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.
8/9/2012 01:11:05 pm
great stuff. I agree with your observation about the technical skills improving, and I really respect their courage too. At Muhlenberg we played Temple which went to the NCAA finals with St. Louis, ( we Lost 7-0). It is hard to compare, but I think today's US women are better, but my heart may be speaking.
8/9/2012 01:25:13 pm
Ed, thanks. Every generation is different. I once heard Bobby Davies tell George Yardley that he could have played in the NBA in any era because he was a leaper. You play up to the level, Davies said.
8/9/2012 03:44:01 pm
George, thanks for your compassion. I had a similar experience against Haverford. I was matched against a center halfback who was at least 6'6, probably more, who was supposedly a Nigerian Prince. He could handle the ball with his feet better than I could with my hands. Any attempt at heading resulted in my elevating to his navel. The coach took me out, furious. I said, "What do you expect me to do?". He replied, "you could have kicked him in the leg- or something."
8/10/2012 05:04:15 am
8/10/2012 10:15:01 am
Alan, I graduated from Berg in 53, and naturally, the moral climate deteriorated. A new coach, Jeff Tipping was appointed a year or so after, replacing the coach I had, so depending on when your game was, it might have been the old coach. Berg got much better under Tipping, getting to the NCAA division 3 several times, and to the new Centennial Conference championship playoffs pretty regularly. Lehigh and the Patriot conference was a big step up, Muhlenberg had under 1000 students. Our games were always more important to us than to Lehigh, little man stuff.
9/30/2012 05:58:27 am
Ed---I just came across this web site for FC Lehigh http://www.fclehigh.com/coaches. Things have really changed since we both played in Lehigh Valley. The link is for the coaches page, but the rest of the site is also interesting.
8/9/2012 02:05:29 pm
Now NBC must think the world is full of beach volley ball players! But at least they showed THIS game, and many others, even if only on a secondary channel which is only available on cable. Still, better than not at all. As for the US women, their situation is not much different from that of the men returning from the World Cup in Italy in 1990. A small handful had jobs in Europe, but the rest had nowhere to play in this country. The speed and quality of play is clearly improving, but whether there are enough high-quality players to sustain an entire league of teams that people will pay to see, over and over again, is still very much open to question. If only there were more Wambachs and Rapinoes and Morgans and Lloyds(and Martas and Sinclairs and Sawas) to go around...
8/9/2012 02:37:04 pm
Sadly, you didn't hear that US Soccer was creating a new Womens Pro League this morning. Kinda makes your whole point moot. But still good article and great points. Well except the one that there is no showcase, because there is. If viewers only care every 4 years, thats their problem.
8/9/2012 03:17:34 pm
Respectfully disagreeing with your assessment of the goalkeeping -- has Scurry against Brazil in the 2004 gold medal final already been forgotten? (A performance that eventually inspired Greg Ryan's unfortunate decision three years later.)
8/9/2012 05:32:28 pm
An entertaining and exciting game, for sure. But I can't help wondering what the reaction would have been in this country if it were the USA, rather than Japan, that was denied not one, but TWO, clear penalty kicks by the ref and ended up with silver. The Japanese team handled the situation with absolute class and grace, not the first two words that came to my mind when I saw the USA girls rushing to don those tacky Nike-created t-shirts which proclaimed their "greatness"..
8/10/2012 02:16:16 am
Readers, thanks. I did allude to the 2013 target, and am skeptical, having seen WUSA go down.
8/10/2012 05:14:05 am
8/10/2012 09:03:37 am
Hi, how cool is that. Yes, I remember DeWitt., Please say hello if you see him again. Great to hear Hilty is still going strong. I have a friend younger than me who played for Van Buren against Hilty's Jamaica teams. Now the Pol Pots of NYC Education have decimated Jamaica High. What a travesty. GV
8/10/2012 10:57:19 am
8/10/2012 05:49:15 am
8/10/2012 08:26:59 am
The rules are the rules. What players really want most from referees is consistency of their application. It is undeniable that there can be significant variation from one ref to another, one league to another, one country to another. At a tournament like the World Cup or the Olympics it can become a bigger issue when you get officials from many different leagues. I can't remember when I've ever seen a goalkeeper whistled for keeping the ball too long(or for handling the ball outside the penalty area while punting it upfield, another rarely-enforced rule). But referee Pederson was as correct on this call as she was wrong on the hand ball.
8/11/2012 05:22:50 am
Since there has been considerable comment on two rules relating to the third US goal against Canada, I want to question another one.
8/10/2012 09:10:25 am
Alan & JOhn: I would say Pederson was legally correct on the time call -- I was aware the GK was killing time -- but a ref should probably warn first on that infraction. Maybe not in the rules, but common sense.
8/10/2012 10:11:39 am
I agree with you George about the need for common sense in the application of the rules. The best referees, like Collina and others we could name, are known for their intelligent and skillful game management and strong verbal communication with players. Good referees want to protect the players and help them to stay in the game if possible. Unless it's a straight red card offense for something like violent play, the best refs will almost always have a word with a player first before going to a card. We see it every week on TV in Italy, England, Germany, Spain, Brazil and everywhere else. Given that the Canada keeper was continually taking too much time it is surprising then that Pederson didn't say anything to her earlier, before giving the USA a very good scoring opportunity by making what was a surprising call.
8/10/2012 11:11:30 am
Great stuff at many levels!
8/10/2012 11:19:19 am
8/10/2012 02:10:56 pm
Andy, thanks for commenting hre.
8/10/2012 09:57:29 am
just a note about Canada 1-0 over France. Fence had 25 shots on goal to Canada's 4. The winning goal came at the 92 nd minute. the futbal fates that turned away from Canada in the US game smiled this time.
8/10/2012 02:38:31 pm
Mr. Vecsey, thanks for the note! The last time I saw Mr. Curran was at a gathering for Stanners last fall. He made a point to visit with my father ('45). It ws nice of him to come over for a quiet moment and remember elementary school days from the Bronx, Tollentine vs, St. Bennie's, if I have my facts straight! That's a statement about a man who is about so much more than athletic achievements, though that's what he's known for as basketball and baseball coach at Molloy. Easily the most sought-after person at an event like the one we attended, he took the time to sit with someone whom he remembered and who remembered him from when. Since Molloy went co-ed, his talent pool has diminished by half, but in most ways the programs excel at many levels.
8/11/2012 05:09:36 am
8/11/2012 05:53:54 am
Alan, I was writing a lot about WUSA in the day. There was a lot of money spent, but sponsors and fans were in short supply. Some backers put a lot of money in it, but knew when to back off. The salaries and sights were too high. MLS is a perfect model for growing slowly, but I believe the demographis show that men will watch sports more than women, and they were quite pragmatic about women's soccer. A decade later, that could change. But people really did try. GV
8/12/2012 04:48:05 pm
We've got the World Cup up here in 2015. Everyone welcome, so c'mon up. We even have a spare room, though sadly, but understandably (a rail link to the airport, and other improvements, is too much to give up), Toronto is taking a pass in favour of hosting the 2015 Pan Am Games.
8/13/2012 09:56:06 am
Chris, bad taste or bad syntax, those t-shirts were not necessary.
8/13/2012 01:39:43 pm
8/14/2012 01:14:35 am
O'Reilly was a late sub...after the attrition on some of the starters.
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“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.