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.
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My NYT blog on Rapinoe’s game-saving pass in 2011:
More on Sundhage/Rapinoe:
2019: Rapinoe attracts Trump's flighty attention: