Soccer is the biggest sport in the world, but in the States it’s not even in the top five, in terms of popularity. Our quickest male athletes tend to play basketball, the most physical put on football helmets, the most coordinated pick up baseball bats, and those with endurance play hockey or drive a race car. Some of our best female athletes, however, are playing soccer. And at least a few weeks a year—chiefly during the Olympics and the World Cup—U.S. women’s soccer is more popular on ESPN than any other sport, especially men’s soccer.
“We have consistently been the best team in the world for a very long time,” says goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris. “What separates us from the rest of the world is the American mentality, which is that we may not be the best team all the time in the world, technically and tactically, but we go for 90-plus minutes and we do not stop. We are the strongest team in the world, and we always find a way to win with what we have.”
It’s that confidence that has made players like Hope Solo, Heather Mitts, Abby Wambach, and Alex Morgan household names. The queens’ reign in popular culture got a kick-start 14 years ago when Brandi Chastain whipped off her jersey and celebrated in her sports bra after scoring the goal that won the team the World Cup. It may not be fair that her act brought women’s soccer more attention, but it’s true—and Harris doesn’t discount the fact that looks sometimes get as much attention as skills.
“We do have a very good-looking team, and as much as people don’t want to say that sex sells, it does,” says Harris. “I’m just being a realist: We have beautiful girls, we have great personalities, and we are successful. So you can put girls from the team on Dancing With the Stars or in a swimsuit issue or a Gatorade commercial and people know who they are.”
Harris may soon be on the same levels of fame as the teammates she’s talking about. She is a recent addition to the squad, and had her first start in early March. “The role they are setting for me is that I am the future of this team, and I’m waiting patiently for when it is my time,” says the 27-year-old. In the meantime, she stays sharp by playing for Germany’s FCR 2001 Duisburg and the National Women’s Soccer League’s Washington D.C. Spirit, which kicked off its season in April. She has also has vowed to do whatever it takes to win back the World Cup that the Americans lost to Japan in 2011.
A few years from now—perhaps when she’s on a reality show, like her fellow goalkeeper Solo, who competed on Dancing With the Stars—you can bet she’ll be instantly recognizable without her uniform. That’s because she’s one of the few female soccer players with ink. Harris started her collection with a side piece that has crept up to her left shoulder and down her arm. The entire cascade is a tribute to her family, done by Lisa Murphy at Against the Grain. “I started when I was 18,” she says. “My grandmother is a breast cancer survivor and she has these pictures of butterflies up in her room. She says that she wakes up every morning and sees these beautiful butterflies in her room, and it starts her day right.” Harris’s first tattoo was one of those butterflies, on her ribs.
She also has Hawaiian flowers, inspired by surfboards customized with flower designs that her father would get her every Christmas when she was a kid growing up in Satellite Beach, FL. In an expression of her relationship with her father, she has Zeus and Athena on her forearm. And for her mother, who was hoping for a daughter who’d wear frilly dresses rather than shin guards, she has a princess shattering the glass of a vanity mirror.
Don’t worry, Mrs. Harris: After she picks the grass out of her hair and hoists the World Cup trophy, Dancing With the Stars will call and she’ll slip on heels and a ball gown.