When the Washington Spirit travel to play the Boston Breakers this Saturday, longtime soccer fans might recognize a familiar voice on the live broadcast. Olympic gold medalist and former U.S. national team veteran Cat Whitehill, 35, will be one of the analysts for A+E Network’s NWSL Game of the Week. This will be Whitehill’s first time providing color commentary for an NWSL game and she cannot wait to pick up the mic.
“I’m excited,” Whitehill told Excelle Sports. “It will be fun to go back to the old stomping grounds again and see both of my former teams. It’s kind of funny.”
During her professional soccer days, Whitehill played both for Washington—which was formerly known as the Freedom in Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS)—and Boston when the NWSL launched in 2012. She had also been a defender for the national team for ten years, where she helped the U.S. win gold at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and played with legends like Kristine Lilly, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain. Whitehill was known for being one of the highest scoring defenders on the U.S. squad with 11 goals in 134 appearances, and she still holds the record for the longest shot ever scored in USWNT history when she launched a 70-yard lobber against Sweden in 2006.
Throughout her playing career, Whitehill has seen all the ups and downs of women’s soccer from the sport’s boom since Team USA won the World Cup in 1999 to the folding of the WPS in 2012. In between training and games, she even got to fulfill another childhood dream of working in media. Whitehill has been a color analyst for women’s college soccer since 2009 on the SEC Network and has covered major events like the 2011 and 2015 World Cups.
“I’ve wanted to do it since I was in the 5th grade and watched Robin Roberts on ESPN,” she said. “I [originally] wanted to be a sideline reporter for college football because that was all there really was for women at the time. But now there are so many different opportunities it’s amazing.”
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Now that Whitehill is on the sidelines, she’s been amazed at the momentum the NWSL has gained over the past five years. So far, it’s the longest standing women’s professional soccer league in American history and it’s only getting better, according to Whitehill.
“I think it’s at a really exciting stage,” she said. “It’s developing new talent for the U.S. team, it’s helping other talent from all of the world to come in and play in an extremely competitive league. Each club every year is looking to enhance and make people better. The development is going really fast.”
For Whitehill, one of the highlights this season was the return of Brazil’s Marta, who had left the NWSL to play in Sweden for five years. She says having the five-time FIFA Player of the Year opting to play for the Orlando Pride is just a testament to to league’s caliber. Earlier this year Washington Spirit forward Mallory Pugh shocked the world when she dropped out of college early to pursue a career in the NWSL. A decision that has been typically normal for aspiring male athletes is now becoming a viable option for women who are serious about becoming pro.
Whitehill knows, though, that there is still more room for the league to grow.
“We want to keep building and have more teams and crowds at the stadiums,” she said.
In the past year, the NWSL has taken great strides to get women’s soccer in front of as many people as possible to build brand awareness and excite more fans to get to the games. For example, the league announced in February that it was partnering with Lifetime to broadcast a Game of the Week. The league also partnered with go90 to provide live streaming on the web. Whitehill thinks that the NWSL has been extremely smart to adopt streaming to promote the game.
“The best thing about sports is you want to see it live,” she said. “Sometimes you’re not in a position where you can sit down in front of a TV so you might need it on a device. That’s where streaming comes in.
“Now there’s more avenues out there for sports. I mean we are on Lifetime. What a tremendous platform for us to have a game of the week. You can tell someone that at this time on just about every Saturday, you’re going to get an NWSL game. You need to know where you can go all the time. You have Sunday night baseball on ESPN. Now you have Saturday afternoon soccer on Lifetime.”
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This year, Whitehill had the pleasure of commentating the 2017 EURO championship which garnered record breaking views via streaming platforms on ESPN and ESPN3. Those viewership numbers soared even before Denmark and the Netherlands clashed for a sold-out final. From her press box, Whitehill can see that women’s soccer is finally proving to major broadcasting stations that investing in the sport can create significant traffic for their companies.
“It’s exciting to see that there’s more and more interest,” she said.
Besides commentating, the 35-year-old is enjoying her soccer retirement, living in Boston and taking care of her two dogs named Izzy and Maeby. But Whitehill still misses being competitive and those cherished moments of huddling up with her teammates in the locker room. In June, she announced that she will be the head coach of the girls soccer program at Wellesley High School this fall, something that will allow her to stay in the game and help develop that next generation of female soccer players.
“It was something that I didn’t really pursue, but after I was the assistant coach of the Breakers last year, I really enjoyed being a part of the team atmosphere and getting to know the players,” she said. “It’s really important for all women to have that confidence about them. If there’s a way that I can help them to develop that, I definitely want to try. This will be a good time to see if I’m any good at coaching. Hopefully, I don’t fall flat on my face.”
Fortunately, during Saturday afternoon’s NWSL game, Whitehill doesn’t have to worry about falling or her face. She just has to bring excitement to the sport she’s watched grow before her eyes.
The Spirit and Breakers play at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on Lifetime.