Friday, July 15, 2011

Will the Women’s World Cup Team finally score at home?

We’ve been here before. 1999, Brandi Chastain lining up the penalty kick at the Rose Bowl. A crowd of over 90-thousand, standing with anticipation. The part time defender and midfielder approaches the ball, blast the leather with her left foot and finds the back of the net! As the Chinese Keeper looks on in disappointment the stadium erupts and Chastain goes shirtless! The rest is history! The second Women’s World Cup Championship in the history of the United States. That team with superstars such as Chastain, Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy found fame and fortune with the results of that tournament. The team still lives on in historic proportions as far as women’s soccer goes, but that’s it.

While the popularity of the women’s game picked up after that dramatic victory 12 years ago, it never reached the same heights as the men’s game. While youth soccer leagues all over the country flourished it never translated into the sports psyche of the adult American sports fan. In 2003 the WUSA a major women’s professional league, folded before the world cup of that year, and just four years after the historic United States win in ‘99’. While the men’s game remains dominant all over the world, it still takes a backseat here in the good old USA. The NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball and NHL control the sports entertainment dollar no matter what seems to take place in the World Cup for the men or women. Now, the men probably have plenty to do with the lack of carry-over popularity here at home. The best the fellas have ever finished in the World Cup Tourney, third place way back in 1930.

So here we are again. On Sunday the United States, with a new crop of stars, goes after history one more time. Not only can the red, white and blue capture the Cup Championship with a victory over Japan in Frankfurt, Germany, the U.S. can become the first women’s team in history to win a third World Cup Title. Not only has the team reached the championship match, but the stars, Wambach, Rapone, Rapinoe, Solo and others have done it in dramatic fashion! In the quarter-finals Abby Wambach scored the latest goal in cup history, sending the match against Brazil to penalty kicks. In the semi-final it was Wambach again with the late header in the 78th minute to secure victory for the Americans. This has been stuff only Hollywood writers usually come up with!

But history has taught us, no matter what the outcome on Sunday, this is as far as the popularity train will roll. While the match against Brazil was the most watched television audience for the women, since the win over China in 1999, they still don’t excite the country about the “beautiful game”, the way the men could. The reason for this has to be because the United States men’s squad is still far behind the elite teams in the rest of the world. That means it’s a challenge for Americans when we watch the men try to battle Brazil, England or the Germans. Our country loves a good challenge and the rest of the world enjoys being able to beat us at something. If the men could ever find the success of the women in international play that would change the dynamic of soccer’s place here at home. The players would share the stage with the Peyton Manning’s and Kobe Bryant’s in American Sports Heroism. Look at how popular the Wayne Rooney’s of the world are in their respective countries. That in turn, would grab the attention of the best young athletes in our country and steer them in the direction of a soccer field. The best young athletes in the United States hit the hardwood, football field or diamond. That’s where our stars shine. Until there are male soccer stars on the big stage of the American sports conscious, Sunday’s outcome for the ladies will be just another kick for soccer in this country, but not a score.

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