Up on that little championship stage were the soccer champions from the United States, who had just won the World Cup on the field, with skill and resolve.
These champions are the products of the Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, which required schools and colleges receiving federal money to provide the same opportunities for girls as they did for boys.
Since everybody gets money from the dreaded meddling federal government, this was a boost for young women to play sports, just as young men do in this country.
That act changed life for young women, who took gym class, if there were any, in floppy gym outfits, with no game uniforms or gym time or teams or schedules, and no challenges.
Without Title IX, there would have been no Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle coming back from hamstring twinges to score goals in the 2-0 victory over the Netherlands.
There would have been no Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath bedeviling the very able Dutch keeper, no Alyssa Naeher guarding the goal, no trio of big-timers racing in as substitutes late in the match.
Title IX created a dynasty, dominating the world’s favorite sport – charismatic players, getting better all the time, and just as important, a goad to the more progressive nations in Europe to keep going with their women’s programs.
This wonderful World Cup (in the great French city of Lyon) seemed to capture even more of the American attention. They are America’s great national team, ongoing.
None of these raves are meant to shame the American men’s soccer program, which draws from a vastly smaller portion of the population, given the deserved popularity of great team sports like basketball, baseball, hockey, lacrosse and, while negative medical evidence keeps pouring in, American football.
In a rare double-dip of championship games, the current American men’s squad played Mexico Sunday evening in the finals of the Gold Cup, an odd-year regional competition.
For a while, early in this century, it appeared the U.S. was catching up in soccer, given some epic matches in recent World Cups – the dos-a-cero thumping they put on Mexico in the 2002 round of 16, the last-moment rally against Algeria in 2010, Tim Howard’s epic game in goal against Portugal in 2014. But the U.S. could not even qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
On Sunday evening, in the awesome setting of Soldier Field of Chicago's lakefront, fans of both teams gathered with costumes and chants. The Americans looked like an upgrade under new coach Gregg Berhalter, and dominated the first 15-20 minutes, but then Mexico asserted itself and finally scored in the 73rd minute, which, as the Fox announcer said as the ball went into the nets, had been coming on for a while. Uno a cero somehow felt even worse.
Where are great young American athletes like the ones currently playing in the summer rookie league of the N.B.A? Could the U.S. soccer federation do better about developing Latino talent and African-American players like one of my all-time favorites, DaMarcus Beasley, who happened to top out at 5 feet, 8 inches? Don’t hold your breath.
The American women's program has such a wider reach for talented athletes who have played scholastic and college soccer. One of the best U.S. players on Sunday was Crystal Dunn, who plays attack for her club but had been a quiet, stay-at-home left back (Beasley’s best position) until Sunday, when the plan seemed to have her moving forward, attacking, diverting, and then rushing back to guard her lane.
Title IX has made many contributions in education and life itself; on Sunday there was a stage full of the best and the brightest – Title IX’s daughters.
NYT article about Title IX legacy:
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My previous articles on WWC 2019:
There are other players worth watching in this Women’s World Cup, not just the American captain with the pink hair. Megan Rapinoe sat out the 2-1 victory over England on Tuesday with a hamstring injury, but the high level of soccer continued, from both teams.
The details of the match are known – Alyssa Naeher, the American keeper, saved a penalty kick in the 84th minute -- but the overall impression of the match is worth discussing: women’s soccer has reached a new level.
Tuesday’s match saw both sides make outlet passes to the exact right place on the field and the teammate would advance the ball in the third leg of the triangle. The skill level and the tactical level have come so far from the early days.
I have great admiration for the stalwarts from China, Norway, Germany, Brazil, Japan and the United States who dominated the first three or four World Cups, starting in 1991 in China.
They were great days, and I relish the memories of Linda Medalen of Norway and Michelle Akers of the U.S. and the others.
But it seems to me that many players today have physical and technical skills beyond that first wave. I watched Wéndèleine Thérèse Renard of France, the tallest player in this World Cup, at 6-foot-1, moving up from left back to flick in a header.
The common wisdom was that the loss to the U.S. should have been the final. Then came Tuesday’s match between England and the U.S., two tough teams, with good moves and nasty little tricks. That could have been a final, too.
England’s Ellen White, rangy and physical, scored a goal, had another disallowed, and then was whacked for a penalty kick, which a teammate took, a feeble effort, saved by Naeher, diving the right way.
When last seen, White was teary-eyed but applauding the English fans in far corners of the Stade de Lyon – a warrior, in the tradition of Linda Medalen, Oslo cop.
The U.S. team played well together, not seeming to miss its captain, who takes the free kicks and penalty kicks. The American players were excellent but the team cohesion was even better than the individuals.
Some male fans used to scoff at the heart and charisma of the female champs of the ‘90s, saying the women were too slow, too small, to even be compared to male World Cup level. But as my college-age grandson – a soccer maven – texted me the other day, “The women’s game is way closer to the men’s than many would give it credit for.”
This was apparent in Tuesday’s semifinal.
It is another age
(Tuesday's game blog and early story in NYT:)
(Below: my ode to Megan Rapinoe, who sat this one out, plus comments, including several by Alan Rubin, former college keeper, now a mentor to keepers. His insights into Naeher are valuable: )
Some athletes just get to you.
They blend physical ability and skill…and attitude.
We’ve all got our favorites.
I’ve been a fan of Megan Rapinoe since she materialized on the U.S. women’s soccer team in 2011, not quite a regular because of her quirkiness, which is part of her charm.
At first, I described her as a “loose cannon” and wondered why the Swedish-born U.S. coach, Pia Sundhage, stayed with her. A reader emailed me to describe her as “a wood elf.” That, too. I could not take my eyes off her because…you never knew.
Then, in a quarterfinal against Brazil, trailing in the 122nd minute, Rapinoe unleashed a laser directly to the hard head of Abby Wambach, for the tying goal that helped send the U.S. to the finals against Japan (which they would lose.)
By now, it was clear, to Sundhage (herself a piece of work), to the U.S. players, to fans, and to me, that Rapinoe was one of those players you had to watch, even when she was acting impetuously, making a bad pass or an unnecessary dribble, because….you never knew.
These days, Rapinoe is the captain of the U.S. with hair dyed the color of pink Champagne, the captain who does not put her hand over her heart or sing the National Anthem as a gesture to many causes. She has attracted the criticism of the American president who shrinks and titters in the presence of the menacing Putin. Tough guy.
The criticism doesn’t seem to bother Rapinoe, although she can be thrown off her game. I was watching her during the round-of-16 match against Spain last week. She converted an early penalty kick and then she kept trying to crack the Spanish right back, Marta Corredera, a 27-year-old pro who was having none of it.
Corredera jostled Rapinoe time after time, and Rapinoe kept trying, while the rest of the U.S. offense went dormant. The U.S. captain had, to use a technical soccer term, lost her mind.
It got so bad that when Corredera stopped her yet again, Rapinoe lost her balance and her hand just happened to smack Corredera across the face, purely an accident, you understand, but the ref gave her a yellow card just the same, meaning Rapinoe now had to be cautious for the rest of the match, and beyond.
It shook Rapinoe so much that she converted another penalty kick late in the match to nail it down. (Alex Morgan had been in position to take the PK but the captain took it, after a pause for a video review.)
Then on Friday, Rapinoe whacked a free kick, a grass-skimmer through the legs of the sturdy French defense and under the hands of the keeper for yet another early U.S. goal. Then she ran to an American section and saluted the fans with both hands in operatic fashion, like a Roman warrior home from the front.
Late in the game she made an enlightened run from the left as the lethal Tobin Heath (a great dribbler and one of the most undersung U.S. players) fired the ball across the middle and Rapinoe drilled another goal.
So that’s why I love to watch Megan Rapinoe. Her gracefulness reminds me of the late Jana Novotna, a ballerina masquerading as a tennis player. And her fire and intelligence and skill remind me of Martina Navratilova, who has become one of the great voices in sport, and beyond.
On Tuesday at 3 PM, the U.S. plays England in a semifinal. I’ll be watching Megan Rapinoe, roaming the left side, looking for her chance.
* * *
My NYT blog on Rapinoe’s game-saving pass in 2011:
More on Sundhage/Rapinoe:
2019: Rapinoe attracts Trump's flighty attention:
While some of us are fretting over the Americans' 13-0 drubbing of Thailand in the Women’s World Cup, let us look for the reasons for the mismatch.
Let us look at FIFA. You remember FIFA, the world soccer body, once seen suffering mass arrests of officials in a lush Swiss hotel, for legal and financial improprieties.
That FIFA. The world soccer federation, that gave us the brokered convention that led to Russia holding the 2018 World Cup for men in Russia (reasonable enough) and the 2022 World Cup coming up in Qatar, that world powerhouse in the hot desert.
That convention was marked by packets of American $100 bills to buy the votes of delegates.
I believe the “A” in FIFA stands for Avarice.
Now FIFA is lusting to expand its men’s World Cup from 48 teams to 64, as soon as it can get away with it. This will somehow make more money for the friendly folks from FIFA, even if it guts the grand institution of qualifying regional tournaments, with quadrennial upsets of established teams.
What? You thought the cupidity and stupidity ended with the canning of goofy old Sepp Blatter? There’s more where he came from. (Now there is talk of starting a permanent super-team league in Europe; these people must hate their own sport.)
What does this catalogue of avarice have to do with the 13-0 goalfest by Alex Morgan and her teammates? Plenty. Expansion produced the one-sided match.
To be fair to FIFA, it did create a women’s World Cup in 1991, with 12 teams in China, and the United States winning. FIFA recognized the talent and desire to play on the part of women, and the WWC challenged nations that treated women as second-rate citizens in sports as well as more important ways. The WWC spurred FIFA to expand to 16 and then to 24 in 2015.
Group play was sometimes ragged, but as nations caught on, there were more competitive teams. The United States – boosted by Title IX legislation plus the appeal of women’s sports – won three of the first seven World Cups, but never lacked for worthy opponents.
Veterans of early World Cups will not forget the vigilance of Linda Medalen, an Oslo cop, who anchored the back line and loved to beat up on the Yanks. Or Ann-Kristen Aarones whose header provided an early lead in the 1995 semifinal, won by Norway. Or the Chinese stalwarts who pushed the U.S. into a shootout in the 1999 finals. Or Birgit Prinz who anchored the German team in 2003 that knocked out the U.S. in the semifinals, or Marta, the gunner who scored twice in Brazil’s 4-0 victory over the U.S. in the 2007 final, or Homare Sawa, the smooth Japanese midfielder who sparked a shootout victory in the 2011 final.
The point is, nations have been shamed or inspired to upgrade women’s soccer, producing great players and dangerous teams – Sweden, Canada, and so on. But let’s be realistic: the women’s sport has produced rivalries and memories and technical skills but not the kind of depth that can fill out a competitive 24-team format.
Soccer doesn't lend itself to showing superfluous mercy. Plus, male World Cup defenders are big enough to fill up the field a bit more, nasty enough to grind down opponents and wily enough to kill the clock, to minimize losses, even to settle a few scores in the closing minutes (a memorable cheap shot by an Italian player against a Spanish opponent in 1994) plus operatic swoons by the divas of the male game (women do not dive, essentially.)
The women stay on their feet, and they keep on playing, which led to that 13-0 mismatch the other day. I read a story in the Times by Hannah Beech, the great correspondent in Bangkok, about the impact of that loss. Life went on, she reported.
As clearly seen in the opener, the U.S. has waves of talent, worthy of Michelle Akers and Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach and so many other stars of past World Cups. But down the line, they are going to meet opponents with the swagger of Medalen or the talent of Prinz or the poise of Sawa or the opportunism of Marta.
Save your scorn for FIFA as it lusts for a totally unnecessary 64-team World Cup, as soon as the barons of FIFA can slip it in.
I stopped watching the Mets a month ago, when they reverted to 1962 ineptitude. I normally don’t watch the Yankees or network broadcasts, but I probably will check out the post-season.
Meantime, baseball remains the best writing/reading sport of all. Here are four new books I recommend, in season or out:
The Pride of the Yankees: Lou Gehrig, Gary Cooper, and the Making of a Classic. Richard Sandomir. Hachette Books.
As a young Brooklyn fan and later as a young reporter, I could hear the melancholy echoes of Lou Gehrig’s farewell, echoing under the eaves of the old (the real) Yankee Stadium.
Gehrig remains a phenomenon for his 15 steals of home (all on the back end of a delayed steal but, with his thick legs, quite an accomplishment) and his 2,130 consecutive-game streak as well as the terrible way he died, from a disease that would bear his name.
The latest talented observer to write about Gehrig is Richard Sandomir, a friend and colleague from the New York Times, in his compelling new book, “The Pride of the Yankees,” which Sandomir calls “the first great sports film.”
Sandomir covered sports media for decades and now uses his talents in the prestigious obituary section of the Times. He conveys the man and the movie as a story for the ages, noting that producer Sam Goldwyn wanted to make a love story about a doomed man.
“Goldwyn didn’t see the value in a baseball story – a game he thought was played with twelve bases on a field,” Sandomir notes.
Goldwyn did not care that Gary Cooper looked like a 1962 Met when he tried to swing or throw or run. I learned in this book that Cooper, from Montana, had never played baseball, not once. But Sandomir quotes the noted director, Howard Hawks, as saying, “The grand thing about Cooper is that you believe everything that he says or does.”
Getting people to believe. How courant.
Sandomir brilliantly describes how myth-making is enhanced by bending reality.
Eleanor Gehrig was not the demure lass depicted by Teresa Wright; she was a daughter of privilege from Chicago who had done a bit of roaring in the Roaring Twenties before she met the shy mother’s-boy from a German section of Manhattan.
In real life, Gehrig, after months of stumbling on the field, told the manager in a hotel that it was time for him to stop playing. In the movie, Gehrig is replaced at first base in the middle of a game – because it is more dramatic.
Sandomir is the perfect writer to depict the murky border between reality and art.
Electric October: Seven World Series Games, Six Lives, Five Minutes of Fame That Lasted Forever. Kevin Cook. Henry Holt and Company.
Just as in a Shakespearean play, in a World Series involving Joe DiMaggio and Jackie Robinson, the minor characters are fascinating, too.
Cook depicts six characters in epic World Series – managers Bucky Harris and Burt Shotton, Brooklyn’s Cookie Lavagetto who broke up a no-hit attempt and beat Bill Bevens in the ninth; Bevens, who would never be the same; George Stirnweiss of the Yankees, a war-time regular who managed one good World Series when the stars came back; and Al Gionfriddo of the Dodgers, who made a great catch on DiMaggio in left field, the last play Gionfriddo would make in the majors. (I once stood next to Gionfriddo at a reunion in the early 80’s; he was tiny, 5-6 at the most.)
Cook’s best work is researching the rest of their lives, after that antic World Series – faith, failures, early death, and a few ripe old ages.
The Year of the Pitcher: Bob Gibson, Denny McLain and the End of Baseball’s Golden Age. Sridhar Pappu. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Wait, 1968 was the end of the Golden Age? Didn’t the Mets win the World Series in 1969? Sorry.
Pappu ably describes year of the pitcher, which forced baseball to lower the mounds from 15 inches to 10. Gibson was driven; McLain was corrupt; both were sensational. (Mickey Lolich became Detroit’s star in the Series.)
Pappu interviewed me at length about Gibson, whom I admire, beyond his testiness (or maybe because of it.)
Making My Pitch: A Woman’s Baseball Odyssey. Ila Jane Borders with Jean Hastings Ardell. University of Nebraska Press.
Borders managed to play in male leagues into high school, college and an independent league on a team owned by Mike Veeck in the late 90s. She had her moments as a pro and won the respect of most teammates and fans. Borders touchingly describes her personal and family life. I did not know much about her until this book and I have great admiration for her.
Enjoy the rest of the season.
Abby Wambach hurled herself into the scrum, raised her forehead above the crowd, and drilled home more goals than any player in American soccer history.
She took her hits, including a gruesome broken leg, but remained a towering presence even as a role player and leader in her last Women’s World Cup which she helped win in 2015.
Now she has revealed more about herself in a brave and revealing new book, “Forward,” written with the help of Karen Abbott. She talks about her use of alcohol and pills, and says she is clean and sober now.
(Disclosure: The editor of this book at HarperCollins is the talented Julia Cheiffetz, who brought a better baseball history book out of me than I ever could have done on my own.)
Wambach also talks about realizing she was attracted to women, and how she came out to family, friends, teammates and the public.
More than any athlete I have read about, Wambach is open about the touches and glances and courtships and breakups in her private life – plus, how her moods have disrupted her marriage to a former teammate.
Wambach also talks about the challenges of being large and athletic from an early age – taking the hits on the field, and off. At least once in college she jumped a football player who had made a comment about her.
The injuries and stress are right out of Peter Gent’s book, “North Dallas Forty,” in which football players need this pill to get going in the morning and that pill to go out on the practice field, and that other pill to mask the pain afterward.
The pain of soccer and the pain of her inner life seemed to overlap for Wambach, although she was fortunate to have a strong family, a close male friend since college, and several former companions and teammates who came to realize her torments.
In one of the strongest moments in the book, Wambach’s team roommate, Sydney Leroux, married and “straight,” realizes Wambach is crying in the next bed, and removes her ear plugs and then takes “careful steps to my bed. She lies down and makes room for herself, crying right along with me.”
Leroux and others offer wise intervention, but is it enough?
After several attempts at sobriety, Wambach stops drinking and abusing pills, which is where the book ends.
Having written a book with an alcoholic baseball player, Bob Welch, I am a strong supporter of organized rehab. Bob went through an emotional month at a center, and I later spent a week at the same clinic so I would understand Bob and the process.
The first step is admission of powerlessness. I think Wambach is saying she was powerless over alcohol and pills, so I wish she had put herself in an organized setting, to be confronted by trained counselors and recovering addicts and friends and family.
As she knows from her 184 goals, the best headers come from a buildup and skilled passes from teammates.
Abby Wambach is now doing television commentary and making speeches, being presented as a role model. I am rooting for this complicated and passionate person, as her story goes “Forward.”
American boorishness is not confined to domestic usage. We export a good bit of it, too.
I am thinking here of the disgraceful behavior of Ryan Lochte and Hope Solo in the past two weeks.
Lochte apparently has spent so much of his life in chlorine that it has pickled his brain. He did not realize Brazil just might have security cameras that would detect an Olympic celebrity with dyed light blue hair after he and three pals claimed to have been robbed at gunpoint. (It appears they broke into a restroom. Geniuses.)
Solo indulged in unsportsmanlike whining after the American soccer team was defeated by Sweden, calling her opponents “cowardly” for their conservative tactics.
Solo was detracting from Sweden’s coach, Pia Sundhage, who used to coach the Americans. The Swedes lulled the quicker, more potent Americans into forays, and then struck on the counter-attack.
But let’s pass over the two loutish athletes and concentrate on the women’s final Friday as Germany outlasted Sweden, 2-1, to win the Olympic gold medal.
Women’s soccer has only been in the Olympics since 1996, and this was the first time two female coaches had reached the finals – Silvia Neid of Germany and Sundhage of Sweden, both of whose athletic sideline prowling and grayish manes allow me to use the word “leonine.”
Sundhage is one of the really cool coaches I have ever met. Sometimes to loosen up her players she will emit a folk song. When the U.S. beat Brazil, 1-0, in the finals of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the press prodded her to sing Bob Dylan. She obliged with a quickie from “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”
I have a personal short list of coaches I would like to have played for, if I were an athlete, that is -- Gil Hodges in baseball, Al Arbour in hockey, Dean Smith in basketball and Herman Edwards in football. (Edwards is a guru who earnestly tried to teach doltish reporters to trust our own faculties. He had a mantra: “The eye/Don’t lie.”)
A decade ago, I expanded my list to include Sundhage, the wandering Swede, who was coaching the Americans, quite successfully.
It annoyed me when Solo made a spectacle of herself by asking for replacement keeper gloves when Sweden had a chance to clinch with the next penalty kick.
The Swedish kicker converted, anyway, and soon Solo ripped Pia’s hunkering tactics, which have merely won championships. I saw Italy’s men win the 1982 World Cup by using an updated version of the catenaccio (the bolt, or chain, in Italian) defense – tight back line, and counter-attack when an opening presents itself.
"Let's inspire, let's be badass, let's be fierce, let's be competitive,” Megan Rapinoe, the artful American winger, told NBC the other day. “But we're gracious and we're humble, and we play the game a certain way, whether we win or lose."
Rapinoe added, “And we've been on the winning side quite a bit, and when we find ourselves on the other side, we need to handle that graciously, and unfortunately that wasn't the case."
Sweden lost as Germany, looking fresher and faster, scored once, pressured an own goal, and then hung on defensively (would Solo say “cowardly?)
Now the question is, what does the footloose Sundhage do next?
Recently, Henrik Rydström, a member of the Swedish national men’s squad, suggested that Sundhage would make a fine coach for his team.
A reporter asked Sundhage whether a woman could really coach a national men’s team. Her response, in Swedish, as translated by Business Insider:
“Well, then, let me ask you a question. Does it work with a female chancellor in Germany?”
Pia then spelled it out for reporters:
“Angela Merkel” (is running) an entire “f------ country. Clearly it works.”
Clearly, female coaches work for female players. And let me throw this out: there is another country that seems 88 percent likely to elect a female President in November.
One of these years, Juergen Klinsmann will move on. Pia Sundhage should be on the short list.
Plus, she already knows our folk songs.
As soon as the ball clanged out of Yoenis Céspedes’ glove, I texted another Met fan: “I’m sick of Cespedes.”
The $27.5-million man (just this season) loafed after an easy out to left field, not wanting to expend too much energy in the first inning of opening day.
It must be nice to be that cool.
Fortunately, somebody in the booth was ready to call it for the attitude error that it was: Jessica Mendoza, who has become an essential part of ESPN broadcasts.
“I’m an outfielder,” she said, not needing to mention she was a star on the USA 2004 Olympic champion softball team in Athens.
Mendoza said it made her mad to watch outfielders drift toward a ball without bothering to catch up with it and protect themselves by raising their bare hand as insurance. She was old-school. Purist. And absolutely right.
Both Céspedes and Mendoza were picking up where they left off last season – he with his maddening nonchalance, she with her player-and-fan knowledge of the game, particularly hitting mechanics.
Mendoza leaped into public awareness last season when Curt Schilling made yet another stupid comment and was off the air. She fit seamlessly and has been paired with Dan Shulman and Aaron Boone, the third-generation major-leaguer, who treats her with collegial respect, calling her “Jess” and asking her opinion. There is none of that clubhouse male buffoonery that mars most MLB-NFL-NBA network broadcasts.
Generally, I am not amused when network coverage intrudes on the Mets and Yankees, preferring to get heightened insights from people who cover the club regularly rather than get filled in the morning of the broadcast.
I was mad that Gary and Keith and Ron were not available to me Sunday night. But Shulman and Boone and Mendoza did not posture and bluster.
I am not surprised about Mendoza, who gave me a terrific interview in 2004 in Athens just before the Games began, when softball was facing its eventual and unfair exclusion. She provided a thoughtful glimpse of the athletes’ village and talked about her own sport. I found the link here:
We in New York have had another female broadcaster – Suzyn Waldman, the long-time Yankee radio color announcer, working the clubhouse and paying attention to the game as complement to John Sterling’s shtick. Waldman and Mendoza know the game.
On my own, I figured out that David Wright (with his bad back) looked shaky at third and facing fastballs. And I could see how the Mets had upgraded defensively with Asdrubal Cábrera at short and Neil Walker at second. That will save a game or three. No more cringing every time a ball goes near Daniel Murphy.
Now I cringe when a ball goes near Céspedes in left field.
It’s a new baseball season. Life begins.
There is not a single statue of a real woman in Central Park. Good grief.
I did not know that until Thursday when Jami Floyd did a segment on WNYC-FM about this ludicrous injustice.
Juliet of Verona. Mother Goose. Forty-four statues of men, but none of women who actually walked this earth. .
My first response was, of course, Grete Waitz. She flitted through the streets of New York like a super-powered sprite from Norway, nine times ending up in Central Park as the winner of the New York Marathon.
And still no statue?
One could argue that her athletic achievement was the greatest by a female athlete within the borders of the big city. She owned the town, nine Sundays in November. She set an example of talent, grace and will, and New Yorkers claim her, despite the statue of her in Oslo.
Waitz passed way too young in 2011, at the age of 57. She remains the embodiment of the sport. Men and women think about her when they put one foot after another.
I know there is a statue of Fred Lebow, the big macher who built the New York Marathon, on the east side of Central Park. I jogged a few miles alongside them, through Brooklyn, in 1992, the day Waitz escorted Lebow, who was dying of brain cancer, on his last run around the city. But this is no time for Tracy-and-Hepburn sentiment.
Waitz deserves her own statue, right near the finish line on the west side of the park.
Obviously, there are hundreds of deserving women to right this wrong. My mom is out there, telling me, “Eleanor Roosevelt! Dorothy Day! Marian Anderson!"
People were calling WNYC, nominating Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Marie Curie, Jackie Kennedy, dozens of worthy people.
Nobody ever ruled Central Park the way Grete Waitz did. In a New York minute, get her a statue.
The truest words spoken after the Women’s World Cup final were from Megan Rapinoe, the most consistent electric charge in the Americans' seven matches in Canada.
“Our benchmark is winning,” Rapinoe said after the 5-2 victory over Japan. “I would think we would have to be considered one of the best teams there ever was.”
She and her teammates had the right to celebrate that victory, this World Cup, this championship, this year.
They also have the right to be seen in a continuum from the great American team of 1991-1996-1999 -- personified by Christie Pearce Rampone, on the sidelines that day in the Rose Bowl, symbolically on the field Sunday in B.C. Place.
The American women are the greatest long-standing national team outlasting the 1980 American male ice hockey team and the Dream Team of men’s basketball put together for the 1992 Olympics.
The women have taught Americans to appreciate the sport itself – a slower, less powerful but perhaps more visible version of talent and teamwork and perseverance than the men’s game.
Because they came first, I have revered the women of the ‘90’s – the personalities, the skills – comparing them to the Founding Fathers who materialized late in the 18th Century. How could there ever be a collection like Loudy Foudy and Hollywood Chastain and the rest?
The other day I drew a line from Briana Scurry to Hope Solo, audacious keepers, but there are also comparisons between Michelle Akers (still the best female player I have ever seen) to Carli Lloyd, who took over a World Cup final.
Ever since that evening in St-Denis, France, in 1998, I have believed that the best singular performance in a World Cup final was by Zinédine Zidane, who danced and dribbled and passed and headed France to a championship. Take a look:
Now I am willing to put Carli Lloyd in that category for the women’s game, not so much for grace, although goodness knows it takes footwork to run those routes, but for desire. Lloyd has been aching to be delivered from stodgy peripheral assignments.
On Sunday she already had two goals and then lofted a ball from midfield that caught the Japanese keeper out of position, squinting up to the sun, and Lloyd blasted the ball over her fingertips, just because she could – an athlete at the peak of her game. When things calm down, I want to hear Lloyd's description of what she sensed, downfield: Take a look:
Later, Lloyd just missed a fourth goal and you could see the bemused look on her face:: Do I dare regret that? Yes, I do.
They all dared. They all succeeded. They gave us entertainment and terrific football and also sportsmanship, with Japanese and American players treating each other with respect while competing at a high level.
And let us note that FIFA, that disgraced organization, and the absent Sepp Blatter, having as bad a year as Donald Trump, afraid of extradition, did expand the WWC to 24 teams. They gave us new teams that had their moments, like Colombia, out-dribbling and out-juking the Americans in the Round of 16. When the new teams go home, they can tell their federations, look what we did in Canada.
There is a growing history to women’s soccer, ranging from Akers to Linda Medalen, the Norwegian cop who loved to bust on the U.S., to Marta, to the Chinese and the Germans and the Japanese, and now the team of Abby Wambach and those magnificent defenders.
Turns out, the American soccer coach Jill Ellis was exactly right. It did not matter what number was assigned to her formation; what counted was the way the players created their chances.
For the first time in this Women’s World Cup – their fifth match – the Americans showed imagination and teamwork.
Amy Rodriguez dribbled. Kelly O’Hara ran. Tobin Heath lashed left-footed free kicks. Morgan Brian distributed the ball. Where have these people been all our lives?
The result was a 1-0 victory over China Friday night in Ottawa, leading to a semifinal with Germany on Tuesday in Montreal.
I have to add that the energy and cohesion was not merely because Ellis had the wisdom to bench Abby Wambach, thereby allowing Carli Lloyd and everybody else to exploit the spaces and attack on their own.
As Laura Vecsey wrote on foxsports.com:
"’Freedom,’ is what Carli Lloyd said was the difference, though why that freedom to just play has been so hard to drum up remains a curious problem.”
That “freedom” was partially mandated by the absence of Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday, both ineligible because of two previous yellow cards.
Rapinoe is probably my favorite player on this team – independent and athletic, fun to watch – although those young defenders have been a revelation. Still, in the stolid American attack Rapinoe had been taking on too much responsibility. With Rapinoe and Holiday sitting in the stands, their teammates busted out of that 4-4-2 stereotype.
They were not preoccupied with putting the ball near Wambach’s historic dome and they did not watch Rapinoe trying to do it by herself. They found space and they called upon their own talents. Freedom.
I’m not sure whom I would replace to get Rapinoe back in the starting lineup, but her gall and skill will be needed against Germany. The victory over China was a template for this U.S. team. The younger Americans have been let loose
I’ve been enjoying the top end of the Women’s World Cup in Canada, particularly the two draws – Germany vs. Norway and United States vs. Sweden.
My sense is that the players are operating at a higher technical and tactical level than in the legendary era of the great American team holding off Linda Medalen, police-officer/captain of Norway, and the Chinese squad that seemed like the future but wasn’t.
The players I have been seeing can swing the ball from side to side in ways I don’t remember from the 1996-99 era of Akers-Lilly-Hamm and the rest. They know how to widen the field, find a seam, push a ball upfield through traffic.
Watching the Eurohooskies and the Yanks grappling in tight space also tells me they have been working on their WWF tactics necessary in the scrum.
It has been a delight to watch Megan Rapinoe take off on angled romps – clearly the most compelling player so far. She is quoted as saying she is doing her Messi impression, but I would compare her more to Cristiano Ronaldo. She’s got more pizzazz than Messi, or you could call it ego.
Sometimes Rapinoe holds on to the ball too long, missing a teammate, but then again she scored two goals in the opening victory. There is room for ego in this sport. Rapinoe seems to have a dash of Keyshawn Johnson, the receiver who was heard to say, “Just give me the damn ball.”
It’s funny. Before the World Cup, Rapinoe was recuperating, not discussed as a factor, but she is the engine of this team, so far, backed up by energetic younger players named Johnston and Klingenberg and Press and Sauerbrunn.
Abby Wambach is a niche player now. I thought she was coming in for a late header Friday, but her real aim may be drawing a foul in the box. She’s been watching the male strikers, who go down easily to juke the referee.
There is nothing wrong with learning from guys who are bigger, faster, stronger, and play a game that has been evolving for many decades. The other day I read an essay in the Times proposing lowering the basket in women’s basketball. This is totally nuts, because the women’s game is appealing as it is now – rare dunks, but much more power and elevation and gutsiness than a decade or two ago. The men’s game has become a dunkathon, with muscles. Raise their basket. Maybe that sport would be more watchable.
Soccer is still a sport of frustration and patience and trial and error, and once in a great when a footballer like Rapinoe takes a romp. Jogo bonito, personified.
The hard part of watching the Japanese and Americans battle for the Olympic gold medal on Thursday is knowing there is no sustaining model for big-time women’s soccer.
The 2-1 victory by the Americans was terrific television, just like matches last Monday, last July, in 1999, in 1996. But two American professional leagues have failed since the United States allegedly discovered women’s soccer during the Summer Games in Georgia in 1996.
NBC did right by the women in this Olympics. I can recall an American soccer federation official, Hank Steinbrecher, screaming at NBC functionaries right after the 1996 final in Athens, Ga., when the network played catch-up ball in showing the American gold medal celebration when it hadn’t bothered showing the match itself.
''NBC must think the world is full of divers,” Steinbrecher snarled.
In 2001, it was a shock to me when the league known as W.U.S.A. opened a few miles from my home on Long Island – with tens of thousands of registered female players within driving distance – and Mia Hamm and the best players in the world could not fill a dinky so-called stadium.
That league went down, as so did something called the W.P.S., not because the media did not publicize them but because ratings did not attract sponsors. Apparently, people – girls, women – would rather play soccer than watch soccer. That’s probably good.
Now there is talk about a few teams forming a new league in 2013 but I will believe it when I see it. To a soccer buff who loves to watch the women’s game, it is sad to think there is no showcase for charismatic players of this generation – Americans like Hope Solo, who made three terrific saves on Thursday, or Carli Lloyd, who scored both goals, or Alex Morgan, who won Monday’s semifinal over Canada with a sensational leaping header, plus that great bridge to the past, Abby Wambach.
Kristine Lilly and Julie Foudy and the rest can be secure in what they accomplished, but Solo and her teammates have earned the right to wear the t-shirts they broke out Thursday that said Greatness Has Been Found. It’s kind of a passive statement, but the point was made. They are the champions, my friends. And the highly competitive Solo can be assured that her three magnificent saves Thursday probably trump anything the resourceful Briana Scurry ever did during the golden age.
Plus, the game itself keeps improving. As great as Michelle Akers was – she’s still the best female player I have ever seen – the skill and tactical level of these players keeps rising.
On Thursday, I saw fine points I don’t think were being performed in 1996 or 1999 (admittedly, memory is tricky.) Megan Rapinoe forwarded a ball with a flick of the back of her head; Morgan chased a ball along the end line and pivoted and blindly centered it to create the first goal; and Lloyd dribbled over 30 yards and split two defenders to find her space for the second goal.
Have the new champions learned from coaching? From competition? From watching the Messis and Cristiano Ronaldos of the world, as I suspect female basketball players have learned from watching the Jordans and Kobes? The women have expanded the art of the possible in their sport.
The new wave has produced three hugely entertaining matches – Thursday’s final, plus Monday’s American victory over Canada, plus last summer’s shootout victory by Japan over the U.S. in the 2011 Women’s World Cup following the terrible tragedy in Japan. The matches were gripping; the players admirable; as an American with friends in Canada and Japan, I could not root in either match. But I do root for women’s soccer.
We used to hang around together on the road – Stanley Cups in Montreal and the Garden, that Italian restaurant in Nagano, the shot-put in Ancient Olympia, and insane nights at Fenway and Yankee Stadium and the Kingdome.
I could be deep in thought in the press box, composing my early-edition column, when a voice would screech right behind my head: “Pop!!!” Everybody in the press box would stop what they were doing.
If we were in Boston, she would deposit a roll of Necco Wafers on my desk. She always had a stash.
My daughter Laura Vecsey was a sports columnist in Albany and Seattle and Baltimore for more than a decade. I marvelled at her big-sister insight into Junior and Alex and Pedro. One day Jim Palmer, on the air, praised her throwing arm.
Life on the road was never the same on the road after she became a political columnist in Harrisburg, Pa., keeping an eye on chicanery and obtuseness in the real world.
After she got out of the newspaper business, I realized what a good job she had been doing when I met former Gov. Ed Rendell on a live television show. His first words were, “I miss your daughter.” I bet he does.
Last month the editors at the Harrisburg Patriot-News asked her to write a personal tribute to Title IX, to go along with their impressive package on the 1972 legislation.
Laura wrote a lovely memory about being a 10-year-old who wanted to play ball, but the only way was with the local Police Athletic League boys’ hardball team.
Her entire essay can be accessed via this link:
Laura then told how competition for women got better mostly because of Title IX. My big thrill was when my daughter made the basketball varsity as a sophomore. I was playing on Monday nights in adult recreation up at the high school, and the scoreboard contained the roster of the girls’ varsity. How cool was that, to see the family name up there.
In her essay, Laura recalls her responsibility, as the point guard, to set up the star of the team, Debbie Beckford. And if the team got off message, Mr. Beckford, in his lilting Caribbean accent, would shout: “Get the ball to Debbie!” Quite right, too. Debbie became as a Big East star for St. John’s and is now a success in business.
The lives and working careers of women have been enriched by varsity sports in the age of Title IX – including my colleague who supplied me with Necco Wafers and screeched “Pop!!!”
I had a wonderful time on the #NYTReadalong Feb. 7 with Sree Sreenivasan and Neil Parekh, talking about the Super Bowl and the great paper where I used to work. Thanks to all the nice people who sent messages while I was babbling. The Readalong is Sunday, 8:30-10:15 AM Eastern, and the link is available after that.
has filed an interview with, of all people, me.
It's on his blog. (Just past photo of rat!) My thanks for his interest. GV
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see: