The Women’s World Cup has now come and gone and, much like the US women did twice in the final games, the sport will fade from our collective conscious, at least until the Olympics. People continue to debate soccer’s place on the American sports landscape, but lost in the focus on the sport itself, has been the beauty of the event.
Exhibited on the world’s stage were several games embodying the various characteristics that draw us to athletic competition in the first place. The never say die attitudes displayed by the Americans against Brazil and then by Japan in the Finals. The tremendous respect and sportsmanship in the Finals, not a game of trash talk and diving, but a true sense that the women respected the game and played their hardest, without stooping to devious or “smart” tactics. Teammates ‘picking up’ their teammates after a mistake or in Rachel Buehler’s case, a red card. Even the media seemed more restrained, perhaps because all the cameras weren’t ESPN’s. They weren’t zooming in hoping to catch a single tear falling from a player’s face. They showed the joy of victory and the agony of defeat with a grace and elegance we no longer get to enjoy in American sports.
There were no commercials from the start of the second half until the end of the penalty kicks. Simply the game. There weren’t backstories about domestic violence, or contract demands, strife in the locker room, or playing time, or wanting more touches. Simply the game. For many casual fans going into this, we didn’t even know the names of the competitors and in some ways that’s a refreshing way to watch. We weren’t caught up in the minutia of the sport, instead watching for love of competition and country.
Consider the NBA Finals, when most people were more excited that Miami lost, rather than celebrating The Mavericks’ victory. Watching the women fall, there was no faux outrage that they choked, just a sense of pride they played well. Losing to Japan after they have suffered national tragedies wasn’t something to be ashamed of, rather I found myself happy for them. While sports hate, talking trash with your buddies and cheering for your second favorite team, “Whoever is playing your arch rival,” are all enjoyable elements of most sports, this World Cup transcended that. It was a chance for fathers and daughters to sit on the couch and dream together, it was a couple hours to forget about lockouts and to cheer unabashed for a collection of women whose names you didn’t recognize two weeks prior, solely because they were from your homeland. It was fun, without the emotional baggage of worrying about going to work on Monday if your team lost. There was an innocence to it, and while no, I don’t think we’re going to see a meteoric rise in pro soccer’s popularity in America, I think I like it that way.