"I gotta hurry hurry hurry/Now quick quick quick/Just step on the gas cause I don't wanna miss this/This opportunity will only come once in my life, my life" --Alexis Jordan, "Happiness," WWC Theme SongIt played incessantly before each game, at halftime, sometimes twice in a row. It's a teeny bopper anthem about fleeting love and finding it in reverse, about the very generic nature of ecstatic, elastic moments -- ones filled with adrenaline and promise; endorphins and drive; acrobatic and emotional feats; twisting and turning on an international stage. Let's be Zen about it for one second. Let's look at the Beautiful Game on display for 22 days in Germany. What happened? Did women's soccer actually gain momentum, charge forward and return to the U.S. (without winning the cup but absolutely winning an audience)? A following that required appearances on "Good Morning America," "The Today Show," "The Daily Show," "Letterman" and "SportsCenter"?
Did they really return to a ravenous nation ready to wed any USWNT member but, in particular, Hope Solo, ready to sellout WPS games without even a hint that an Abby Wambach might play? Did all of that happen?
It's like the song from Alexis Jordan, a teenage Beyonce-lite that performed at the final with underwhelming dance moves and a hot pink tutu dress: Women's soccer just kind of snuck up on us, got in our heads and wouldn't let go. Unlike the song, which admittedly is perfect for a slumber party but not exactly an international sports arena, women's soccer has a chance to catch on.
It started with the opening ceremonies, largely a choreographed entry into an unpredictable and grueling whirlwind tour, full of pomp and circumstance. Who could anticipate the drama, heroics and characters that would emerge, the tactical/emotional/physical play left on the pitch? There were gender disputes; lightning striking North Korean players into lackluster performances; sing-alongs with Pia Sundhage; Matildas and Les Bleus breathing life into a team game; Homare Sawa so effortlessly finding the back of the net again and again; and the birth of a villain in Marta being booed.
This wasn't only about the Americans and their miracle win over Brazil in Dresden, although that could be its own play within a play. This was about drama and intrigue that the world actually got hooked on. Fifteen-and-a-half million viewers watched the final in Germany, and 13.46 million viewers per minute tuned in for ESPN's U.S.-Japan final, making it the second most-viewed daytime telecast in cable TV history and the most-watched soccer game in the network's history. When the tournament started, these girls were anonymous, toiling in the grass with one goal in mind -- elevate the game. And they did, and that's better than any shiny 1.8 kilogram cup (though it would have been sweet to drink out of it).
These players elevated the game by making people care, a come-out-of-nowhere love that finally eclipsed the one women's soccer image a nation can now let go of -- a sports bra and bare midriff replaced with skill, heart and a tenacity that brought the tournament to the wire. We'll never forget that nail-biter so thick with emotion on both sides that Dick Vitale tweeted "Get the Maolox [sic] out as it is nervous time baby -- Dominating but can't put Japan away. Come on Abby Alex & co. Need this W badly!" Who even knew Dick Vitale could tweet?
There were more tweets per second than any event ever, including the royal wedding. Excuse me, this is women's soccer we're talking about. How awesome is that? Sure, there were columns about choking, about a team that ran out of legs. In a way, it's better the U.S. lost -- it keeps fans wanting more, and they should. The team should want success stateside -- they should eclipse MLS and WNBA, they should make women's sports profitable and Title IX unnecessary.
All the celebrity support in the world can't make a professional women's league survive -- c'mon Tom Hanks, Lil Wayne, Barack Obama, you really want to support these women, this sport, this utterly beautiful game? Buy a team! Then write a new theme song. We don't want the prophecy of the saccharine sweet "Happiness" to come true. This opportunity should not come once in a lifetime. It should last forever.
FRANKFURT, Germany -- When U.S. takes the field Sunday, the stands will be full of fans -- Germans who have adopted the American team as their own and expats buoyed by the surge of enthusiasm generated by the U.S.'s epic cup performance. There will also be the hundreds of military families and civilians based in Stuttgart who have been following Team USA from the group stages on.
The Stuttgart military base is headquarters for the U.S. military's Africa and Europe operations. It also happens to be the home for some 25,000 people both military and civilian, a community that includes a thriving youth soccer league orchestrated by sports and fitness director Caitlin Smith.
"Some kids, they've been here their whole lives and they don't know the difference, and other kids who are transplants," Smith said. "For them, participating in sports and soccer specifically is like a little touch of home. Soccer is our biggest sport. We have about 1,100 kids in each season and play soccer both seasons.
Nearly 500 Americans from the military community were bused to a practice in Hiedelberg at SG Kirchheim Stadion early in the tournament. "It made me tear up at practice when I saw everyone," said U.S. forward Alex Morgan said in a news conference following the practice. "We loved it. It raised our energy a little bit."
That enthusiasm goes both ways. The military base has hosted public viewings in the Patch Community Club for all the U.S. games -- Sunday's match will include door prizes, signed balls raffled off, a juggling contest, a best-dressed contest and a round of women's soccer trivia. (Sample questions: Who is the all-time leader in goals in the WWC? Birgit Prinz, 14. Who is the all-time leader in goals of the WWC for the U.S.? Michelle Akers, 12). One officer has even taken to YouTube to ask Hope Solo to join him at a miliatary ball in Vienna.
The community center was especially charged during the U.S. versus Brazil match. "I was at the community club and it was packed. They were jumping out of their seats and screaming and yelling," Smith said. "I've never seen that before, especially in women's soccer."
FRANKFURT, Germany -- It usually seems like Steve Nash is the only NBA player who turns up at soccer matches. But at this Women's World Cup, a new fan has arrived -- the Philadelphia 76ers' Jrue Holiday, who also happens to be Lauren Cheney's boyfriend.
"The games have been unreal, these are my first international games," Holiday said. "I wasn't really much of a soccer fan before, I was more of a Lauren Cheney fan."
But for every game Team USA has played in Germany, Holiday's been decked out in USA duds with his brother and cousin, who have been following the team as it continues its quest for the World Cup. "They're like little kids cheering and all dressed up for the games," Cheney said. "It's great to have them here. Since his season's been over, he's around a lot more. He loves the game. It's awesome to see how excited he gets."
The athletic twosome met at UCLA, where Cheney played soccer and Holiday played basketball for a year before going pro. Said Cheney: "He was sitting in front of me at a girl's basketball game and someone came up to him and said, 'Oh my gosh, Darren Collison. Can I get your autograph?' And I started laughing because it was hilarious. Once they walked away I said, 'Don't worry about it, you're way cuter than Darren Collison.' But it was kind of just a joke. I wasn't really interested at all."
Cheney said she kind of felt bad for him at the time. Once she and Holliday left UCLA, they started dating. "I played basketball until my senior year of high school," she said. "I actually used to play all the time at UCLA and I'd play with Jrue, but we haven't exactly gotten to the point where he's playing soccer yet."
That may change after the tournament. "Watching the games is amazing," Holiday said. "It's exhilarating, emotionally draining, overwhelming I'm inspired to do anything after seeing them play."
MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany -- It's been quite a ride so far in Germany. Players supposedly hit by lightning. Controversies, huge upsets and one of the most memorable comebacks in all of soccer. Now we face a semifinal round with the U.S. but without Brazil and Germany. Suffice to say, the oddsmakers took a beating again.
Here are some odds and ends from the notebook as we prepare for the big clash between the U.S. and France.
1. France coach Bruno Bini is (not shockingly) a poet. I imagine he specializes in abstract haiku. As he said after his PK win against England, "It's not that we love each other because we win, it's that we win because we love each other." Or regarding his coaching style: "We met on the pitch, I said 'la la' and they said, 'lee lee.' A beautiful story."
2. That's the person who's gonna fix my knee? U.S. Team orthopedist Dr. Scott Powell has had nine lives, including a bit part in "Caddyshack." He was also dubbed the Great Santini and Captain Outrageous when performing on TV as the Elvis revival singer in the band Sha Na Na. And he was also in "Grease" with Sha Na Na performing as Johnny Casino and the Gamblers. Is it possible that entertainment is the best medicine?
3. The Swedes' rain dance makes it rain wins. "We started the dance when we started the World Cup and it's become routine -- before the game to cheer us up, when we score and when we win. if we come to the final, we will dance," said defender Annica Svensson.
4. She doesn't just score the biggest goal of all time. Abby Wambach has trained her English Bulldog, Kingston, to ride a skateboard.
5. Can we get a cover please that doesn't include swimsuits? The highlights of the U.S. vs. Brazil were shown on the JumboTron in Yankee Stadium, and that's not all. "Supposedly, someone said that Derek Jeter's SI cover might get bumped." That was Heather O'Reilly's wishful thinking after the Miracle in Dresden.
6. Best birthday present, ever. Japan's Karina Maruyama scored in extra time to eliminate Germany in the quarterfinals. It also happened to be forward Kozue Ando's 29th birthday. Maruyama will be hard pressed to top that gift next year.
DRESDEN, Germany -- You wouldn't know you were in Germany; you wouldn't know that Germany had been eliminated fewer than 24 hours earlier. The crowd in Dresden, largely and loudly pro-U.S., was volcanic, erupting at the 122nd minute when Megan Rapinoe blasted a cross to Abby Wambach, who in turn nailed the ball to the back of the net and sent the game into penalty kicks.
And that was the difference -- the crowd. "This game was an emotional roller-coaster," keeper Hope Solo said. "This is a fighting team -- down a man, down a goal, this team never stops and the better team won tonight."
The fans really didn't stop, not even when it looked like Brazil's victory was inevitable. They chanted and sang and waved into the final moments of regulation and then sent shockwaves through the stadium when the tying goal was scored. "I didn't hear the crowd at the time -- I didn't hear anything, but I could feel them every time I went in for penalty kicks," Solo said.
It was 12 years ago to the day that the 1999 U.S. team defeated China in penalty kicks at the Rose Bowl. Rudolf-Harbig-Stadion was equally electric.
"It's storybook -- the soccer gods were on our side today," Wambach said. "We just needed Hope to save one ball and I knew we were gonna win."
Brazil had plenty of supporters too, a section and fans that began the day chanting on the trams through picturesque Dresden as they snaked their way through the city. But the team left the stadium in silence, the ball boys carting their Samba drum silently to the team bus.
And that's the difference between winning and losing -- a surge of energy, a blast of ball, the roar of a crowd. "It was unbelievable, the crowd was so emotionally invested in the game," Rapinoe said. "I blacked out, I think, I took a little touch and I don't know, I don't think I've ever hit a ball like that. It's tough sometimes, you just want that goal and you just want it now."
The nearly sold-out stadium of 26,000 wanted that goal, too.
LEVERKUSEN, Germany -- Penalty kicks weren't exactly how Les Bleus wanted their game against England to go. Especially with timid backup keeper Celine Deville at the helm after Berangere Sapowicz was shown a red card in the last game of the group stages. But red card or not, the French squad waited until the 87th minute against England to hit the 1-1 equalizer, thanks to Elise Bussaglia, and then crafted a memorable finish, winning 4-3 in the penalty shootout to advance to the Women's World Cup semifinals.
For most of regulation play, France dominated. "Well, I have the feeling that I was at the wrong movie," French coach Bruno Bini said after the match. "To have a match with so many chances and we didn't score until three minutes before the final whistle, we could have lost easily."
Entering the second half of play, Les Bleus dominated the Three Lionesses despite nearly identical amount of possession time with nine shots on goal compared to England's one.
But in the 59th minute, Jill Scott scored England's only goal. Then 29 minutes later, Bussaglia picked up a scrappy rebound and shot a rocket off the left post that ricocheted past England's keeper, Karen Bardsley. The goal was a long time coming after 23 failed attempts for France.
Overtime was largely a drill with both squads seemingly killing time until inevitable penalty kicks. "The quality France showed in the first half, I just kept pleading with the clock to go quicker, quicker and it wouldn't shift," England coach Hope Powell said of her squad's untimely exit. "And again, England gets knocked out in penalties, how boring."
Here are three things we learned from the match:
1. A red card is not a red flag. DeVille looked absolutely petrified against Germany, having to enter the tournament defending against a penalty kick. Although her side of the pitch saw very little action against England, she was more prepared and poised for this match. And though she didn't technically save any of the PKs, she fought her way through a tough psychological lineup and managed to dig herself out of a hole.
2. France needs to regain its effectiveness on corners. For France to compete against either Brazil or the U.S., one of which it'll face in the semifinals, it'll need to capitalize on more opportunities. It should start by trying to improve on corner kicks. Les Bleus couldn't convert one of their 16 corner kick attempts against England because their strategy of going long and wide eliminates any possibility of a good angle on goal. The fact that the last play of the game was a Sonia Bompastor corner kick that didn't even make it on to the field is a problem. We know France can do better -- it scored twice off corners against Germany -- and it'll have to if it hopes to progress in the World Cup.
3. Physical play doesn't equal a win. The pitch was full of small scraps and physicality, and England's four yellow cards to France's none is quiet reminder that elegant play and passing can be rewarded with a win. At one point, Kelly Smith almost came to blows with Bompastor, delivering some very intimate face time. England may have been dishing out the blows because its players were being outplayed and battered. An injured Smith looked like she'd been through the ringer, limping between plays and clutching various body parts. Faye White, having sat out against Japan, didn't fare much better.
AP Photo/dapd, Matthias RietschelU.S. Ambassador to Germany Philip Murphy is a footie fan and also owns a stake in the WPS team Sky Blue FC.
WOLFSBURG, Germany -- United States Ambassador to Germany Philip Murphy takes soccer seriously, in addition to his diplomatic duties, of course. He also happens to own a stake of the New Jersey-based professional women's team Sky Blue FC. ESPN talked shop about the beautiful game with Murphy before the U.S.-Sweden match next to his four kids, who were decked out in red, white and blue face paint and various clown wigs. The ambassador plans on attending all U.S. games and the final in Frankfurt.
What do you think about soccer's popularity in the U.S. and do you sometimes feel like we need an ambassador to soccer?
I think it's growing every day. I think it's the No. 1 sport for kids, both girls and boys. And it will continue to grow, and success at tournaments like this will really kick-start the sport, not just in America but certainly in America.
Do you think that women's soccer is gaining traction in the States as a professional sport?
I think it's getting better by the day and if it weren't for Title IX, I don't know where we'd be. We just celebrated the 40th anniversary of that and what a monumental landmark that was. We live off that to this day. There's no better example of what women can achieve as athletes than our national women's soccer team.
How do you feel about participating in an international tournament with countries like Equatorial Guinea and North Korea, which don't necessarily align with America's humanitarian standards?
It doesn't enter into it for me. This is all about the game. That's the great thing about the sport -- it brings people together from all walks of life and that's a great part of the sport.
Please explain currywurst.
Currywurst is our favorite, a classic German dish with great ethnic heritage. Where would we be without it?
BOCHUM, Germany -- This was worse than the Hand of God goal, when Diego Maradona scored against England with an illegal, but unpenalized, handball. Worse than the officiating at the 2010 World Cup, when Frank Lampard's 20-yard shot had bounced clearly over the line in the first half of the match, yet the goal wasn't given. It was even worse than Geoff Hurst's was-it-over-the-line-or-not goal, against West Germany in 1966.
On Sunday at the Women's World Cup, in a match between Equatorial Guinea and Australia, the inexplicable happened. Bruna, a defender for Equatorial Guinea, picked up the ball in her own penalty box for a good three seconds. The ball, mind you, was still in play, having just bounced off the goal's left side bar. Then Bruna nonchalantly tossed the ball to keeper Miriam like she was playing a game of pick-up at the park.
Miriam punted the ball back into action -- without a whistle, without even a peep from Hungarian ref Gyoengyl Gaal -- and moments later, Equatorial Guinea's Anonma scored in the 21st minute to level things at 1-1. That result could have led to robbing Australia of progressing in the tournament, but as it turned out, the Aussies ended up winning the match, 3-2.
"Some of the referee's decisions weren't the greatest," said Australian player Lisa DeVanna in grand understatement.
"Well, I think I saw something that everyone saw," said Equatorial Guinea coach Marcello Frigerio. "It was a quick scene and we had to focus on what the referee decided. I think it has happened very often that mistakes are made that people don't see."
But everyone saw this epic blunder once again calls into question the need for replay technology. But really, was it even needed in this case? Although the keeper's uniform and that of Bruna's were similar in color, the handball was painfully obvious. Think about it: When is the last time you saw a player not just handle, but hold the ball in the penalty box for so long?
It's called football for a reason. Apparently, someone forgot to get that memo to the officials on Sunday.
LEVERKUSEN, Germany -- Team Mexico may not have been present on the pitch during its devastating loss to Japan 4-0 on Friday, but the country was well represented on the sidelines.
"I love Germany, there are a lot more people in the stands than when I was here a year ago for U20s," fullback and Stanford University sophomore Alina Garciamendez said. "I never knew how many Mexicans or people who like Mexico were in Germany."
Garciamendez shouldn't be surprised by the support. Germany has the highest Mexican population in Europe, larger even than Spain.
Representing their native country with painted faces and flags draped over their shoulders like capes meant a lot to Lisa and Omar Moncayo, who moved to Burscheid from Mexico City three years ago. "We were very proud when we heard the anthem. It was a very emotional moment for us," Lisa said after the game.
Mexican support was heard loud and clear throughout the match in spite of the disappointing outcome. "There are a lot Mexicans who live in Leverkusen and Wolfsburg because of the car companies. That's why the Latin American games are all scheduled for those stadiums," Omar said on a bus ride back to the train station.
Moncayo, a supplier for Ford, explained that Ford and Volkswagen both employ a lot of Mexican engineers, suppliers and automotive professionals because both companies are assembled in Mexico and they both have headquarters in Germany. Omar also happens to be the first Latin American player since 1911 to play on BV Burscheid, the local football club where they live.
As for his country's loss? "It's better to participate and lose than not to try at all."
Public viewings of sports can be dicey -- either the city digs it and there's a chance for people to randomly hug and high-five in public, or the whole thing is ignored and massive screens of athletic action play in front of empty patio furniture. In Germany, biergartens -- vast picnic tables lined up for drinking dunkels, smoking rollies and watching footie -- are like second homes, so you'd think Women's World Cup would be a natural draw. After all, the German's love their women's footie or do they?
A look at Berlin vs. Bochum in a head-to-head public-viewing competition:
Choose the city based on its population. Berlin had one match scheduled during the entire tournament and it was on opening day. All the other games are being played west and south of the cultural capital. In return, the artsy natives are indifferent.
Bochum, primarily a college town, will drink in the Bermuda Triangle -- a well-organized triangle of promenades populated by bars and restaurants -- on any given night. A near riot broke out when Germany scored against Nigeria.
Bochum 1, Berlin 0
Do you want to concentrate on the game? The sparse support in Berlin means there is no problem finding a seat and no distracting conversations. In fact, I pulled up a lounge chair at Kiki Blofeld and could fully appreciate the England vs. Mexico game, even though the game itself was pretty bleh. In Bochum, you have the energy of the city coursing through the triangle, as every seat is filled with rapt fans. But you have to deal with a yelping German jam-band kicking it on their glockenspiel 100 meters away.
Bochum 1, Berlin 1
Choose the right night. Thursday, Friday, Saturday and anytime-the-Germans-play-day, that's when you'll find the biggest crowds and the most energy. But for games on the off day, Bochum's setup is best. You can sit in the main angle of the promenade or choose from ten different restaurants that spill out into the sidewalk, all blaring the game on massive screens. At Kiki, an off night means more people are watching drunk pingpong or lounging by the river.
Bochum 1, Berlin 0
Choose the right setting and the right people to sit next to. Kiki is so scenic and undiscovered that it's tough not to revel in the space. You have to know which parking lot to crawl through, the right hole in the fence and which shed to pay one euro to (the entrance looks like a mobster kill-zone and is so hipster, it's unmarked), and then you sit on makeshift crates right on a beach by the river surrounded by the city's notorious tagging and refurbished warehouses. It's really cool. Bermuda Triangle feels like Orange County or the Third Street Promenade -- lots of people but not a lot of character. Both places were friendly.
Bochum 0, Berlin 1
Just barely, Bochum eeks out a win, 3-2, but really kicking it with a beer, soccer and the Northern light is tough to beat.