(Spirit photo)

The author is a forward for the Washington Spirit. A Connecticut native who starred at Penn State, she has also played for clubs in Finland, Brazil, Sweden, Denmark and Canada. She is editor of Our Game Magazine, co-founder of a Connecticut-based youth club called girlsCAN and blogs regularly on her personal website. This being a World Cup year, we’ve asked her to submit periodic columns this summer.

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The United States has a lot of professional soccer leagues. Most fall under the radar. They are made up mostly of male and female athletes you have probably never heard of; who train year-round with massive goals and dreams; who play for reasons closer to their heart than their bank account.

How do I know? I’m one of those athletes.

I’m a professional soccer player in the National Women’s Soccer League. I walk down the street wearing Washington Spirit gear and, unlike some of my male counterparts, don’t get recognized, hassled for autographs or asked to pose for a selfie.

It goes as far as being mistaken for a college player or, on some days, a high school player.

Passerby: “What high school do you play for?”

Me: “I play professionally.”

Passerby: “Oh, they have that for women? That’s fantastic!”

Yeah, how nice of them to do that for us little ladies.

It’s a conversation all my peers have had more than we would like to recount.

Recently, I was in Einstein Bros. Bagels, and the guy working the register noticed the Spirit logo on my jacket and asked, “Did your season start yet?”

I thought to myself, well, we’re three games in.

Me: “Yeah.”

Einstein himself: “Oh, cool. What’s your record?”

Me: “2-1.”

E=mc2: “Great, good luck with the rest of your season.”

It was nice, don’t get me wrong. To be recognized, that is. I thought about it a little longer and realized it was a step in the right direction. He wasn’t a soccer mom or a little kid. He may or may not have been a fan, but he knew who we were.

This got my soccer ball rolling.

It made me think about all the times I’ve gone into Dick’s Sporting Goods and seen posters of players I’ve played with and against for years. All the Under Armour ads with U.S. national team and Sky Blue FC defender Kelley O’Hara, Nike ads with USA and Portland Thorns forward Alex Morgan, and so on. I know who they are. I don’t need to look twice or read the name on the poster.

But it made me wonder: Do other people know who they are? Would the Dick’s employees know who they are or what club they play for?

We can say we’re not constantly top news on ESPN or ESPN2 or ESPN3 or ESPN100 because we’re women. Or because it’s soccer. Two things that many people still don’t respect in the United States: female athletes and soccer.

It’s not just an older generation that doesn’t give us the time of day. There are young, hip people who dislike women’s sports and soccer. There are also people who absolutely love the Premier League, Champions League and Major League Soccer. Those same people don’t like women’s soccer.

There are women and little girls who love, love, love MLS but don’t support the NWSL. How do I know? I see them at MLS games. I see them in MLS uniforms with names of their favorite male players.

Trust me, I get it. I love the men’s game. I have a Messi jersey. I have Liverpool kits. I have a Man United jersey that is for sale. I love the men’s game and always have.

But I also love the women’s game. And I constantly wonder, how can we get them to love us like they love the other leagues?

I don’t know the answer. I do know that if you are a soccer fan, meaning you love the beautiful game means you’ll love it in any form. You’ll love watching people play pickup games; going to see training sessions; watching kids play in the park; attending lower-tier matches, college games, pro games; turning out for national team matches; and watching everything on TV. You’ll watch soccer because you love soccer, not because you love watching men or women, boys or girls.

As an avid fan of the game, I watch a lot of soccer. I watch the Premier League, La Liga, MLS, college soccer, high school soccer, club soccer, U9 soccer … I watch anything.

I remember watching Messi nutmeg James Milner so bad in a Champions League game that it made me stand up and put my hand over my mouth as if I just saw Jaws.

I remember sitting on the bench during the Spirit’s match against Sky Blue FC and seeing Alex Singer nutmeg someone so bad that I screamed “Ohhh” so loud, the players on the field heard me. I felt the same excitement each time. It’s the same skill. It’s the same beauty. It’s the same feeling.

So for anyone who hasn’t given women’s soccer a try, this summer is a great time to do so. The World Cup starts next month. It’s on TV. You don’t have to leave your couch.

The players are of the highest quality. The teams are organized and have a style that is their own. And the passion. The passion is what the beautiful game brings out of us. Whether we’re playing or watching. It’s the passion that keeps us coming back, to watch it, to play it, to feel it, to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.

The soccer world is a big one. Huge actually. Just ask FIFA – they’re making the billions off it.

There are lots of different ways the game is played, with lots of opinions of what good soccer is. At the end of the day, the game is the game. Good soccer will always be in the opinion of the beholder. Sometimes Chelsea sits in and parks the bus. I don’t think it’s good soccer, but I watch and learn and appreciate it for what it is.

I always will.

It’s the game that brings me back. Not the people playing it.