The National Women’s Soccer League, in its seventh year, still is struggling — just like Major League Soccer once did, especially when it was forced to contract two franchises after the 2001 season, six years into its own run. Back then MLS helped itself — with an assist from U.S. Soccer — by creating and funding Soccer United Marketing (SUM), a company that tied the financial fortunes (and television rights) of MLS with the far more popular U.S. national team. At the same time, cities around the U.S. also were supporting MLS by taking the plunge and building soccer-specific stadiums to support fledgling franchises.

I was in one of those stadiums Tuesday, along with more than 19,000 other people, to watch the U.S. women’s national team in a 3-0 win over Portugal. A few days earlier, about 44,000 watched the teams play in Philadelphia. The fans are there, the fans will come, but women’s pro soccer needs support, just as MLS once did.

MLS, through SUM, has the experience to sell, promote and show women’s soccer. Its stadiums, built with local government support, should be opened to the women’s game as well. Every MLS team that controls its own stadium should be required to start a women’s team by 2021. Growing the game can’t be gender-specific.

Short takes

• One subplot of this week’s U.S. men’s national team friendlies involves 18-year-old fullback Sergiño Dest, who has become part of Ajax’s starting lineup. Dest was born in and grew up in the Netherlands, but his father is American, and Dest has played for the USA’s youth teams. The USA would love to have him as part of its senior squad, but until he plays in an official FIFA competition for the USA senior team, he still could switch back to his native country.

• The early leader for the most absurd story of this season comes from Serie A, where new Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku was racially abused by fans in Cagliari, just as former Juventus striker Moise Kean was last season. Incredibly, the “ultras” from Inter — his own club! — released a statement claiming that monkey noises being made by the Cagliari fans were “a form of respect,” not racist, and that Italy doesn’t have a problem with racism. The mind truly boggles.

WATCH GUIDE

MLS: New England at NYC, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Univision / Twitter.com. Boston vs. New York at Yankee Stadium should get the sporting juices flowing, even if it’ll be on the soccer field. NYC FC is probably the best team in MLS apart from Los Angeles FC, but New England is revitalized under new coach Bruce Arena.

 

Writer Jon Marthaler gives you a recap of recent events and previews the week ahead. E-mail: jmarthaler@gmail.com