[Edited July 1 to add: I'm off on grand adventures (read: mowing the lawn) while our office is closed July 4-8; in the meantime, check out my latest entry in our Off-Season Survival Guide.]
God bless the women’s World Cup—just the thing to spice up this stretch of spectator sport desert between the Stanley Cup Finals and preseason NFL, when otherwise only the long plod of mid-season baseball fills SportsCenter highlights. Plus: something to do on my lunch breaks.
Tuesday I wandered over to Sports Page around 12:30 to catch the U.S. women’s opening match against North Korea. I sat at the (otherwise empty) bar, snagged a salad and an iced tea while exchanging texts with CCB, who was similarly watching from a Pinellas Park Applebee’s (in what he declared was a “long-distance lunch date”). I got to see the majority of the game—enough to be frustrated in the U.S.’s first-half play and exhilarated by their two second-half goals.
Back at Bayshore High School, when I wanted to be a great soccer player (instead of just a mediocre hockey player).
The Saturday before, we’d watched as the U.S. men’s soccer team blew a two-goal lead in the Gold Cup final against Mexico—surrendering four unanswered goals after being up, briefly, 2-0. That game that inspired frustration too, of course, but mostly fatalism. This is the fun part about soccer in America: the gender role-reversal. We exalt when the men make it out of the group stage in the World Cup. And then when they inevitably (often immediately) lose, we accept again and again that they’re “just not there yet” and congratulate them for competing as well as they did for as long as they could.
I mean, let’s face it, we never really expected them to win it all.
The women? Nothing short of shut-outs and trophies, ladies. Not a whole lot of “at least you tried your best” condescension here; the respect given the U.S. women—their legacy, at least—shines in the ire that erupts when they don’t play well. A couple weeks ago, CCB, bless him, changed the channel in disgust when the women committed turnover-after-turnover in a pre-World Cup friendly. After Tuesday's scoreless first half that included a slew of missed opportunities, he texted, “They do not get any coffee. They are not closers,” as I rolled my eyes at the TV and ordered a consolatory slice of chocolate cake.
The last time the U.S. won the World Cup, in 1999.
This kind of anger is what comes with high expectations. It’s the opposite of taking it easy on or even congratulating a mediocre team—an attitude that is at best compassionate acceptance, but at worst, horribly patronizing. As a too-sensitive female athlete (and a youngest child, to boot), I’m so defensive about that. I bristle post-hockey games, when teammates fume about one thing or another, but my own performance, over and over again, is “fine”—sometimes even good. But never bad enough to get below low expectations.
I mean, look, that’s not because I’m a girl; it’s because I’m a Floridian with a relatively paltry six years of skating experience. Still, it happens to coincide with being a girl on a co-ed team. And sometimes it’s nice when mediocrity is disappointing instead of expected.
Anyway, I’m enjoying that aspect of the Women’s World Cup. ESPN and Nike put together great, tough commercials, and the attitude of the team and the coverage is all business and competition. We’ll see what happens—fortunately I’ll get to see a lot of the group play during my off time next week. But at least we know the standards are high.