Archive for Thursday, July 21, 2011

U.S. Women’s World Cup gave us reason to like soccer

July 21, 2011

One of the most important moments in American women’s sports came with a result that wasn’t expected and in a sport that has fought to make it into the limelight.

The United States Women’s National Soccer Team lost in a painful-to-watch set of penalty kicks to the national team from Japan in the Women’s World Cup Final Sunday. It was a wannabe repeat of the 1999 final that made Brandi Chastain famous, but the U.S. came up just short in round two.

The scoreboard will show that the United States lost Sunday, but in two important ways, the match was a success.

I understand that just by writing about soccer, I’ve lost some readers to other pages. To some of the population, soccer is that silly game where players can’t use their hands (like at all?), the clock continuously runs (who came up with these crazy rules?) and the final score won’t be 24-17 or 97-89 (as if baseball is higher scoring).

I won’t get into why people’s arguments that the teams don’t score enough or they don’t understand the rules are ridiculous. If you only find high-scoring sports exciting, then you are probably missing an appreciation for the sport, and if you don’t understand the game, you haven’t watched enough to learn.

Soccer has made strides throughout the past decade in the United States, but Americans still do not welcome the sport like the rest of the world does. Leading this stride has been the men’s side of the game, but the dramatics of the USWNT games in this World Cup grabbed the attention of the country. And it did so possibly as much or more than the 1999 team because in 1999 the game was still so unknown to the greater American population.

I don’t think soccer will become the No. 1 sport in America. But what I do think is this team has and will inspire more teenage, and younger, girls to pick up and love the sport. That is the first way I think Sunday’s losing match, and the entire tournament was a success. This team proved again that American women can succeed in this European game.

Baldwin High School will have its inaugural girl’s soccer season next spring and Baker’s women’s soccer team finished last season as one of the best teams in the NAIA, so it is not as if soccer is an after thought everywhere. These women clearly love the sport and should be supported.

I’m sure many women soccer players from across the country were watching Sunday’s match, studying the players and wishing to be in their position one day. Hopefully this will motivate them to continue to train and work together to be successful in and promote the sport they love.

Which leads me to the second way the match was a success.

Unity.

I don’t like the saying that sports are a distraction from everyday life. The word distraction makes it seem unimportant. It’s a well-needed enhancer of everyday life that allows for relaxation and mind release from the rest of your life, if only for a couple of hours.

The other power of sports is that it brings people together, especially when it involves a national team, regardless of the sport. Whether it’s high-fiving your father at the stadium, gathering in Times Square in New York City to watch the game on a giant screen with complete strangers or sharing your thoughts as the match is happening on social media sites, sports have the power to unite.

Americans, from the president to actors to myself, were all sitting in front of the TV, united in our goal of watching, and in our patriotism of the national team. So for a couple hours at least, all Americans had something in common; they wanted to see their country prevail. It didn’t matter that this sport has been fifth-rate in the U.S. for years, people united with this match.

The United States did not prevail, but the pride of the country did, and hopefully watching the excitement of that match, and all the wild twists and turns that unfolded within it, will bring greater appreciation to soccer in America.

Although a United States loss was difficult to watch, it is hard not to be happy for Japan to win months after an earthquake and tsunami devastated the country. The Japanese win will not restore houses or buildings, but it gave the people a reason to be happy and celebrate, as a country.

And for the United States players and fans, they will work hard for the next four years, and once again rally around 21 players in a hopefully more familiar sport.

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