By Christiane Amanpour and Ben Church, CNN
Speaking to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, the former United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) star dismissed the notion that the Argentine’s arrival to the MLS would in any way diminish the success of the women’s game which has long been the dominant force in the country.
“For a long time, women’s soccer was leading the charge and there was always the question: ‘Why isn’t the men’s national team as good as the women’s national team?’” said Chastain, adding that many male athletes would traditionally pursue other sports such as basketball, baseball and American football.
“Soccer now, together, collectively, has a chance.
“The fact that a player like Lionel Messi […] who I believe will enhance the amount of eyes that will be on soccer in America, I think that’s good for both of us.”
Chastain created one of the most iconic moments in women’s soccer when, after scoring the winning penalty in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final, she tore off her shirt and fell to her knees in celebration.
That image has been associated with the sport ever since and helped cement the legacy of women’s soccer in the US and around the world.
There are hopes that Messi’s arrival to the MLS will be another seismic moment for the growth of the sport in the US.
Although Apple TV doesn’t publicly release viewership figures, a video clip of Messi scoring the game-winning goal in his Miami debut that was posted by the MLS got more than 214 million views and more than 15 million social media engagements, according to sports analytics company Zoomph.
His signing is also expected to be a boon for Apple’s nascent streaming package, MLS Season Pass. Sports Business Journal, citing industry sources, reports that the subscription packaging is “approaching 1 million subscribers” — and the company expects “that number to balloon even further once Messi starts playing.”
Messi has scored three times in his first two appearances for his new club and former England star Lianne Sanderson, who spoke to Amanpour alongside Chastain, likened the Argentine’s impact to when David Beckham first moved to the MLS.
Beckham signed for LA Galaxy in 2007 and is now one of the owners of Inter Miami.
“I think it’s brilliant that Messi’s gone over,” Sanderson said. “What David Beckham is doing as well, again. It’s the same as what he did with the Galaxy. It’s tremendous.
“I don’t think it’s going to take anything away. If anything, it’s going to make it even better.”
This year’s Women’s World Cup is another example of how much the game has grown in recent years.
For the first time, 32 teams are competing in the tournament with ticket sales already breaking records.
However, prize money is still way below what the men’s teams receive. In fact, soccer players at the 2023 Women’s World Cup will on average earn just 25 cents for every dollar earned by men at their World Cup last year.
While Chastain admits there is still more to do, she recognizes the buzz around the women’s game of late.
“Any competitor is never satisfied, that is the nature of what we do. We always are striving for better and I think women’s football is at an all-time high, globally” she said.
“The fact that we have 32 teams, I will take the US Women’s National Team for an example, we have 14 players who have never played in a World Cup before, to me that speaks volumes about growth.
“We are not satisfied with the fact that the purse for the Women’s World Cup is grossly under what the men’s is.
“We have a lot of ways to still travel but I believe, since 1999, we have certainly made some inroads.
“What I do believe, however, is women’s football and the women who are in it, is the deepest, richest, well of talent that has been untapped.
“Sponsors, television rights, things to this nature, are seeing the light so I’m very thrilled that this is the best time to be a part of women’s football.”
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