Every few years, from the hazy ether of world sport, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team rises up and seems to unite a nation like no other team has in a decade or more. One would have to go all the way back to the 1980 U.S. Men’s Hockey team or, if not that far, than at least back to the U.S. Women’s Soccer team’s World Cup-winning iteration in 1991 to find a similar sports squad.
They are easy to root for. They are a great team, but a flawed one, and certainly not dominant. Japan, Brazil and even Canada have caught up. They haven’t won the World Cup since 1999.
With today’s tense 2-1 win over Japan, they are gold medal winners for the fourth time. But they give us drama in both victory and defeat. Witness last year’s shoot-outs in the World Cup, the dramatic win over Brazil in the semifinals, and the equally dramatic loss to Japan in the finals. Or how about this year’s 4-3 stunner over Canada?
A handful of the players are transcendent. Abby Wambach is one of the best women’s players in history, with a knack for game-changing plays.
Some of them are controversial. Goalkeeper Hope Solo was once booted off the national squad after trash-talking a teammate. Then she tested positive for a banned substance before these Olympics, but claimed it came from her pre-mentsrual medication. During the Games she very publicly berated former U.S. star and now-TV commentator, Brandi Chastain, for shoddy game analysis. Wambach, in what some viewed as an utter lack of sportsmanship, pointed out to a ref in the Olympic semifinal that the Canadian goalkeeper was holding on to the ball for too long. The ref made the almost unheard-of call, which eventually led to a tying goal, overtime and a U.S. victory.
They are human. Megan Rapinoe, the tow-headed midfielder, came out before the Olympics. Her teammates supported her. The nation didn’t bat an eye.
They are fun. Alex Morgan is the pony-tailed player perfectly nicknamed “Baby Horse.” She plays with unbridled joy.
These players have no professional league of their own. The Women’s Professional Soccer League shut down this season after three years. There is talk of starting a new league next season, but the history of women’s pro soccer leagues offers little in the way of hope that it will last very long.
It is doubtful that we will hear of many of these players until the next World Cup (2015 in Canada) and next Olympics (2016 in Brazil). We’ll never see some of them on the pitch again.
The players will share just a $1.5 million bonus for winning the gold ($25,000 each), a paltry sum when measured by the takes other professional athletes in the world’s biggest sports leagues. Some of the players have cashed in already on their marketability. Hope Solo has endorsements with Gatorade, Bank of America, Blackberry and Electronic Arts. Some will certainly cash in on these Olympics. Look for Alex Morgan to be featured more prominently by her sponsors, Nike and Coca-Cola.