Reactions to the U.S. women's win over Brazil
All eyes were on the U.S. women entering their quarterfinal match against Brazil in the Women's World Cup on Sunday, and they did not disappoint with their nail-bitting victory. The Americans faced questionable calls, a very aggressive and experienced Marta and were handicapped with only 10 players after the 66th minute before a game-tying goal by veteran Abby Wambach in the 122nd minute sent the game into penalty kicks. We polled writers who contribute to ESPN.com for their thoughts on what Sunday's victory meant for not just the women's national team, but for the country and female athletes in the U.S.
Johnette Howard: The comeback of the American female athlete?
It's been an up-and-down go lately for the U.S. female athlete. American teams recently regained world championships in women's basketball and ice hockey, but U.S. women seem nonexistent in tennis if the Williams sisters don't play. During the rain-soaked U.S. Women's Open this past week, golfers such as Cristie Kerr and Paula Creamer were back to answering relentless questions about why so many Asian women have been dominating the LPGA.
What's wrong? What is this generation of American athletes lacking?
Nothing, according to Pia Sundhage, the Swedish-born coach of the U.S. Women's World Cup team. But before you say, "Aw, why do you have to get so jingoistic -- U.S.A! U.S.A!" know that it was the normally stoic Sundhage who broached the topic first in the bedlam immediately after Sunday's shock-and-awe win.
"It's about the American attitude and finding a way to win -- unbelievable," Sundhage said. "It is contagious. They bring out the best performance in each other."
Sunday marked 12 years to the day that that another, more celebrated U.S. team beat China (also on penalty kicks) to win the '99 World Cup.
So it was fitting that U.S. veteran Abby Wambach -- a one-time kid prodigy who played and learned from the last generation of stars like Hamm and Foudy -- scored the tying goal on a header with just seconds left in extra time. Then a comparative newcomer, Ali Krieger, tapped in the clinching penalty kick and took off on a beeline toward her U.S. teammates, who had already taken off on a happy beeline back toward her. Players were colliding into bear hugs. American goalkeeper Hope Solo was windmilling both arms 'round and 'round as if she might just lift off and go helicoptering away.
In that moment, it was as if the past and present were finally starting to knit together for American women's soccer. Until now, that's never felt like a sure thing. But with two more wins, this current squad would own the 2011 title. It would gold-plate its own Miracle on Grass.
But what is that quintessentially American "attitude" that Sundhage suggested spans generations?
Was it the swagger of Solo, who had a sensational game, saying she just knew she'd stop the decisive penalty kick? Isn't it preposterous to believe you can really cover a net that measures 24 feet wide by 8 feet tall?
Was it the U.S.'s belief it could still win despite playing a man short the last half of the game?
Was it the determination the U.S. players showed on that improbable game-tying, lung-searing, 110-yard counterattack they made the length of the field, still somehow managing some perfect tic-tac-toe passing and a full-out sprint though they already had played three hours on this balmy night in Dresden?
Were they inspired rather than paralyzed by the urgency and pressure?
It was all of that. And this: Solo declaring afterward, "We are not here to beat Brazil in the quarterfinals. We are here to win the tournament."
Welcome to the stuff of legend.
Sarah Spain: Now is the time for women's soccer to take hold
That's the word a friend used to describe Hope Solo after the U.S. women beat Brazil on penalty kicks in the World Cup quarterfinals Sunday. As in: "That woman is straight-up boss."
Solo was the brightest star in a game that was full of them, making glorious, highlight-reel saves to help the Americans defeat Brazil and earn a date with the French in the semifinals.
The game of soccer rarely captivates America, but a win like Sunday's transcends sport and becomes a matter of patriotism, pride and respect. Mainstream athletes from LeBron James to Mark Sanchez were tweeting their congrats to the U.S. team, and ballparks like Yankee Stadium were showing the game's thrilling conclusion on their big screens. In the stands in Germany and across the world, U.S. fans watched the team claim victory in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, earning a win that some attributed to the American spirit.
"I come from Sweden," coach Pia Sundage said afterward on TV, "but this core American value of bringing the best out of one another is infectious."
Abby Wambach, who forced the game into penalty kicks with her electric, game-tying tally in the 122nd minute, echoed her coach's sentiment. "That is the perfect example of what this country is about," she said. "We never gave up."
Now is the time for women's soccer to take hold in this country, with football and basketball locked out and baseball dwindling down heading into the All-Star break. A victory of such epic proportions just might help Americans get hooked on the beautiful game in a way we haven't seen since the U.S. team's 1999 World Cup win at the Rose Bowl.
It was 12 years ago to the day Sunday when Brandi Chastain tore off her jersey in a show of unbridled joy as the U.S. beat China to win it all. Watching Chastain that day, brought to her knees with emotion, fists clenched, biceps flexed, jersey in hand, girls everywhere wondered what it would feel like to be that boss. After Sunday's win, Solo, Wambach and the rest of the U.S. team can stop wondering and a whole new generation of girls can start.
Melanie Jackson: Next generation answers the call
Twelve years ago, when the U.S. women's national team won the 1999 World Cup, that group of players changed the way people not only viewed women's soccer, but women's sports and female athletes. They inspired millions of little girls and boys to take to the pitch. They captivated Americans and rode the support to launch women's pro soccer in the United States.
Sunday's thrilling, penalty kick victory over Brazil was no doubt a shot in the arm for ensuring the continued success, support, interest and evolution of women's soccer and WPS.
Move over, Mia. The next generation has finally grown up and answered the call.
Yes, the United States won gold medals in the 2004 and '08 Olympics. But Sunday was different. The U.S. truly banded together and was at its best when the adversity got worse.
It was the Americans' fighting through fatigue and the uphill battle of playing a man down for 55 minutes after Rachel Buehler's red card -- and actually increasing their intensity and finding a way to force the game into penalty kicks.
It was super sub Megan Rapinoe sending a perfectly placed, left-footed cross to the far post for the assist on Wambach's tying goal -- two weeks after Sundhage surprisingly removed Rapinoe from the starting lineup.
It was Amy LePeilbet's solid game and her efforts to help keep Brazil's potent forwards in check as much as that brilliant front line allows -- four days after LePeilbet had one of the worst performances by a defender in U.S. women's team history.
It was Solo finally getting a shot at Brazil (and redemption) in the Women's World Cup, four years after she was inexplicably benched in China -- and playing like it never happened, making key saves throughout Sunday, including a stop on Brazil's third penalty kick.
It was Wambach's scoring her second goal in as many games after all the talk about a supposed scoring funk -- and returning to her perch as team leader after an injury forced her to miss the 2008 Olympics.
It was about a team coming together to beat the best player in the world -- and perhaps showing the Brazilian soccer federation it really does need to put more time and money into supporting its incredible players.
It was about showing the world that, despite what happens in the semifinals and in the July 17 final, the U.S. women can rule the World Cup again.
They flexed their American muscle Sunday and put on a fireworks show better than anything I saw a week ago on the Fourth of July.
There are a lot of reasons I watch sports. Mostly I'm paid to, sometimes I really want to, and other times I just feel like I should. For a long time, I felt like I just should watch women's sports. As a daughter of Title IX, as a former college athlete whose education was partially funded because of the female athletes and leaders who came before me, I felt as if I had an obligation to watch the WNBA or the Women's World Cup or women's college basketball. That I should support the ladies, as if it were some sort of cause. Honestly, I still feel that way sometimes.
Ramona Shelburne: We watched because we couldn't look away
What changed in 1999 -- and what became true again on Sunday -- is that I, like so many millions of people around the country, genuinely took an interest in the Women's World Cup. We watched not because we felt we should, but because we wanted to. We watched because the game was great, the players were dynamic and compelling, and the drama was real.
Women's sports, like all sports, are at their best when we watch because we simply cannot look away. Because we are engaged or inspired or even just entertained.
Sustaining that interest week to week or even month to month is the final hurdle for women's sports in this country. Only women's tennis and golf seem to have come close, which is no surprise because they are so individualistic and personality-driven. But the fact that a new generation of women, a new team on a new stage halfway around the world, playing a game this country is still warming up to, not only seized the moment but stole the show from their brothers Sunday, is a remarkable feat.
It may seem like a small feat, or even an isolated one, but change on such a grand scale tends to happen incrementally. It's best not to judge or even evaluate it in real time.
It's best, like Sunday, to sit back and just watch because you cannot look away.
Joanne C. Gerstner: For U.S., there's still work to do
The world is a little different today, with soccer fans and sports watchers better knowing the names of American stars Hope Solo and Abby Wambach. Heck, anybody checking out sports highlights on TV or the Internet will see Wambach's amazing header to tie Sunday's quarterfinal against Brazil in the waning seconds of extra time, or Solo's composure and warrior mentality in goal throughout the game.
The respect, excitement and mainstream acknowledgement for the U.S.'s performance is quite due. The happiness felt today by Americans and their fans can be traced to the seeds sown by another team of strong, determined American women who also got it done.
It was like time stood still on July 10, 1999, as the United States took on China at the Rose Bowl for the Women's World Cup title. I was moved to a few tears when I saw the crowd, 90,000 strong, filling the stadium to cheer on women's soccer. There was electricity in the air and goose bumps on my arms from the first moment I entered the stadium, and it didn't end until well into the evening.
That U.S. team, led by now-legends Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Kristine Lilly, Brandi Chastain, and don't forget Briana Scurry in goal, showed the 2011 team how to get things done.
The American women of today knew a comeback in extra time was possible, because they had seen it done. They knew winning on penalty kicks was possible, because they had seen it happen. And now it was time for these Americans to carry on the legacy by writing their own chapter.
Scurry made a key save to give the U.S. the edge in the 1999 shootout. Solo did the same in hers, adding her primal screams of triumph as punctuation.
The 1999 U.S. women confidently ripped their kicks past Chinese goalie Gao Hong. The 2011 American women did the same, putting in their attempts past Brazil's Andreia.
But the script isn't over yet for this U.S. team. There is a semifinal game to be played, and hopefully, the chance to play for the championship in Sunday's final in Frankfurt.
Winning the battle against Brazil, but not winning the World Cup, would be a wholly unsatisfying ending. And the legacy of 1999 stands tall and concrete: You have to win the shootouts and the World Cup.
If the 2011 team can do that, it earns the right to stand eye-to-eye with the women of 1999. Lessons learned, mission accomplished.
Jane McManus: Captivating win gives us reason for renewed optimism
When the U.S team won the 1999 World Cup, I had just started working as a sportswriter. It was a bright time for women's sports. The U.S. had dominated the '96 Atlanta Olympics, women had a professional league in basketball, and soon WUSA would provide one for soccer. Women could be respected as athletes, equality achieved, cue the credits.
Rarely are things that simple. The WNBA struggled, WUSA foundered and then women's softball was dropped from the Olympic lineup.
I've talked to male colleagues about covering women's sports, and sometimes in a moment of candor they might say that, as great as the stories are, no one wants to read about or watch women's sports unless they are wearing very, very short skirts.
It's a good thing that in the decade following the optimism of the World Cup victory, as women's sports were ignored or dismissed, young girls in suburbs kept kicking soccer balls, and high school point guards kept working on their crossover dribble.
Maybe the narrative could have held up before the era of social media, and women's sports could have been written off as a participatory revolution. But Sunday, as I followed the Women's World Cup via my Twitter stream -- where I follow media types and professional athletes -- my timeline was blowing up with football players who were captivated once again by the U.S. team.
"Wow," tweeted Seattle kick returner Leon Washington. "Unbelievable This was the most entertaining sporting event I've seen in a longtime. #USA Baby. Never, Never Give Up."
There was Jets wide receiver Braylon Edwards: "Shoutout To #TeamUSA!!! Crazy Game."
You can argue that an Olympics or World Cup draws people out of a sense of nationalism, and that is true. But then you look at Notre Dame basketball player Skylar Diggins and she has more than 100,000 followers, including Ravens Ray Rice and Michael Oher.
It's dangerous to see one event as the whole story, but as the U.S. team proved again Sunday, you don't want to leave the stadium before extra time.
Jemele Hill: Thrilling victory reminds us of sports' power
There's a bit of an abusive relationship right now between fans and those in control of the games we've grown to love.
With the NBA and NFL mired in work stoppages, sports was starting to feel more like labor -- no pun intended -- than love.
But the beauty of the U.S. women's heart-pounding victory over powerful Brazil is that it gave us all -- man, woman, child, cat or dog -- that pure, intoxicating, emotional zap that makes loving sports such a thrill.
We were again reminded of sports' power -- and not in the degrading way the NBA's and NFL's bickering has reminded fans that despite their devotion, their desires remain unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
And yes, it was sweeter that this moment was delivered by female athletes.
Even with all the advances that have been made for women at both the professional and amateur levels, women's sports is still treated like a distraction. For example, the WNBA's season takes place when it does so as not to collide with the NBA or NFL. Sometimes, it's as if the powers-that-be feel they have to trick us into watching women's sports.
I don't know if this will be another "watershed" moment for female athletes, because -- as unbelievable as the win over Brazil was -- the U.S. has yet to win the whole thing.
But the USA-Brazil match legitimately stole the nation's attention. That means something. Even better, the U.S. did it the old-fashioned way -- with style, drama, and ultimately, a winning result.