Loving the Women’s World Cup

I started playing soccer at age four because my eight year old brother was playing and I didn’t want to be left out. I played in college and in a women’s league after graduation. I’d still be playing if a second torn MCL didn’t make me realize that walking in the future was more important than playing soccer now.

In my 14 or so years of youth soccer, I played on one girls team. When I was young, there was no such thing as girls soccer. Occasionally I’d play against another girl on a boys team, but really, I was pretty much on an island by myself.

The 1999 Women’s World Cup was a watershed moment for girls soccer and girls sports in general. Never before could I have imagined that 90,000+ people would fill the Rose Bowl to watch the USA defeat China for the World Cup Trophy. It was the largest crowd ever to watch a women’s sporting event. Some reports say that the number of girls enrolled in soccer across the USA quadrupled after that game.

Watching the retrospective on the 1999 team on ESPN today literally left me teary.

And when Abby Wambach tied the game and when Ali Krieger scored the final penalty today, I was in tears again. My Twitter feed was full of people, friends, journalists and celebrities alike, most of whom aren’t soccer fans, rapt with attention with what happened in Germany! For a women’s quarterfinal game. The game I loved, played by girls like me, mattered.

Before the improbable ending, I felt like this game was shaping up to be the kind of game that non-soccer fans would point as to what is wrong with the game and why they’ll never be fans. There were fake injuries, whining players and poor refereeing. If it hadn’t turned out so well for the US, it would have been a disaster for FIFA.

Instead, this game showed everything you’d want a young girl to learn from a sporting event. The USA didn’t quit. They didn’t give up. They didn’t get pushy or lippy with the ref as Brazil and Marta did as the game went on. They were down a man and actually played better with 10 then they were with 11. They never believed they were out of this game, so we as fans didn’t either.

Maybe I don’t really have a point here, but as a life-long soccer player, I couldn’t let today’s game go by without a note. From minute one to minute 122, this game had me from the highest highs to the lowest lows. I was biting my nails, screaming at the ref and sharing it with 40 people at a soccer bar. Normally, I have to do that in my house, by myself.

When everyone from LeBron James and Aaron Rodgers to Ellen DeGeneres and Tom Hanks are tweeting about the game, you know the women have reached elite status.

Maybe it’s just because Americans love a good story – especially when international patriotism is involved. Maybe it’s because we’re heading into one of the slowest sports weeks of the year. Maybe it’s the fact that Hope Solo is gorgeous, tough and not afraid to speak her mind. Whatever the reason, people are paying attention – to soccer. Played by Americans. Who are Women.

And dirty-kneed six-year old Nicole couldn’t be happier.

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