recognize that it’s a sport hat both men and women play,” Lalas tells me.
Lalas’s home team, the Los Angeles Sol, are, on paper, favorites to challenge for the WPS title. They have several superstars, including American two-time gold medalist Shannon Boxx, US international Aly Wagner, and arguably the biggest name of them all, three-time World Player of the Year Marta.
“My daughter has no idea who Marta is,” Lalas says, “but I’ll definitely point her out. Hell, I’m interested myself to see if she can live up to the billing.”
He adds that his daughter will “represent” in a yellow and blue Sol scarf. And he might even get one of his own. Which isn’t surprising, really, because in talking to fathers, one thing comes out: They seem as excited about the WPS’s existence as their daughters are.
“I’m excited because she’s excited,” Feldman explains.
“I hope the people come out and support it,” Brown says. “I’ll definitely be one of them. It’s going to be exciting.”
Greg Lalas is Site Director for Goal.com USA. The "Target Man" appears semi-regularly only on Goal.com.