“They are our Girls” – On a Mission for World Cup Glory
“At this point it’s about who wants it more? Who leaves it all on the field?”
Common verbiage to hear after a big win. Hear those words, picture a large, sweaty, face painted male or a hoarse voiced coach answering questions in a packed press room.
But slowly and surely a group of 21 strong, gifted, and FEMALE athletes are not only trying to change a country’s opinion on a sport but also on women athletes.
Soccer. For some reason its a divisive word. Perhaps we should change the social rule, “Don’t talk religion or politics” to include, “and don’t mention soccer.” You are either like me, a lover of the sport, or you hate it. The people who lay somewhere in between are a small and less vocal group. Either it’s one of the most thrilling and challenging games around or it’s a boring sport played by people who perfect falling over more than any athletic skill. And as an avid fan of the sport, I will admit, there is a fair share of “flopping” – the technical term for fall over, faking an injury in hopes of getting a free kick, the ref giving the opposing team a yellow card, or simply to waste some time. There also can be a fair amount of “boring-ness”. The game is 90 minutes long. A 1-0 game can be thrilling, but for a nation that loves offense and scoring, soccer can leave much to be desired.
So when, last Sunday, the United States Women’s Nation Team played perhaps the most compelling game of soccer I have ever witnessed and when my time line was filled with nearly everyone commenting on it, I was thrilled. Casual fans were treated to everything that soccer brings. Drama, flopping, ref issues, clutch last minute goals, and the ever thrilling penalty kicks.
And as expected, today when the USA played France for the right to play in the World Cup final, viewership – at least in my time line – was up. Like the previous game, the US went ahead early only to find themselves with their backs up against the wall. This is when I started to notice something different in my time line. The worry. The doubt that is generally reserved for the men’s team.
Fans come out for the World Cup, especially last year for the men’s tournament. Its a sense of national pride, games are on all the time, and personally I think Americans just can’t get enough of brackets. But in the world of men’s soccer, the United States is still behind. Continually ranked in the mid-teens internationally, the USMNT is good, but not great. The US professional soccer league, the MLS is growing, but is currently still mostly a place where stars are born and then sent overseas or where overseas stars come for their final dance.
This is NOT the case when it comes to Women’s Soccer. On the ESPY’s, Serena Williams commented that years ago a girl who was good at sports was thought of as a tomboy, something different from what they were supposed to be. And generally in the US, the women’s version of sports are overlooked. I had conversations with people I know, who love soccer and really could have cared less about the Women’s World Cup. But outside of our shores the USWNT is the team people want to be, they are feared by their opponents; playing in the professional league in the United States is something that female stars from around the globe hope to achieve. Since 2008, the US Women’s National Team has been the number one in the world. For the five years before that they were number 2. Not too shabby. Yet, ask most people what they think of or remember about the US Women’s team, and they’re probably going to mention a story about a sports bra.
So this year, I’m on a mission. Almost “a mission from God.” These women, I will support them, I will honor them, I will tell everyone about them. Go back, watch the Brazil game, ESPN has been on board with my mission and has played it a couple of times since last weekend. Watch Hope Solo as she walks to goal before each penalty kick. She stared down each opponent and then slowly walked backwards from them toward goal. She owns that goal. She is a woman, she is an athlete, she is attractive and she kicks butt at what she does.
So Sunday, sit down, watch the United States take on Japan. Root for Abby Wambach to score and become the leading scorer in US history in the World Cup, cheer as Megan Rapinoe – who I like to call Blondie – will come in off the bench and deeply impact the game, and watch as a Swedish born coach, Pia Sundhage, who looks eerily similar to Pete Carroll, by her own admission embraces the USA spirit and hopefully leads this team to the World Cup title.
Watch them not just because they’re the one of the best teams in the world, not just because of the jingoistic desire to see your country win, but because they are beautiful women who are beyond athletically talented and are beyond deserving of respect.
They are competitive, focused, and on the cusp of winning the World Cup. See you Sunday.