A few weeks back, I wrote a piece about the progress of soccer in the United States of America (“American Soccer is on the Rise,” The Hoya, June 18, 2015, online). In the article, I touched on the recent success of the men’s national team, both on the youth and senior levels. The men’s program was riding a huge high after wins over Germany and the Netherlands and record performances at U-23 and U-20 tournaments. The women’s team was just an afterthought. In hindsight, I didn’t do my due diligence, as I failed to note the immense impact that the women’s team has on soccer in this country.
I should have known better than to overlook the talented women that represent the stars and stripes. They have never slipped out of the top two ranked teams in the world and had two World Cup titles to their name prior to entering this year’s tournament in Canada. The men, by comparison, are essentially minnows on the international level, as they have only reached a World Cup quarterfinal once in their history.
Despite the success of the women’s national team, the United States still hasn’t become a powerhouse in the world of soccer. To be honest, it should have happened by now, especially considering the size and resources of the country in addition to the amazing athletes we seem to produce. Most likely it will happen in the near future, and the United States women’s team will be a big reason why.
Entering this year’s World Cup, the expectations surrounding our girls were pretty low. It had been 16 years since the United States of America had brought home the trophy at the Women’s World Cup. Additionally, the core of the team that led it to the final game in 2011, only to lose in a devastating penalty shoot-out to Japan, was getting old and passing its prime. Players like Abby Wambach, Christie Rampone and even Hope Solo were aging into their mid to late 30s and were sure to have less of a positive impact on the team. The hopes of a country fell on a younger contingent, led by the offensive prowess of Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd and the defensive fortitude of Julie Johnston.
The team found success early, but it wasn’t pretty. In the group stage, it handled Australia 3-1 in the opener, played to a draw against Sweden in the second game and then squeaked out a 1-0 victory against Nigeria. None of the performances suggested that it could overcome the favored Germans or even Japan later in the tournament, but Head Coach Jill Ellis and new Captain Carli Lloyd promised to improve every game. They did not disappoint. In the Round of 16, the United States defeated Colombia 2-0 and then completely dominated a Chinese side, even without starters Lauren Holiday and Megan Rapinoe, in a 1-0 quarterfinal victory. The performance was exciting, but the dreaded Germans waited in the semi-final.
Now this is where it got exciting, and by exciting, I mean edge-of-your-seat, screaming-at-the-television exciting. In the 60th minute, Johnston brought down Germany’s striker in the box, resulting in a penalty. Surely, America’s luck was going to run out. But somehow, someway, the Germans missed their first-ever World Cup penalty kick (they had previously converted 16 out of 16), and Carli Lloyd ended up standing over the ball for her own penalty kick seven minutes later. Lloyd scored and Kelley O’Hara doubled the lead later to secure passage into the finals and a rematch with Japan.
As most of you know, the Women’s World Cup final was a thriller. The U.S. jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first five minutes. To make matters even more exciting, Captain Carli Lloyd scored from midfield on a David-Beckham-esque lofted shot over the Japanese goalkeeper to extend the lead to 4-0. As the final whistle sounded, the U.S.A. came out victorious, winning its third World Cup trophy.
So, why does this help soccer in the United States? I mean, we’ve won twice before, why is this different? It is because of the way our girls won. They won in front of a world-record audience, as the World Cup final was the most-watched women’s sporting event of all time and the most-watched soccer game in U.S. history, and they won in amazing fashion, with beautiful goals and high-paced play. No casual viewers or children came away from that game bored by soccer. For once, the people of the United States were exposed to what the Europeans refer to as “the beautiful game.” It’s too soon to tell whether this momentum will stretch beyond genders, but surely, this is another great step in the search for soccer supremacy.
Jake Foote is a rising sophomore in the College. The Hot Stove appears every Thursday.