Our often-dominant USA Women’s National Team (world champs in ’91 and ’99 and Olympic champs in ’96 and ’04) just returned from China where they placed a respectable but nonetheless disappointing third in the ’07 Women’s World Cup. Germany captured the title, beating Brazil 2-0 in the final, and the USA defeated Norway 4-1 in the consolation game. It was the German women’s second championship in a row.
USA’s team was fraught with internal strife when Coach Greg Ryan unexpectedly subbed veteran keeper Brianna Scurry for the semifinal match against Brazil and the USA lost 4-0. After the game, fellow keeper Hope Solo, who was benched, blurted spiteful statements denigrating her teammate Scurry. Bouncing back to decisively beat Norway for third place (with Scurry still in goal) perhaps started the healing, and the team has roughly a year to get its act together before it pursues Gold at the China ’08 Olympics.
Media coverage was also distressed. Most major print dailies buried Team USA’s progress on the back pages of the Sports Section. With hours and hours of TV coverage, ESP’s on-site announcers, J.P. Dellacamera and Julie Foudy, were nonstop motormouths that droned on endlessly about all-topics-soccer other than the action on the field. Indeed, late in the first half of the Germany-Brazil final ESPN switched to their own “Rob” back in New York for a teaser for the halftime show, and Rob stated that the show would include a look at, “the future of [USA veteran player] Kristine Lilly, something Julie Foudy has discussed ad nauseam.”
Did ESP’s own co-announcer really say “ad nauseam” about Julie Foudy’s incessant blabbing? It occurs to me that women’s soccer in particular, and women’s sports in general, have yet to find a single female equivalent of Vin Scully in baseball, John Madden in football, or the late Chick Hearn in basketball. It is lamentable, as until TV coverage improves, all women’s sports will probably remain second or third tier in viewership.
Two additional points are in order. Regardless of the fate of the USA men and women in international soccer competition, soccer is alive and growing at the grassroots level. The National Sporting Goods Association reports over 14 million soccer players aged 7 and older (about the same number as baseball) in the USA and the majority are female. In Santa Monica alone, on any given fall Saturday, approximately 1,000 girls and young women play soccer in local leagues.Finally, it would be best not to judge soccer’s Women’s National Team too harshly. They are not alone in dropping Uncle Sam’s ball in international competition in sports we otherwise could dominate. The NBA multimillionaires have failed to win the last three World Basketball Championships, and only brought home Bronze from the ’04 Athens Olympics. The NHL millionaires fare no better – at the last Winter Olympics in Turin our men’s team was stopped at the quarterfinals. Since baseball was added to the Olympics, Team USA has won only one Olympic gold; Cuba has won the other three. Last spring, the new World Baseball Championships were played for the first time. The USA team didn’t make it past the second round. Japan won. With baseball no longer our domain, one can only hope that apple pie goes next before mom.