Soccer purist laments lame World Cup

Sideline Scholars

The U.S. Women's National Soccer team opened its 2003 World Cup campaign in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, beating Sweden 3-1. As a huge soccer fan, I could not pass up the opportunity to see a match of this level and cheer the lady Yanks to victory.

I wore my U.S. Men's jersey to RFK to show my allegiance. And unlike several men's Cup qualifiers I've been to, most of the crowd also wore U.S. apparel, which excited me. But as I got to my seat in section 432, I lost all enthusiasm.

I began to worry. I climbed way up to the rafters to isolate myself with my thoughts. Was I an intolerant male who just couldn't get into women's sports? Was I jealous of the fan support, the teenage girls who came out in droves to see Mia Hamm, but did not care enough about soccer in general to regularly attend Washington Freedom or D.C. United matches? Had I failed to empathize with American women, who'd fought for so many years to give girls the dream of being an athlete?

I pondered this while a fast but somewhat sloppy first half took place below me. Then, with the match still scoreless, Swedish forward Hanna Ljundberg got free down the right wing. U.S. goalkeeper Brianna Scurry charged out of the box, attempting to reach the ball before Ljundberg, but didn't and took the Swede down.

"That's a [freaking] red!" I shouted, shocked at my own voice. "She's straight on goal, that's a [freaking] red!"

It hit me. I wasn't chauvinistic. I was just unpatriotic. That is something I could live with.

Soccer appeals to me because it's more universal than any American sport. Though, like major sports here, it has been commercialized; the passion and tradition it still possesses abroad doesn't exist here in any sport. On the men's level, the global soccer order is a more ideal model of global politics than currently exists. The U.S. is a threat, but not a dominating power. And though Brazil is the world power, it is not unbeatable, and as shown in 2002, many teams have chances at glory. But the women's game seems, like the current political state, slanted unfairly in the direction of the U.S.

America has among the largest populations of soccer playing women in the world. It has plenty of money for player development. As one of the quality two or three teams in the world, it shouldn't need help. But then it gets to hold the Women's World Cup, the pinnacle of soccer policy, in its back yard, on its own terms, twice in a row.

What's worse, try seriously criticizing the U.S. Women's team. You'll be accused of being anti-feminist, a sexist or someone who doesn't care for that percentage of the population.

You'll be responsible for shattering the dreams of little girls everywhere. If you're a liberal, substitute "Women's team" for "government" and "dreams of little girls" for "a world without terrorism," and maybe you see what I mean.

Yet for any other team to steal the trophy would be, in my mind, a far greater story of triumph than Brandi Chastain again ripping off her sports jersey and admitting to the world that all women have breasts. Yes, I would like to see a new women's league replace the WUSA on the coattails of this tournament. But in this nation, despite some of its current troubles, little girls will still be allowed to dream, whether or not the U.S. wins.

Anyway, I became quite involved in the match, took off my jersey and set it aside, and showed off my wife-beater Swedish pride. I groaned when the U.S. scored twice before halftime. And when Ljundberg found Victoria Svenson, who scored for the Swedes in the second half, I screamed just as if my D.C. United had scored.

I left knowing the 3-1 U.S. win was almost a formality. I wondered how so many people could be so happy winning a contest that wasn't.

And I wondered how AU Women's Soccer, which was unfortunate enough to have a match the same day, was faring.

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