Pulled from the archives (circa 1995) when Team U.S.A. took 3rd place in the Women’s World Cup, which is one place worse than today’s result. So Chin Up, ladies! Also, we wore scrunchies!
I have lots of thoughts about today’s game, about this 2011 team and about the sport of women’s soccer in general and not one of them has to do with today’s loss.
When I started playing soccer in the backyard with my father, I was a 6 year old Umbro-wearing tomboy who idolized Wayne Gretzky, Borris Becker and Bo Jackson. Back then, there were no Mia Hamms. There was no Title IX. In my tiny puma cleats we would pass the ball back and forth until it got dark, never speaking, never plotting, never planning for career to be born from this tradition. It was just a methodical exchange of back and forth over a well manicured suburban lawn. Back then, it was about instilling the core fundamentals in a highly distracted, exceedingly over-active child. Teamwork, athleticism, modesty and sportsmanship; these were the life lessons that would keep me out of trouble in the classroom and someday, maybe give me a sense of confidence in the boardroom. Either way, it was never even about soccer, specifically. It could just as easily have been basketball or softball or activity that included the word ball. Soccer just turned out to be the vehicle.
As we stood on the sideline in this photo, watching our starting line-up take the pregame photograph, I still catch my breath a little, completely awestruck by the amazing women I got to play with. The Michelle Akers, the Julie Foudys, the Carla Overbecks and the Kristine Lillys. I stood shoulder to shoulder with the women who would define a generation of female sports figures and eventually become the larger-than-life role models we never had. That they never had.
In 1991 a bunch of rag-tag American women with slouchy socks and questionable perms surprised the world when they won the first ever Women’s World Cup. Four years later, we fell short (my contributions included cheering loudly from the bench) and took third. The comeback victory in 1999 left an indelible imprint on the hearts and minds of a nation and sent black Nike sports bra sales through the roof, courtesy of Brandi Chastain’s famous post-PK disrobing. It signified Our Arrival as a contender in the world’s most popular sport. And in the decade since then, this World Cup title has eluded us, but not for our lack of talent or preparation.
The stinging consolation in today’s loss is that we’ve arguably never fielded a more fit, more disciplined, more talented squad of women. The parity of the women’s game signifies more than just an isolated 4-year cyclical interest in hot chicks with pony tails and toned legs competing in this game invented by men. Today’s loss continues to symbolize our collective ascension to the podium where little girls can look at these women and announce with conviction, “I want to be like Hope Solo when I grow up.”
The hardware will collect dust and the accolades will be archived, but the these women did their jobs. They never apologized for being too competitive or too much to handle. They never compared themselves to the men and never, ever found themselves lacking. They gritted their way through three weeks of high intensity soccer played out on the world stage and despite this pollyanish summation; they won. We all did. For witnessing in high definition what heroes look like. What driven women can achieve. What shape and form beauty looks like absent of catalog definitions and BMI suggestions.
Today more than ever, I am so fucking proud of these women. For being the fighters, the role models and the female ambassadors we still need for the 5 year old learning that it’s okay to play rough to the 35 year old realizing her athleticism is hardly a fault or a flaw. There should be no hung heads or apologies for today’s defeat. Our gratitude is boundless and so many of our hearts have been refueled with hope and hunger and an appetite to achieve great things.